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2/16/2019 The Knesset candidate who says Zionism encourages anti-Semitism and calls Netanyahu 'arch-murderer' - Israel Election

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Hadash candidate Ofer Cassif. Credit: Ilya Melnikov

The Knesset Candidate
Who Says Zionism
Encourages anti-
Semitism and Calls
Netanyahu 'Arch-
murderer'
Few Israelis have heard of Dr. Ofer
Cassif, the Jewish representative on
the far-leftist Hadash party's Knesset
slate. On April 9, that will change
By Ravit Hecht |  Feb 16, 2019
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● Clinging to Communist past, Hadash party hopes to reunite
Israeli Arabs behind it
● The right yearns to oust the Palestinians. The left must stop it
● A feminist and a communist, this Arab lawmaker is fighting for
Palestinians and Jewish women

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Ofer Cassif is fire and brimstone. Not even the flu he’s suffering
from today can contain his bursting energy. His words are blazing,
and he bounds through his modest apartment, searching
frenetically for books by Karl Marx and Primo Levi in order to find
quotations to back up his ideas. Only occasional sips from a cup of
maté bring his impassioned delivery to a momentary halt. The
South American drink is meant to help fight his illness, he explains.

Cassif is third on the slate of Knesset candidates in Hadash (the


Hebrew acronym for the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality),
the successor to Israel’s Communist Party. He holds the party’s
“Jewish slot,” replacing MK Dov Khenin. Cassif is likely to draw fire
from opponents and be a conspicuous figure in the next Knesset,
following the April 9 election.

Indeed, the assault on him began as soon as he was selected by the


party’s convention. The media pursued him; a columnist in the
mass-circulation Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, Ben-Dror Yemini,
called for him to be disqualified from running for the Knesset. It
would be naive to say that this was unexpected. Cassif, who was one
of the first Israeli soldiers to refuse to serve in the territories, in
1987, gained fame thanks to a number of provocative statements.
The best known is his branding of Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked as
“neo-Nazi scum.” On another occasion, he characterized Jews who
visit the Temple Mount as “cancer with metastases that have to be
eradicated.”

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On his alternate Facebook page, launched after repeated blockages


of his original account by a blitz of posts from right-wing activists,
he asserted that Culture Minister Miri Regev is “repulsive gutter
contamination,” that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is an
“arch-murderer” and that the new Israel Defense Forces chief of
staff, Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, is a “war criminal.”

Do you regret making those remarks?

Cassif: “‘Regret’ is a word of emotion. Those statements were made


against a background of particular events: the fence in Gaza,
horrible legislation, and the wild antics of Im Tirtzu [an
ultranationalist organization] on campus. That’s what I had to say at
the time. I didn’t count on being in the Knesset. That wasn’t part of
my plan. But it’s clear to me that as a public personality, I would not
have made those comments.”

The Hadash party primaries. Dov Kheninm Cassif’s predecessor as Hadash’s Jewish MK, is in the center
(in blue shirt). Credit: Rami Shllush

Is Netanyahu an arch­murderer?

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2/16/2019 The Knesset candidate who says Zionism encourages anti-Semitism and calls Netanyahu 'arch-murderer' - Israel Election 2019 - Haaretz.com
“Yes. I wroteIsrael
it inNews
the specific
All context of a particular day in the Gaza
Strip. A massacre of innocent people was perpetrated there, and no
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one’s going to persuade me that those people were endangering
anyone. It’s a concentration camp. Not a ‘concentration camp’ in the
sense of Bergen-Belsen; I am absolutely not comparing the
Holocaust to what’s happening.”

You term what Israel is doing to the Palestinians “genocide.”

