Ofer Kassif, the only Jewish candidate in the Israeli Arab Hadash Party, blames the death of 19-year-old IDF soldier Gal Keidan not on the terrorist who shot him, but on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Just hours before the High Court voted to reinstate him as eligible to run for the Knesset – after the Central Elections Committee disqualified him earlier this month for supporting armed conflict with Israel – Kassif told The Jerusalem Post that Keidan’s death and the wounding of 47-year-old Rabbi Ahiad Ettinger from the settlement of Eli on Sunday, are miniscule compared to what the Palestinians endure.
“The Palestinians are butchered and killed by the Israeli authorities… They are killed en masse on a daily basis and their trees are lit on fire,” Kassif said. “The guilt of today’s terror attack is on the head of the prime minister and the government, because if the occupation goes on, people will keep dying – especially Palestinians.”
Despite his opening remarks, Kassif did not deliver fire and brimstone in the interview with the Post after he participated in a debate at a Modi’in high school. During the debate, two students texted him a series of death threats and had to be removed from the auditorium.
Kassif, a member of Hadash since 1988, beat out three other Jewish potentials to claim the third slot on the Hadash Knesset list. Hadash is a Hebrew acronym for the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality and it is the successor to Israel’s Communist Party. The third slot is the “Jewish slot,” and he is replacing retiring MK Dov Henin. There are about 100 Jewish delegates among the party’s 940.
Kassif is not a big man. At 54, with a short beard and tanned skin, he looked like all the other candidates sitting on the stage at the Modi’in school. But Kassif has very different ideas, even than the most left-of-center parties. He has used his personal Facebook and other social platforms to shares his thoughts, including branding Israeli leaders who believe differently than he does as “neo-Nazi scum” (Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked), “repulsive gutter contamination” (Culture Minister Miri Regev) and “an arch murderer” (Netanyahu).
When asked about those statements, he was quick to cast them off as irrelevant now that he is a candidate for the Knesset. He said he would not use his bully pulpit to espouse his own views, but rather those of his party.
“Talking about this diverts attention from the real issues to things that are marginal,” he told the Post, explaining that they were said in context and long ago. “What is most important is what the government and leading politicians, and the prime ministers and ministers, have been doing in the last few years, not what a private person – me or whoever – posted on Facebook or tweeted.”
He admitted that he is “more fiery” than his predecessor but said “this should not influence my work in the Knesset. I am going to invest and immerse myself in working for the public.”
This work includes talking openly about the Nakba, for example, the term Arabs use to refer to Independence Day. He said that when Arabs speak about the Nakba it is taken in a particular way, but when uttered by a Jew it takes on special importance.
“My speaking about the Nakba is probably one of the most important political things that could happen,” Kassif said. “One of the things that has been happening, especially in the last few years, is that the government actually created a cleavage between the Palestinians and Jews that was never there before with such intensity.
“Hate and fear is the wind beneath the right wing,” he continued.
He said that Jews have repeatedly been used as scapegoats for political gain and it is “intolerable” that this is happening in Israel today.
“I am embarrassed that human beings can behave like that – and more embarrassed that Jews can behave like that, after all the suffering Jews have gone through,” he said.
Kassif said he is not worried that he will become the next Oren Hazan, a former Likud MK who came under fire for a series of statements, including those about people with disabilities, women, and others.
“How can you compare such a guy to me?” Kassif asked, almost in shock. “That guy is just vulgar. He was repulsive.”
The Knesset hopeful said he simply acts on conscience. He holds a doctorate in political philosophy from the London School of Economics and teaches political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Sapir Academic College in Sderot and the Academic College of Tel Aviv-Yafo. He was the first refusenik in the First Intifada to be jailed and was later jailed three more times for refusing to serve in the territories.
“If I needed to, I’d do it a fifth time,” he said.
He believes the occupation is a crime against humanity – morally, politically and legally – and “I will not take part in criminal activity.”
Yet he believes that he and Hadash care more about Israeli society than anyone else. He said that unlike the other parties, including left-wing Meretz, Hadash does not care mostly about Jews or Arabs, but about “the well-being of all people in Israel.”
For him, the three most immediate dangers to Israel are the occupation, racism and the diminishment of the democratic space to the point of liquidation.
He believes in the full right of return of Palestinian refugees but thinks the Law of Return that allows Jews to make aliyah should be canceled. He wants to change the national symbols and the national anthem to be more inclusive.
Kassif’s supreme value: equality.
“I cannot abide any supremacy - Jewish or Arab,” Kassif said. “Our struggle is not against the state’s existence, but over its character.”
Join Jerusalem Post Premium Plus now for just $5 and upgrade your experience with an ads-free website and exclusive content. Click here>>