Israeli Communist Ofer Cassif expelled from parliament for criticizing war on Gaza
Ofer Cassif, a Communist Party member of the Israeli Knesset, has been expelled for criticizing Netanyahu's war against Gaza. Here, he is seen at a demonstration holding a sign that says, 'Anti-fascism is a Jewish and an Arab value.' | Photo via Ofer Cassif

Ofer Cassif, the Israeli parliamentarian who warned last week that an “ethnic cleansing” of Palestinians was underway at the hands of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), has been expelled from the Knesset.

That body’s Ethics Committee booted Cassif from all sessions and meetings of the legislature for the next 45 days. The expulsion came in response to a series of critical interviews with the media in which Cassif blasted the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for its war against the Palestinian people in Gaza.

Cassif is a leading member of the Communist Party of Israel and has represented the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality (Hadash) coalition in the Knesset since 2019. He is Jewish but has long been an opponent of Zionism, calling it a “racist ideology and practice which espouses Jewish supremacy.” In April 2021, he was beaten by Israeli police when protesting against illegal evictions of Palestinians in East Jerusalem.

A bloc of far-right parties headed by Netanyahu controls the parliament and was behind the attempt to silence Cassif. The group is made up of Netanyahu’s Likud Party and a collection of extremist religious and ultra-nationalist parties.

In assembling the ruling group following last year’s elections, Netanyahu had pledged to expand illegal Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories and to eventually annex the West Bank. His allies reject the establishment of any Palestinian state.

In the current war against Gaza, sparked after Hamas militants launched an attack on Israel on Oct. 7, Netanyahu is delivering the anti-Palestinian hostility that his government promised. And Cassif’s criticism of that aggression is exactly what put him in the prime minister’s crosshairs.

Since the IDF launched its assault against Gaza, Cassif has been an outspoken critic. In interviews with the media, he has said that the Communist Party and the Hadash coalition had repeatedly warned the government that the situation would “erupt” if its occupation of the Palestinian territories and settler violence continued.

Cassif had labeled the Netanyahu government “fascist” and said it encouraged “pogroms” against Palestinians. He condemned the killing of innocent civilians—Israeli and Palestinian—and said that “ethnic cleansing” was going on in the occupied territories.

Tolerating no dissent, the Knesset Ethics Committee labeled Cassif “anti-Israel” for his remarks and forbade him from stepping foot in the legislature for the next month and a half.

Responding to the right-wing attempt to gag him, Cassif said Wednesday, “The Ethics Committee’s decision is another nail in the coffin of freedom of political expression in Israel.”

He showed no regrets for his criticisms of the military’s actions and dismissed the charge that he was anti-Israel.

“The Israeli government is indeed carrying out a massacre in Gaza and wished for war and violence to pursue its policy,” he said.

“In each of my interviews, I strongly and bluntly condemned and expressed my deep disgust at the criminal massacres by Hamas,” Cassif declared. “My political statements against the occupation and war are not statements against the State of Israel, since peace and justice also serve it and its citizens.”

Israeli police chief Kobi Shabtai threatened Thursday to arrest Israeli anti-war protesters and ship them to Gaza. | Gil Cohen-Magen / Pool Photo via AP

He designated the actions of Netanyahu and IDF leaders as the greatest threats to the Israeli people and characterized his expulsion as an ominous sign for democracy. All Israelis, Cassif said, are being harmed by what he called the “everlasting bloodshed” in the occupied territories and “the narrowing of democratic space” in the country.

“My punishment is a form of political persecution,” he charged. “The ‘government of atrocities’ is bringing a disaster upon both the people of Israel and the Palestinian people, and now also conducts a McCarthyism-style witch-hunt campaign against critical voices within Israeli society.”

On Thursday, just after Cassif was kicked out of parliament, Israeli police chief Kobi Shabtai said there would be “zero tolerance” for any protests in support of the Palestinian people and threatened to ship anti-war demonstrators into Gaza, where Israeli bombs are falling constantly.

“Anyone who wants to identify with Gaza is welcome,” Shabtai said in a TikTok video. “I will put him on the buses heading there now.”

At least 63 people have already been arrested in Israel for protesting the IDF’s assault on Gaza, accused of supporting or inciting “terror.” Police have also announced they are scouring social media accounts across the country in search of any expressions of sympathy for “the terrorists.”

In a re-run of the “you’re with us or you’re with the terrorists” mentality utilized by the U.S. administration of George W. Bush following the 9/11 terror attacks, the Netanyahu government has been working overtime to convince the Israeli public and international audiences that any criticism of its policies is tantamount to supporting Hamas’ terror tactics.

But Cassif said that Netanyahu’s attempt to squash voices for peace would fail. “Even in these difficult days, I will not be silent, and I will continue to fight for the principles…for which I was elected—peace, equality, and justice for all.”

As of press time, the Gaza Health Ministry reports that 3,748 people have been killed in Gaza since the latest assault by Israel began. More than 12,000 have been wounded, mostly women, children, and the elderly. Another 1,300 or more are thought to be buried beneath the rubble of bombed-out apartments, houses, shelters, and hospitals.

More than 1,400 people in Israel have been killed, most in the initial Hamas attack of Oct. 7. As many as 200 others are thought to still be held hostage inside Gaza.

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C.J. Atkins
C.J. Atkins

C.J. Atkins is the managing editor at People's World. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from York University in Toronto and has a research and teaching background in political economy and the politics and ideas of the American left.