The war on Gaza has taken a devastating toll on the civilian population: more than 26,000 people have been killed and well over 60,000 injured. Over 1.9 million have been displaced, representing more than 85 per cent of the total population. Civilian infrastructure has been destroyed on an unimaginable scale: hospitals, schools, universities, churches, mosques and entire neighbourhoods have been wiped out. On January 11, South Africa’s genocide trial against the Israeli government began at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Israeli member of parliament Ofer Cassif from the communist Hadash party is supporting South Africa in its lawsuit. He is now set to lose his mandate and be thrown out of the Knesset – some on the far-right even want to expel him from the country. We talked to Ofer about South Africa’s case, the brutal war on Gaza, fascist elements in the Israeli government, why an end to the war is not in Netanyahu’s interest and why, as communists, we always have to be internationalists, too.
Die Freiheitsliebe: Hello everybody! Thanks a lot for tuning in again to our next episode of “Die Freiheitsliebe im Gespräch”. Today we have a very interesting guest that is Dr. Ofer Cassif from Israel. Thanks a lot, Ofer, for taking the time to talk to us.
Ofer Cassif: Thank you for having me.
Die Freiheitsliebe: Ofer is a member of the Israeli Parliament, and in that capacity, he’s fighting for an end to the war in Gaza. So, for the first question: In the last Knesset elections, that is the Israeli parliament, the far-left communist Hadash Party won four out of 120 seats and you sit on one of them. Now there are great efforts underway to kick you out of the parliament, and some on the right even want to expel you from the country. Please explain to our viewers what happened.
Ofer Cassif: Well, let’s begin with that neither of us in Hadash, in the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality, which is the basis of the communist party with some additional groups, we were never really liked by the vast majority in the State of Israel. One of the infamous statements by David Ben-Gurion, who was the first prime minister, said 75 years ago “with no Herut and no Maki”. That meant no what we call today the Likud and no communists. The Likud, unfortunately, is deep into the government for many years, but we, as always, are still the opposition. And this is very complicated, but has a simple reason. We are a Jewish-Palestinian party in a crazy situation. In both societies, under the given circumstances, it’s much easier to cling to your “own“.
But our view has always been since the Communist party was first established more than 100 years ago, that the partnership and the brotherhood and sisterhood of Jews and Palestinians in this part of the globe is a must. It’s not only a necessity, instrumentally speaking. It is a value. Because one of the basic ideas of communism as we believe in it, and I’m talking about a real democratic revolutionary socialism and not different forms of oppression that used the term communism in vain, so we believe in internationalism. We divide the world including the region and this specific land, call it Israel, call it Palestine, it doesn’t matter. We divide humanity not according to nations or people or ethnicities or religions. We divide the globe, including our society, into oppressors and oppressed, exploited and exploiters. And of course, once you divide society according to those lines, you must be an internationalist. Because among the oppressed there are both, Palestinians and Jews, Israelis and Arabs. And we were never liked because of that. This is the general picture now.
What’s going on in the last 13 or 14 months, since the terrible, terrible fascist government was formed, is that there has been a massive attack. Not only on the Palestinian people in the occupied territories first and foremost, but also on any remnants of democracy that are still in the state of Israel-proper. Our basic rights are under attack. And to make a long story short, today this government, which is a full-fledged fascist government and consists of some real full-fledged racist parties who really believe in Jewish supremacy, a racial one unfortunately, they want to shut down and silence any opposition and any voice that is different from their own crazy thoughts.
But since the 7th of October, the terrible criminal massacre, committed by Hamas, which we, of course, totally condemn and which disgusted us, to say the least, since then the government has been using the situation as a smoke screen to continue the coup d’etat, that, using sugar-coated terms, was defined before 7th of October as the “judicial reform”. But it is not, it is a coup. And this government uses the war in Gaza as a smoke screen to pursue its own endeavour and attempts to, first, take control of the Occupied Palestinian Territories as a whole and annex them, get rid of as many Palestinians as possible in one way or another, especially ethnic cleansing, as we can see in the West Bank, and, as I said, to undermine and eliminate basic individual and human rights within Israel.
