Motion to Oust Hadash MK Ofer Cassif Defeated in Knesset

An unprecedented impeachment vote against MK Ofer Cassif fails Monday evening, February 19, in the Knesset plenum, with only 85 out of a required 90 lawmakers in the 120-seat body voting in favor of expelling the Communist legislator. Nearly all the Knesset coalition members from the right-wing parties – the Likud, Religious Zionist Party, and Otzma Yehudit – supported the impeachment. Far-right Yisrael Beytenu party a member of the previous government and current opposition party but a right-wing party on issues of national security, unanimously approved the motion. Members of the haredi (ultraorthodox) parties also voted in favor.

MK Ofer Cassif during a meeting with Young Communist League of Israel activists held last Friday in Haifa, February 16, 2024 (Photo: Zo Haderech)

Most members of the Yesh Atid party did not participate in the vote, after party chairman MK Yair Lapid, who was absent, said that he would not vote for the impeachment and allowed the members of his faction to vote the way they wished. Also, all the four Knesset members from the Labor Party boycotted the vote.

Monday’s debate prior to the vote in the Knesset on Monday included dozens of speakers. MK Oded Forer (Yisrael Beytenu) said at the beginning of the debate, “We are here to say – no more. There will not be someone sitting in Israel’s Knesset who is acting against it.” Cassif said at the end of the debate in his defense that “this impeachment request is based on a clear lie – that I support Hamas’s armed struggle. There is nothing further than this, there is no lie more disgusting. Behind the lie is a clear malicious intent – political oppression and silencing of critical voices in general, and Arab citizens and their representatives in the Knesset in particular, with the final goal being their complete exclusion from public and parliamentary life.”

Following the vote, Hadash-Ta’al lawmakers hug Cassif, while rightwing and racist lawmakers scream their disappointment, with the two sides appearing on the verge of coming to blows.

The effort to remove Cassif from the parliament came in response to his public support for South Africa’s case against Israel at the International Court of Justice. Cassif signed an Israeli petition backing Pretoria’s claims and accused far-right Israeli leaders of advocating for crimes against humanity against the Palestinians. In response, MK Forer set out to invoke a previously unused legal mechanism in the 2016 Suspension Law, under which legislators may drum out colleagues from their ranks if they are found to have committed one of a number of infractions, including expressing support “for an armed struggle” against Israel or inciting racism. The impeachment process easily passed the first two steps of the process — submitting a letter signed by a minimum of 70 MKs and obtaining the support of at least three-quarters of the House Committee — but died in the plenum after falling just short of enough support.

Despite the McCarthyist backlash against Cassif, both Deputy Attorney General Avital Sompolinsky and Knesset legal adviser Att. Sagit Afik have stated that the charges against him fall short of “crossing the criminal threshold” necessary for his removal. Due to the opinions of the legal advisors, if the impeachment passed, it was likely to be struck down by the Supreme Court. A number of opposition MKs argued that the impeachment’s real purpose was to criticize the Supreme Court.