Ofer Cassif, a Jewish member of Israel’s Knesset from the largely Arabic Hadash-Ta’al coalition, announced on Jan. 7 that he is supporting South Africa’s lawsuit and inquiry into whether Israel is guilty of violating the 1948 Genocide Convention in its acts against Gaza. He did this by signing an Israeli petition, in which the petitioners wish to “add our voice as citizens of Israel to the claims … that South Africa submitted to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, in the hope that our voice will help reach a decision that will bring an immediate end to the war.” Around 200 Israelis have signed, reported Israel’s major news agency, Ynet.
Cassif did not back down in his explanation, tweeting in Hebrew the same day: “My constitutional duty is to Israeli society and all of its residents, not to a government whose members and its coalition are calling for ethnic cleansing and even actual genocide. They are the ones who hurt the country and the people, they are the ones who led South Africa to turn to The Hague, not me and my friends.
“And when the government acts against society, the state and its citizens, especially when it sacrifices them and commits crimes in their name on the altar of maintaining its existence, it is my right and even my duty to warn about this and do everything I can within the law to stop it.
“I will not give up the fight for our existence as a moral society. This is the true patriotism—no revenge wars and calls for extermination, no unnecessary bloodshed, and no sacrifice of kidnapped citizens and soldiers in false wars.”
Immediately, outraged right-wing Knesset members began a drive to impeach and remove him. Knesset law allows for a member to be removed if 90 of the 120 MKs vote to determine that the offending member supported an armed struggle of an enemy state or terror organization against Israel. Cassif’s position is that the Israeli petition he signed does not accuse Israel of genocide, but that it is “legitimate to check if there is a crime like that or another.”
MK Oded Forer of the Beitenu faction, who is organizing to collect the required 70 signatures to initiate the impeachment, outlined his case: “The treasonous words of MK Cassif can no longer be heard…. [He] has chosen during the war to join one of the most destructive initiatives for the security” of Israel “and thus he supports the struggle of Hamas….” Hence, Forer both identifies South Africa’s submission to the International Court of Justice as “one of the most destructive initiatives” for Israel’s security, and identifies an IJC investigation as support for Hamas.
The Palestinian-Israeli head of Cassif’s Ta’al party in the Knesset, Ahmad Tibi, defended Cassif. He accused the government of “legitimizing” genocide against the Palestinian population of Gaza, declaring that “this is how the Nazis spoke about the Jews…. The finance minister [Bezalel Smotrich] said that there are 2 million Nazis in Gaza. This is how you legitimize genocide. And when it sounds Nazi, looks Nazi, it’s neo-Nazi. Even if the minister is Jewish…. The prosecution in The Hague is based on the words of Smotrich, of Ben-Gvir, and [culture minister Amihai] Eliyahu, and not on the words of Cassif. Those who talk like this want the war to continue, and do not want to bring back the hostages.”