And a part of it is to silence us. Since the 7th of October, it is simply impossible, or almost impossible to raise a voice, against the assault on Gaza, calling for peace for Palestinian liberation from the occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside the state of Israel; it should be emphasized. All those things are silenced. Students have been suspended from their studies at the University if they posted or tweeted something against the war or in favour of peace. Or just express empathy for the children of Gaza. And I emphasize: No, I’m not talking about any kind of empathy or sympathy for Hamas, because we are all against them. I’m talking about real legitimate nonviolent tweets or posts or sayings against the war. People who have been fired from the workplace for the very same thing. People were arrested and interrogated for the very same thing.
It is totally forbidden to demonstrate against the war now. We had a demonstration last Saturday, four days ago, a very impressive one. But we had to appeal to the Supreme Court in order to do so because the police, time and time again, didn’t allow us to do so. And even after the Supreme Court intervened we had to agree on a relatively, not a real, central place to demonstrate, a serious limitation on the number of demonstrators, only two hours. Under the inspection of the police, the placards, the signs we raised in the demonstration were inspected by the police. Some of them were taken and a person was arrested because he just held a placard the police didn’t like. It is totally forbidden to demonstrate in Arab cities and the Supreme Court upheld this decision of the police.
And now they are going to expel me. It seems they’re going to expel me from the parliament just because I signed the petition in support of South Africa’s appeal to the ICJ. Everybody must understand that the assault on Gaza, which takes a toll on thousands and thousands of innocent people, as well as of Israeli soldiers and the hostages who are literally dying at the hands of Hamas in Gaza, all of those are sacrificed for the sake of the government, nothing else. It has nothing to do with the security of Israelis in our future. So, people must understand that alongside the ethnic cleansing in the West Bank and the assault on Gaza, the massacre in Gaza, there’s also a very serious persecution of anti-war and anti-occupation activists and even members of the Knesset in Israel, and we are in a very, very dangerous situation.
Die Freiheitsliebe: Before we talk a bit more about the ICJ suit, can you please just briefly sum up what’s the parliamentarian procedure against you? How likely is it you are actually being kicked out, and how is the procedure?
Ofer Cassif: We are talking about that Israel has no constitution. One of the only three so-called democracies that has no Constitution. So instead, there are some Basic Laws which is a complicated issue because it’s not very clear if they have any kind of superiority in comparison to ordinary laws. We won’t get into that, it’s too long. The Basic Law “The Knesset” defines the roles of the Knesset and the authority of the Knesset as a parliament. And there is another law that is called “The Knesset Law”. In 2016 it was enacted with the so-called “expulsion law”. And this law actually gives the members of the parliament themselves the authority and possibility to get rid of one of their colleagues, of another member of the Knesset.
So, let’s begin, before we get into the details of the law and the procedure, I guess that we could agree that it is totally undemocratic to allow members of the Knesset to expel or get rid of another member of the Knesset. That’s an open wide door for a tyranny of the majority. Because if the majority simply don’t like the views or the deeds of a person, of a member of the Knesset, they can do whatever they like and get rid of him. The procedure is as follows: There are 120 members of the Knesset in Israel. There’s only one house in Israeli politics. And if 70 members of the Knesset sign a request to expel a member of the Knesset, that means it goes on to the Knesset committee. The Knesset committee consists at the moment of 17 members from different parties. There’s a majority for the coalition. And there’s a need for 75% of the voters among the members of the committee. And if 75%, that means 13 out of 17, vote for the expulsion, it goes to the plenum, to the assembly. And then there is a vote. And if 90 out of the 120 members of the Knesset vote for the expulsion, that’s the end of the story, the member of the Knesset is expelled in two weeks. And in between, one can appeal to the Supreme Court which is exactly what I plan to do of course; without knowing the result. But some things should be – I want the viewers or listeners, I don’t know, is it radio? Is it with camera or without camera?
Die Freiheitsliebe: It’s with camera, so both, listeners and viewers.