“I call it ‘creeping genocide.’ Genocide is not only a matter of taking


people to gas chambers. When Yeshayahu Leibowitz used the term
‘Judeo-Nazis,’ people asked him, ‘How can you say that? Are we
about to build gas chambers?’ To that, he had two things to say.
First, if the whole difference between us and the Nazis boils down to
the fact that we’re not building gas chambers, we’re already in
trouble. And second, maybe we won’t use gas chambers, but the
mentality that exists today in Israel – and he said this 40 years ago
– would allow it. I’m afraid that today, after four years of such an
extreme government, it possesses even greater legitimacy.

“But you know what, put aside ‘genocide’ – ethnic cleansing is


taking place there. And that ethnic cleansing is also being carried
out by means of killing, although mainly by way of humiliation and
of making life intolerable. The trampling of human dignity. It
reminds me of Primo Levi’s ‘If This Is a Man.’”

You say you’re not comparing, but you repeatedly come back to
Holocaust references. On Facebook, you also uploaded the scene
from “Schindler’s List” in which the SS commander Amon Goeth
picks off Jews with his rifle from the balcony of his quarters in the
camp. You compared that to what was taking place along the border
fence in the Gaza Strip.

“Today, I would find different comparisons. In the past I wrote an


article titled, ‘On Holocaust and on Other Crimes.’ It’s online [in
Hebrew]. I wrote there that anyone who compares Israel to the
Holocaust is cheapening the Holocaust. My comparison between
here and what happened in the early 1930s [in Germany] is a very
different matter.”

Clarity vs. crudity

Given Cassif’s style, not everyone in Hadash was happy with his
election, particularly when it comes to the Jewish members of the
predominantly Arab party. Dov Khenin, for example, declined to be
interviewed and say what he thinks of his parliamentary successor.
According to a veteran party figure, “From the conversations I had,
it turns out that almost none of the Jewish delegates – who make up
about 100 of the party’s 940 delegates – supported his candidacy.

'When an Arab speaks about the


Nakba, it's be taken in a particular
way, but when uttered by a Jew it
takes on special importance.'
“He is perceived, and rightly so,” the party veteran continues, “as
someone who closes doors to Hadash activity within Israeli society.
Each of the other Jewish candidates presented a record of action
and of struggles they spearheaded. What does he do? Curses right-
wing politicians on Facebook. Why did the party leadership throw
the full force of its weight behind him? In a continuation of the
[trend exemplified by] its becoming part of the Joint List, Ofer’s

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election reflects
Israelinsularity
News All and an ongoing retreat from the historical
goal of implementing change in Israeli society.”
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At the same time, as his selection by a 60 percent majority shows,


many in the party believe that it’s time to change course. “Israeli
society is moving rightward, and what’s perceived as Dov’s [Khenin]
more gentle style didn’t generate any great breakthrough on the
Jewish street,” a senior source in Hadash notes.

“It’s not a question of the tension between extremism and


moderation, but of how to signpost an alternative that will develop
over time. Clarity, which is sometimes called crudity, never
interfered with cooperation between Arabs and Jews. On the
contrary. Ofer says things that we all agreed with but didn’t so much
say, and of course that’s going to rile the right wing. And a good
thing, too.”

Hadash chairman MK Ayman Odeh also says he’s pleased with the
choice, though sources in the party claim that Odeh is apprehensive
about Cassif’s style and that he actually supported a different
candidate. “Dov went for the widest possible alliances in order to
wield influence,” says Odeh. “Ofer will go for very sharp positions at
the expense of the breadth of the alliance. But his sharp statements
could have a large impact.”

Khenin was deeply esteemed by everyone. When he ran for mayor
of Tel Aviv in 2008, some 35 percent of the electorate voted for
him, because he was able to touch people who weren’t only from
his political milieu.

Odeh: “No one has a higher regard for Dov than I do. But just to
remind you, we are not a regular opposition, we are beyond the
pale. And there are all kinds of styles. Influence can be wielded
through comments that are vexatious the first time but which
people get used to the second time. When an Arab speaks about the
Nakba and about the massacre in Kafr Kassem [an Israeli Arab
village, in 1956], it will be taken in a particular way, but when
uttered by a Jew it takes on special importance.”

