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Ofer Cassif, Israel's controversial Jewish MP on Arab list

AFP logo AFP 2021-06-11 AFP
a man wearing a suit and tie: Ofer Cassif, member of the Israeli Knesset (parliament) from the Joint List, reacts during an interview with AFP in Jerusalem © Emmanuel DUNAND Ofer Cassif, member of the Israeli Knesset (parliament) from the Joint List, reacts during an interview with AFP in Jerusalem

As the only Jewish lawmaker on the Israeli parliament's main Arab list, Ofer Cassif has made waves on the political scene with his controversial stands on Zionism and settlements.

Cassif, a 56-year-old with a PhD in political philosophy, has since April 2019 been a Knesset member for the communist party Hadash, parliament's only joint Arab-Jewish faction.

In the 1980s, he was one of Israel's first conscientious objectors, serving jail time rather than as an army conscript in the occupied West Bank.

Just before entering parliament, he branded then justice minister Ayelet Shaked "neo-Nazi scum" and Benjamin Netanyahu, at the time serving his first term as prime minister, an "arch-murderer".

A clash with police last month during a protest in east Jerusalem against the eviction of Palestinians brought him back into the public eye.

Pictures of Cassif with his face bruised, broken glasses, a torn t-shirt and fingers raised in a victory sign after being thrown to the ground and beaten up by police circulated on social media.

"Israel has become fascist, especially under Netanyahu, although again, it didn't begin with him, but under Netanyahu it became more and more fascist," he told AFP in an interview.

"The Israeli government resembles fascism of the 1930s and 1940s," Cassif said.

"My goal and commitment is to fight for justice and democracy. That means no occupation, no fascism, no ethnic nationalism, no racism," he said. 

Cassif opposes Zionism, the Jewish nationalist movement that led to the 1948 establishment of the state of Israel.

"Zionism as a whole, in practice if not in theory, supports Jewish supremacy," he said.

"I am against any kind of ethnic or national supremacy, I am against Jewish supremacy just like I am against white supremacy, just like I am against Arab supremacy," he said.

Such positions, which go against the grain of Israeli politics, make him the only left-wing anti-Zionist Jewish MP.

His mission, the deputy said, is to make Israeli mainstream "fascists" see the ugly reality.

"Me and my friends put a mirror in front of fascist inclinations, and they don't like to see their own faces," Cassif said.

"We don't only put a mirror in front of those fascist inclinations, we also fight in order to change the policies and deeds and activities of the government and fascist groups."

Such views have resulted in threats and insults on social media "almost every minute", he said.

Critics accuse him of being a "traitor," "leftist anarchist", and a "shame for the Jewish people".

"The image Ofer Cassif represents to the majority of Israeli opinion is one of self-hatred, respect for Palestinian nationalism, but not for Israeli nationalism," said political scientist Denis Charbit.

The only son of a left-wing family from Rishon Lezion, south of Tel Aviv, Cassif studied philosophy at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and began his activism in the communist party in the late 1980s.

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PLUS D'INFO AFP

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