Ofer Cassif: All right. I want to explain why it’s so dangerous and why I hope that the international community will be aware of that and do something about that. That’s not a personal issue. That’s a pure political persecution which happened to be against me, but that’s contingent. First of all, I said before, that the law itself is undemocratic and I explained why. But look, the law is very clear. It says that there are only three reasons, or rationales, that can allow members of the Knesset to expel another: One is that if that member expressed any support for terrorism, second, expressed any support for armed struggle against Israel and, third, expressed any support for racism. Now the guy, the member of the Knesset who belongs to a fascist party, it is called “Israel Our Home”, led by Avigdor Lieberman – perhaps you know him, his name – he initiated this motion when he said that my signature on this petition should be seen as support for armed struggle against Israel.
Now, this is total nonsense. First, because in the petition that I signed, there’s only a call to investigate whether Israel is guilty of genocide in Gaza. And most importantly the bottom line of the petition calls for ending the war. And that’s for the life of everyone, Palestinians and Israelis alike. I mentioned the hostages before and the soldiers. So, it’s not only the Palestinians, although the Palestinians are the main victims, we are talking about more than 30,000. Nevertheless, soldiers die on a daily basis almost. And the hostages are literally dying, and many of them, I’m afraid, already died. So, for me, it was a call for saving the lives of human beings, Palestinians or Israelis. So, in any event, it was presented as if this signature of mine expressed support for armed struggle against Israel. As I said, it’s totally nonsense. Not only because I’m against the war, and that’s the main thing they want to silence, but secondly from the very beginning I was very, very sharp and very, very blunt in my condemnation of the massacre committed by Hamas and the crimes of Hamas.
So it is a manipulation, it is a misuse of the law, in order to expel a person because of his political views or political activities. That’s a very dangerous thing. Because, and that should ring at best specifically for Germans, who know exactly what happened in the early 30s visavis the Communist party. We know perfectly well that the excuse of setting the Reichstag on fire was to criminalize the Communist party. It is the same here to the extent that they look for an excuse to expel me. But in the future that’s only the beginning, it’s not the end. If they succeed, and they will, and I will say something about it with your permission, if they succeed in expelling me – and again that doesn’t matter if it’s me or another, it’s the principle, it’s about the political persecution and silencing – if they succeed, so what is the meaning or the consequences of identifying ‘objecting to war’ with ‘supporting the enemy’? It means that if tomorrow you raise, and by the way it already happened in demonstrations, a placard saying “Stop the occupation”, may be interpreted immediately as support for the enemy and armed struggle.
Everybody must be very cautious and very aware of the danger that once a member of the Knesset, with immunity, is expelled for something that he did in order to stop a war and in order to check if there are crimes. That member of the Knesset, with the immunity, is accused of supporting armed struggle despite, of course, the condemnation I spread here and there all over the place. That means that tomorrow everybody is going to be exposed to political violent persecution. Did you raise something? You said, you wrote something? You tweeted, “Stop the occupation”? – You are immediately with the enemy. That’s a terrible, terrible fascist development that should be stopped. And unfortunately, and I finish with that, unfortunately, too many members of the Knesset who are in so-called central-left parties joined forces with this endeavour.
Die Freiheitsliebe: That’s a really good point. But let’s go back for a second to the ICJ case. Just to remind our viewers, South Africa filed a lawsuit against the state of Israel at the International Court of Justice in The Hague because they accuse Israel of committing genocide in Gaza since the 7th of October. And I guess you followed the suit because you support it. Could you please remind our listeners and viewers? Just give a small overview of what was said on the first day of the hearing when South Africa laid out its case. Just a brief reminder of what was said.
Ofer Cassif: First of all, I want to correct you with your permission. As far as I see it, the lawsuit by South Africa at the ICJ is not against the state of Israel, it’s against the government of Israel that dictates the policy. In my view, what I’ve been doing, of course not alone, with my comrades, is not against Israel, it’s against the government of Israel, and it is for the Israelis. Because I think that the government of Israel puts the Israelis at risk. Because the government of Israel carries on with this assault on Gaza, as I said before, in order to survive. The only reason is its own survival as a government. And they are ready to sacrifice not only tens of thousands of Palestinians but also hundreds of Israeli citizens, for the sake of its own survival as a government.
