No Grounds for Banning Far-left Candidate From Israeli Election, Attorney General Tells Top Court

Ofer Cassif, who rejects Israel as a Jewish state, was disqualified from running in the election by a panel of lawmakers, but attorney general opposes the ban

Ofer Cassif at the Knesset in Jerusalem, March 6, 2019.
Emil Salman

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit told the High Court of Justice on Tuesday that there is no cause to disqualify Hadash candidate Ofer Cassif from running in the April 9 general election. Mendelblit noted in his memo to the court that he and the state prosecutor take issue with Cassif’s controversial statements, “including his remarks, in an interview with Haaretz, about Israeli soldiers, remarks about Nazism and a comparison with Nazi Germany.” Nevertheless, the attorney general wrote, the “critical mass of evidence” required for a candidate’s disqualification was not present.

Last week the Central Elections Committee barred Cassif from running in the general election. The High Court of Justice will hear a petition against the decision Wednesday. The pretext for demanding the disqualification was Cassif’s rejection of Israel as a Jewish state. Mendelblit told the committee he was against the disqualification, saying Cassif made it clear that he opposed all forms of violence and did not deny Israel’s right to exist. Rather, he was expressing his stance on the character of the state at present.

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The Central Elections Committee, which is made up of representatives from parties in the outgoing Knesset, voted 15 to 10 to disqualify Cassif. The three representatives from Yesh Atid voted with the majority. Hatnuah did not vote, and three representatives of the ultra-Orthodox parties abstained.

The committee also disqualified the Arab joint slate Balad-United Arab List, in a vote of 17 to 10.

Cassif, one of the first Israeli soldiers to refuse to serve in the territories, gained fame as a result of several provocative statements, most notably when he called Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked “neo-Nazi scum.” On another occasion, he characterized Jews who visit the Temple Mount as “cancer with metastases that must be eradicated.”

On his alternate Facebook account, opened after his original account was blocked repeatedly as a result of complaints by right-wing activists, he asserted that Culture Minister Miri Regev was “repulsive gutter contamination,” that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is an “arch-murderer” and that Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, is a “war criminal.”