Flavius Josephus was a Roman-Jewish man who forever wrestled with his identity. A writer and historian, Josephus is consistently portrayed as a traitor to the Jewish nation.
He lived through the decisive event of the first Jewish-Roman war, in which the Roman army captured the city of Jerusalem and destroyed the Second Temple. All the while, Josephus penned a series of history books in which he enmeshed his own colorful commentaries on events with his role as a partner with the enemy.
Today, Ofer Kassif, 54, the candidate in the ‘Jewish slot’ in the Hadash Party, is in some way a modern-day Josephus, said Arye Eldad, a former member of the Knesset for the National Union.
“It is always worse when a Jew speaks against his own people,” Eldad told The Jerusalem Post. “Jewish people will quote him, and they will believe there is validity to what he is saying simply because he is Jewish.”
“What he is saying” is statements that could make anyone gasp.
Kassif, a member of Hadash since 1988, beat out three other Jewish candidates to claim the third slot on the Knesset list of Hadash, which will be running with Ahmad Tibi’s Ta’al Party on a list that has been getting seven to nine seats in the polls.
Hadash is a Hebrew acronym for the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality, and is the successor to Israel’s Communist Party. The third slot is the “Jewish slot,” and he is replacing MK Dov Henin. There are about 100 Jewish delegates out of the party’s 940. He won by a 60% majority.
He is best known for his provocative commentary about Israel’s elected leadership. He branded Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked as “neo-Nazi scum.” He called Culture Minister Miri Regev “repulsive gutter contamination,” IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi a “war criminal,” and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu an “arch-murderer,” among other statements made verbally and on his social media platforms.
And while he says he would likely not make such statements today as a candidate for the Knesset, he thinks these are ideas that some people probably agree with but have not had the courage to say.
In an interview with the Post on the same day that an Arab terrorist attacked and killed a father of 12 children and a soldier, Kassif blamed the government and the prime minister for this act of terrorism.
“The guilt of today’s terrorist attack is on the head of the prime minister and the government, because if the occupation goes on, people will keep dying – especially Palestinians,” Kassif said in his unusually fiery manner, his eyes direct, his tone full of confidence. “The Palestinians are butchered and killed by the Israeli authorities... They are killed en masse on a daily basis.
“Israel rules over millions of people who have no rights; soldiers enter people’s homes in the middle of the night, arrest minors on a daily basis and shoot people in the back,” he continued. “Israel commits murder on a daily basis.”
HE IS NOT pro-terrorism, he makes clear, criticizing “violence of any kind, especially against civilians” – but Kassif does support the Palestinian struggle for freedom.
“The only way to stop the bloodshed is a just peace, which means total withdrawal from the territories and the establishment of a Palestinian state,” he said.
The alternative is what he calls “creeping genocide,” the “ethnic cleansing” he sees the government carrying out in the territories. On his Facebook page, he has gone so far as to compare Israel’s acts against the Palestinians to the acts of the Nazis in World War II.
Kassif said he does not plan to be a provocateur like former Likud MK Oren Hazan – who is not expected to return to the Knesset – but he does “intend to challenge the dialogue.” For example, Kassif said he will speak up about the Nakba (catastrophe), the term Arabs use to refer to the events of 1948.
“The first thing is the actual recognition of the Nakba and the wrong done by Israel,” he said, explaining that the Jewish state, in his estimation, must recognize the wrong it committed.
“When Arabs speak about the Nakba, it is taken in a particular way, but when uttered by a Jew it takes on special importance,” he told the Post. “My speaking about the Nakba is probably one of the most important political things that could happen.”
He said he will stand up against the split the current government has created between Jews and Palestinians through hate and fear. “Hate and fear are the wind beneath the Right wing,” he said. Kassif noted how even Netanyahu admitted recently that Israel’s regular allowing of Qatari funds to be transferred into Gaza is part of a broader strategy to keep Hamas and the Palestinian Authority separate.
Kassif will stand up for recognition of the Palestinian right of return and the cancellation of the Law of Return for Jews, because he has a problem with the fact that natives who were born in the Land of Israel cannot return, while people with some sort of Jewish blood can because God (though he did not use that term) promised it to them.
He said Palestinians should be allowed to return even if it meant Jews would have to leave their homes. And once they are here, the public space in Israel should not be Jewish but should “belong to all the state’s residents.” He would change the national symbols and the national anthem to be “more inclusive.”
For Kassif, there are three immediate dangers to Israeli society: “occupation,” racism and the diminishment of the democratic space to the point of liquidation. That is going to be his agenda and struggle in the Knesset, he said. “My supreme value is equality.”
BUT NOT everyone is sure that Kassif’s vision is so equal. The Central Elections Committee voted to disqualify him from running in the election, on charges that he supports armed conflict with Israel. However, the High Court voted to reinstate him as eligible.
Nissim Ze’ev, one of the founders of the Shas Party, said the court’s ruling was political, in that it banned Otzma Yehudit’s Michael Ben-Ari from running for Knesset but allowed a man like Kassif to run.
Eldad expressed similar sentiments. He said that by siding with Kassif, the court undid the fundamentals of what makes Israel a Jewish and democratic state, and that such a decision “legitimizes a person who is anti-Israel.”
Eldad said it is too early to judge whether Kassif will reform his flaming language – if and when he enters the Knesset after the April 9 elections – but experience has shown that politics causes individuals “to act worse, to become more extreme.”
“Maybe he won’t put down the IDF or Netanyahu,” Eldad continued. “But his ideas are extreme, regardless of what role he is in or whether he keeps them private or not. A Jew who has called his fellow Jew a Nazi – even if he works for reduced taxation or workers’ rights and does a good job on those kinds of things – I could never connect with him.”
Ze’ev called Kassif’s Knesset run “a declaration of war against Israel,” promising that the Right would fight him, even though he is a Jew.
“Bibi has been a good prime minister, and the more they push him, the stronger the Likud will get,” Ze’ev predicted. He said God gave the Land of Israel to the Jewish people, and “real Jews” would not give up any part of it.
“Kassif’s idea that the Palestinians just want a state of their own is stupid,” he said. “They don’t want peace, they want destruction.”
Kassif just laughs at these assertions, making his own proclamations.
“We believe Israel has a right to exist,” Kassif said of the Hadash Party. Our struggle is against the state’s character... We are the only party that is really for the well-being of all people in Israel.”
His role models, he says, are not terrorists. They are Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Karl Marx and Primo Levi.
Kassif and Hadash “don’t reject people; we reject policy.” He has not written off joining a government under Netanyahu or Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, if they would have him, though he admitted that the government likely won’t.
“I see myself morally obliged to present the 180-degree opposite perspective [of the current leaders],” he said.
As such, if this Jewish man enters the Knesset next month, he will likely ignite a few fires.
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