So in that sense my appeal, sorry, my signature in support of that appeal is basically to stop the war and save lives and, in my view, to save also Israelis. Because the government does exactly the opposite. Netanyahu, Ben-Gvir and others, all those thugs, this government is the main enemy of the Israelis at the time, at the moment. They are the main enemy of Israelis, of the Israelis and Israeli society. And I’ll do whatever I can legally to stop this government in order to bring a better future for everybody who lives here, of course including the Israelis. Now, on the first day, I think it was already two weeks ago …
Die Freiheitsliebe: Yeah, 11th of January, Thursday.
Ofer Cassif: On the first day, the delegation of South Africa presented its own allegations, and it consisted of two main things: The activities that are carried out in Gaza and the expressions or statements made by some Israeli figures, from the president of Israel, the Prime Minister, ministers, members of Knesset and even, you know, some artists, so some “celebs”. Why did they do that? Because according to the law the convention on genocide, in order to prove that there is a genocide. And by the way, I don’t want to be categorical and say that there is, I do want to say, and that was the meaning of my signature, that this must be investigated by an institution as impartial as possible which cannot be the state that is involved itself. It doesn’t matter which state. That’s the reason I supported the approach to the ICJ. To check it out, not saying categorically that there is or there isn’t a genocide.
So anyway, the South African delegation on the first day pointed to different things that have been happening in Gaza. The extreme death toll, we’re talking by now around 30,000 people. The fact that the vast majority, more than 70%, are innocent civilians, around 11,000, thus far, are children. A total destruction, hunger, thirst, lack of medicine, lack of clean water. A total enforced expulsion of Palestinians from their lands. And that means the transfer of more than 80, I think that 85% of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip if I remember the figure correctly, had to flee or were forced to flee. A total destruction of infrastructure.
The allegation of South Africa also refers to the situations – and not once or twice but systematic situations – in which, in order to kill one Hamas figure, the whole area was bombarded whereas it was well known that there were hundreds of innocent civilians there. That was one form of allegation made by South Africa. The definition of the convention on genocide that must be proved is first that there is a systematic intent to get rid, eliminate or reduce members of a specific community, ethnical, national, etc. So, the first is to show, that those allegations that I just summarized, were made by the South African delegation in order to show that there is a systematic attack against the Palestinians.
The second allegation that was made by South Africa is that there is some intent. And here they used terrible statements made by political and other figures, public figures in Israel. For instance when prime minister Netanyahu compared the Palestinians in Gaza to Amalek. Amalek is a kind of people, biblical people, that is identified as a people that deserves or that should be totally eliminated. So when a prime minister refers to the Palestinians in Gaza as Amalek, as claimed by South Africa, it is understood as a legitimization, not to say a call, to eliminate the Palestinians. They also refer to a president of Israel who said that there are no innocents in Gaza, and some members of the Knesset including the vice speaker of the Knesset who said three times that Gaza should be burnt down totally. Another member of the Knesset, the same party, the Likud, said that Gaza should be exterminated. He literally used this term, in Hebrew.
They try to show that the two main components of genocide, according to the convention and international law, do exist in this situation. Hence, the lawsuit is sound and should be accepted as such. This was generally the allegations of South Africa. And the day after it was dedicated mostly to the Israeli delegation who tried to refute the accusations made by South Africa. And the main thing that the Israeli delegation said was that Israel was viciously attacked by Hamas, and I accept that it’s true. And that the Hamas did a genocide-like act, I am also inclined to accept that. And that Israel now is defending itself as a state and that everything that goes on in Gaza is part of the self-defense that Israel is entitled to. So those are the main arguments regarding the genocide, and we’ll see what the ICJ decides.
Die Freiheitsliebe: I would even add that they also invested a great amount of time on just smearing South Africa. Like just saying they are the accomplices of Hamas or the lawyers of Hamas. It was, I don’t know, in my eyes, it was disgusting …
Ofer Cassif: I agree with you, but you asked me, you know, what were the arguments. We can hardly refer to those as arguments.
