Israel Court Calls Far-left Candidate's Statement's 'Very Grave,' Suggests He Recant

Ofer Cassif, a candidate on the Hadash slate, appealed the Central Election Committee's decision to disqualify him from running in the April 9 election to the Supreme Court ■ the court is expected to rule on Sunday

Ofer Cassif at the Supreme Court, Jerusalem, March 13, 2019.
Olivier Fitoussi

The president of the Supreme Court said some of the statements made by a left-wing candidate that led to his disqualification from next month’s election were “very grave.”

Esther Hayut was speaking during deliberations Wednesday on Ofer Cassif’s appeal of his disqualification by the Central Elections Committee. Cassif seeks to represent Hadash in the Knesset. An additional hearing is scheduled for Thursday. The court is expected to rule on Sunday.

Cassif’s lawyer, Hassan Jabareen, told the court that his client objects to the Law of Return, which gives Jews the right to immigrate to Israel and gain citizenship. Jabareen was answering a question from Justice Noam Sohlberg about Cassif’s understanding of the core characteristics of the Jewish state that he sees in Israel.

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In response, Justice Isaac Amit said that in that case, Cassif’s objection to the Law of Return is more severe than that of former MK Azmi Bishara.

Justices Menachem Mazuz and Neal Hendel asked Yoav Many, the attorney for Yisrael Beiteinu, one of the parties that sought Cassif’s disqualification, whether anyone who opposes the Law of Return is unfit for the Knesset. Many responded, “Whoever objects to it is uprooting the state’s soul.” To which Mazuz replied, “Then you’re saying Arabs have no place in the Knesset.”

Mazuz added, “In the past there were arguments about parties that deny [Israel’s] democratic component, but then it was established that because they aren’t working for this but only think this, it’s not a problem.” Amit then said, “When you block a statement, or even an idea, and say you cannot talk about it you are harming a democratic component. Democracy rejected racism, which is outside the realm of democratic discourse. On the other hand, if you remove this worldview, which isn’t Zionist, from the discussion, you may be undermining the Jewish component, but you are certainly undermining the democratic component.”

Hayut raised the possibility that Cassif could retract the statements that led to his disqualification, which included comparing Israel to Nazi Germany. “Would what was established for Baruch Marzel, who retracted harsh statements that he’d made in the past and argued that he’d made them as a private individual, help our issue?” she asked.

Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman came to the hearing. Hadash MK Aida Touma-Sliman said about his appearance that, “Apparently sinking under the electoral threshold leads him to do nonroutine things. Ofer’s clear voice will continue to make the racists lose sleep and will echo deeply in their heads.”

The Central Elections Committee disqualified Cassif from running last week on grounds that he denies the existence of Israel as a Jewish state. On Wednesday, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit said he didn’t see any reason Cassif couldn’t run. In a statement, Mendelblit stressed that he and State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan object to Cassif’s controversial statements, “Among them the statements relating to IDF soldiers in an interview with the Haaretz newspaper, the statements touching on Nazism and the comparison to Nazi Germany.” However, he said, “the ‘critical mass of evidence’ needed for disqualification has not accumulated.”

The Central Elections Committee, which is made up of representatives from parties in the outgoing Knesset, voted 15 to 10 to disqualify Cassif. The committee also disqualified the Arab joint slate Balad-United Arab List, in a vote of 17 to 10.

Cassif, one of the first soldiers to refuse to serve in the territories, is known for his provocative statements. Among other things, he has called Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked “Nazi scum.” Another time he referred to Jews who go up to the Temple Mount, “Metastatic cancer that should be eliminated.”