Hadash leader Ayman Odeh. Credit: Rami Shllush

He will be the cause of many attacks on the party.

“Ahlan wa sahlan – welcome.”

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Cassif will be the News
Israel first toAlltell you that, with all due respect for the
approach pursued by Khenin and by his predecessor in the Jewish
Israel Election Poland - Holocaust Teen murder Netanyahu - Iran Ilhan Omar - Israel Dome of Rock
slot, Tamar Gozansky, he will be something completely different. “I
totally admire what Tamar and Dov did – nothing less than that,” he
says, while adding, “But my agenda will be different. The three
immediate dangers to Israeli society are the occupation, racism and
the diminishment of the democratic space to the point of
liquidation. That’s the agenda that has to be the hub of the struggle,
as long as Israel rules over millions of people who have no rights,
enters [people’s houses] in the middle of the night, arrests minors
on a daily basis and shoots people in the back.

"Israel commits murder on a daily basis. When you murder one


Palestinian, you’re called Elor Azaria [the IDF soldier convicted and
jailed for killing an incapacitated Palestinian assailant]; when you
murder and oppress thousands of Palestinians, you’re called the
State of Israel.”

So you plan to be the provocateur in the next Knesset?

“It’s not my intention to be a provocateur, to stand there and scream


and revile people. Even on Facebook I was compelled to stop that.
But I definitely intend to challenge the dialogue in terms of the
content, and mainly with a type of sarcasm.”

'Bags of blood'

Cassif, 54, who holds a doctorate in political philosophy from the


London School of Economics, teaches political science at the
Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Sapir Academic College in Sderot
and at the Academic College of Tel Aviv-Yaffo. He lives in Rehovot,
is married and is the father of a 19-year-old son. He’s been active in
Hadash for three decades and has held a number of posts in the
party.

As a lecturer, he stands out for his boldness and fierce rhetoric,


which draws students of all stripes. He even hangs out with some of
his Haredi students, one of whom wrote a post on the eve of the
Hadash primary urging the delegates to choose him. After his
election, a student from a settlement in the territories wrote to him,
“You are a determined and industrious person, and for that I hold
you in high regard. Hoping we will meet on the field of action and
growth for the success of Israel as a Jewish, democratic state (I felt
obliged to add a small touch of irony in conclusion).”

'An attack on soldiers is not terrorism.


It’s perfectly legitimate, according to
every moral criterion – and, by the
way, in international law.'
Cassif grew up in a home that supported Mapai, forerunner of
Labor, in Rishon Letzion. He was an only child; his father was an
accountant, his mother held a variety of jobs. He was a news hound
from an early age, and at 12 ran for the student council in school. He
veered sharply to the left in his teens, becoming a keen follower of
Marx and socialism.

Following military service in the IDF’s Nahal brigade and a period


in the airborne Nahal, Cassif entered the Hebrew University. There
his political career moved one step forward, and there he also
forsook the Zionist left permanently. His first position was as a

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parliamentary aide
Israel to the
News All secretary general of the Communist Party,
Meir Wilner.
Israel Election
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“At first I was closer to Mapam [the United Workers Party, which
was Zionist], and then I refused to serve in the territories. I was the
first refusenik in the first intifada to be jailed. I didn’t get support
from Mapam, I got support from the people of Hadash, and I drew
close to them. I was later jailed three more times for refusing to
serve in the territories.”

His rivals in the student organizations at the Hebrew University


remember him as the epitome of the extreme left.

“Even in the Arab-Jewish student association, Cassif was considered


off-the-wall,” says Motti Ohana, who was chairman of Likud’s
student association and active in the Student Union at the end of
the 1980s and early 1990s. “One time I got into a brawl with him. It
was during the first intifada, when he brought two bags of blood,
emptied them out in the university’s corridors and declared, ‘There
is no difference between Jewish and Arab blood,’ likening Israeli
soldiers to terrorists. The custom on campus was that we would
quarrel, left-right, Arabs-Jews, and after that we would sit together,
have a coffee and talk. But not Cassif.”