Die Freiheitsliebe: Yeah, sure not. Okay, one question about the war itself. Because I think when we see the last three and a half months, the war can be divided into different stages. The aerial bombardment or then the ground invasion, it’s moving from north to south. It starts in the north and then clears all its way to the south; from Gaza City to Khan Younis to Rafah. The same applies to the evacuation orders. I guess on the 13th of October, after six days they said: all leave south of Wadi Gaza. And now they also say you have to evacuate from Khan Younis, from parts of Khan Younis. One by one going more to south, further to Rafah, to the crossing to the Egyptian border. And there are incredibly horrible scenes that we see from Rafah. People are jammed up together in inhuman conditions. And I don’t know, what do you think is Netanyahu’s end game for those people who are now in those tent cities in the very south? What is his end game?
Ofer Cassif: I’ve been saying that since day one that the only thing that bothers Netanyahu, and his fascist thugs in the government, is his own well-being. That means he wants to stay in power because he’s terrified of prison. Netanyahu faces three very serious charges in court. His trial has been going for a while now. He knows perfectly well that he has something to hide, and he knows that the chances of being convicted are quite high. He knows that there’s a chance he will go to prison. And so he clings to power first because he knows that’s probably the only way for him to stay out of prison. He’s also, I must say, very interested in being in power because he enjoys the things that are attached to power. He likes fancy and expensive stuff, restaurants or cigars or private jets or whatever. I think that the main thing that drives him is a wish to stay out of prison.
He’s ready to sacrifice whoever he needs to, according to him, achieve this goal. He doesn’t care about the lives of Israeli soldiers. He gives a damn about the hostages. He doesn’t care about them. Obviously, he doesn’t care about the Palestinians. He’s ready to sacrifice whatever, whoever it is. He doesn’t care even if thousands of Israelis are going to be killed. Because he’s ready to sacrifice them on the altar of his own survival. So that’s the reason that he wants the war to continue. That’s the reason that there’s no strategy. That’s the reason that he refrains and prevents any discussion about the so-called “day after”. That’s why, as you said before, the military moves from the north to the South, “yes Khan Younis, no Khan Younis”, “yes Rafah, no …”. It’s because Netanyahu doesn’t want the war to end. Once the war is ended the government is ended. Once the government is ended, so to speak, and there are new elections or a new government, it doesn’t matter at this moment, Netanyahu knows that that’s it, his political career is over. So he wants the war to continue. And by the way, I said that three months ago or two months ago. But you can see that now mainstream politicians and journalists say so. So it’s very clear. You can not hide it. I mean you just have to not suffer from a vacuum between your ears to understand that, everybody knows.
And unfortunately, because this Government consists mainly of fascist thugs like Ben-Gvir, Smotrich Strook and Eliyahu and others, and also members of the Knesset from the same list, they strongly believe in a Messianic dream which is actually a nightmare. They really believe and they said so. They say that Gaza should be totally occupied by Israel. Israel should control the Gaza Strip. The Palestinians should be deported. They use the term “voluntary transfer” which, you know what it means? It is voluntary like you’re approaching someone with a gun and telling him to give me your money or your life and he gives you his money and you would say that he gave you money voluntarily. That’s more or less the same. But they are interested in rebuilding, and they say so, the Jewish settlements in Gaza. Because they believe in the biblical Messianic nightmare that the whole so-called Land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people by God.
It’s so clear that it has nothing to do with security, by the way, it’s the very opposite of security. They just care about this Messianic insane nightmare and because of that, they are with Netanyahu. Netanyahu won’t do anything against them because without them he has no government. And they just can manipulate and do what they like with Netanyahu given his dependent upon them.
Die Freiheitsliebe: Yes. So okay, to sum up a bit. We talked much about the horrific nature of the war itself. Then about South Africa’s case at the ICJ. We talked about fascist elements in the Netanyahu government and their hypocrisy and their lying and their vile rhetoric. So maybe we can end on a more shiny note.
Ofer Cassif: I can do that!
Die Freiheitsliebe: Yeah, I want to say, on Saturday in Haifa, which is the third largest city in the country, there was quite a large demonstration. And remarkably it was a joint Jewish-Palestinian demonstration. For you to know, I lived for quite some time in Haifa, so I know a bit about the diversity of the city and that different groups can live in relative calm together without, you know, killing each other. So my question is: Do you think that Haifa can maybe become the focal point of a real anti-war protest? Is there such a thing? Do you see hope in the anti-war movement in general in Israel or is it very minuscule and minor only?
Ofer Cassif: Look, there is an impressive, historically speaking, anti-occupation, anti-war and peace movement in Israel consisting of Jews and Arabs together and the internationals as well. And the demonstration under duress, under the circumstances with the, as I said before, with the pressure by the police, with the limitations forced and posed on us by the police and the courts, and with the very sensitive and emotional times that we face, even the weather was too hot, so with all those obstacles we succeeded in organizing and carrying out a very impressive demonstration calling to stop the massacre and the war in Gaza, calling for peace, calling for Palestinian liberation because that’s obviously the main basis of a just peace. It was very impressive. It was organized by more than 30 organizations that came together. It’s not easy. Even logistically, it’s not easy. But it succeeded.
We will continue our struggle, we never give up. And I’m sure, I’m positive, that eventually the Palestinian people will be liberated. The Palestinian people, which is entitled to self-determination, will get their own independent state in all the territories that Israel occupied in June ‘67. That means the Palestinian State alongside the state of Israel. I’m sure that will happen. And I’m sure that eventually, both peoples will live side by side and together. Because within Israel there’s a more than 20%, about 20%, national Palestinian minority. I’m sure that the future is ours. Those who now control unfortunately, those racists, violent parts in the Israeli society, and in the Palestinian society, by the way, I’m sure that we will defeat them together. It will take some time, it will take efforts and unfortunately, it will take blood. The question is not if we win, the question is when we win. And how much blood is going to be spilled until then. I hope as little as possible. And I hope to be able to see this future which I believe in, strongly.
But look, it’s not because I’m a prophet and it’s not because I know what the future brings. It’s simply because I do know a bit of history. And especially in modern history there’s no example of an occupied oppressed group, and I say group because it’s not only people, it’s also for instance classes. I mean the proletariat didn’t begin its resistance and uprising just like that but because it was exploited. And the same about gender. Women began their fight, their struggle for liberation and equality because they were oppressed. By the way, both, workers and women, are still oppressed, so the struggle continues. But I’m talking about the origin, the seeds. And no people under occupation or colonization accepted their slot forever. But at one stage or another also uprose.
It’s the same here. There’s no chance that Palestinian people – and Smotrich can say from here to the moon that there’s no Palestinian people, you just continue and say he may just go on with this nonsense, that won’t help him – yes, there is a Palestinian people, it’s going to be liberated from the oppression and the occupation, it is going to have its own independent state besides the State of Israel, alongside the state of Israel. We are going to live in peace and prosperity eventually. I just hope it won’t be after more disasters.
Die Freiheitsliebe: Yeah, that’s quite some good closing remarks, I would say. So let’s all together hope for that. Ofer I’m really grateful that you took the time for us, to talk to us.
Ofer Cassif: My pleasure!
Die Freiheitsliebe: And from the German lefty left we sent you all the solidarity. You represent some of the few voices in Israel who are sick of all this bloodshed and who are with all their heart fighting for peace. So please keep up the fight.
Ofer Cassif: We do. And do you help me to fight against my expulsion?
Die Freiheitsliebe: Sure, sure we will do whatever is in our power. Sure.
Ofer Cassif: Spread the word that the Israeli parliament wants to expel another member of the parliament just because they don’t like his call for peace.
Die Freiheitsliebe: Yes, we will spread that word. Sure, promise.
Ofer Cassif: Thank you so much.
Die Freiheitsliebe: Okay thank you, thanks for the interview.
Ofer Cassif: All the best! Bye-bye!
Die Freiheitsliebe: Bye-bye!
This interview was conducted by Jakob Reimann for Die Freiheitsliebe on January 23.