According to Ohana, today a member of the Likud central


committee, the right-wing activists knew that, “You could count on
Ofer to fall into every trap. There was one event at the Hebrew
University that was a kind of political Hyde Park. The right wanted
to boot the left out of there, so we hung up the flag. It was obvious
that Ofer would react, and in fact he tore the flag, and in the wake of
the ruckus that developed, political activity was stopped for good.”

Palestinian refugees flee across over the Jordan river on the damaged Allenby Bridge during the 1967
Arab-Israeli war. Credit: AP

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Replacing the anthem
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Cassif voices clearly and cogently positions that challenge the public
discourse in Israel, and does so with ardor and charisma. Four
candidates vied for Hadash’s Jewish slot, and they all delivered
speeches at the convention. The three candidates who lost to him –
Efraim Davidi, Yaela Raanan and the head of the party’s Tel Aviv
branch, Noa Levy – described their activity and their guiding
principles. When they spoke, there was the regular buzz of an
audience that’s waiting for lunch. But when Cassif took the stage,
the effect was magnetic.

“Peace will not be established without a correction of the crimes of


the Nakba and [recognition of] the right of return,” he shouted, and
the crowd cheered him. As one senior party figure put it, “Efraim
talked about workers’ rights, Yaela about the Negev, Noa about
activity in Tel Aviv – and Ofer was Ofer.”

What do you mean by “right of return”?

Cassif: “The first thing is the actual recognition of the Nakba and of
the wrong done by Israel. Compare it to the Truth and
Reconciliation Commissions in South Africa, if you like, or with the
commissions in Chile after Pinochet. Israel must recognize the
wrong it committed. Now, recognition of the wrong also includes
recognition of the right of return. The question is how it’s
implemented. It has to be done by agreement. I can’t say that
tomorrow Tel Aviv University has to be dismantled and that Sheikh
Munis [the Arab village on whose ruins the university stands] has to
be rebuilt there. The possibility can be examined of giving
compensation in place of return, for example.”

But what is the just solution, in your opinion?

“For the Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland.”

That means there will be Jews who will have to leave their home.

“In some places, unequivocally, yes. People will have to be told: ‘You
must evacuate your places.’ The classic example is Ikrit and Biram
[Christian-Arab villages in Galilee whose residents were promised –
untruly – by the Israeli authorities in 1948 that they would be able
to return, and whose lands were turned over to Jewish
communities]. But there are places where there is certainly greater
difficulty. You don’t right one wrong with another.”

'If the goal Zionism is to establish a


Jewish state, and for Diaspora Jewry
to settle there, nothing serves it better
than anti-Semitism.'
What about the public space in Israel? What should it look like?

“The public space has to change, to belong to all the state’s


residents. I dispute the conception of ‘Jewish publicness.’”

How should that be realized?

“For example, by changing the national symbols, changing the


national anthem. [Former Hadash MK] Mohammed Barakeh once
suggested ‘I Believe’ [‘Sahki, Sahki’] by [Shaul] Tchernichovsky – a
poem that is not exactly an expression of Palestinian nationalism.
He chose it because of the line, ‘For in mankind I’ll believe.’ What

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does it meanIsrael
to believe
News in
All mankind? It’s not a Jew, or a Palestinian,
or a Frenchman,
Israel Election
or I don’t know what.”
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What’s the difference between you and the [Arab] Balad party?
Both parties overall want two states – a state "of all its citizens"
and a Palestinian state.

“In the big picture, yes. But Balad puts identity first on the agenda.
We are not nationalists. We do not espouse nationalism as a
supreme value. For us, self-determination is a means. We are
engaged in class politics. By the way, Balad [the National
Democratic Assembly] and Ta’al [MK Ahmad Tibi’s Arab Movement
for Renewal] took the idea of a state of all its citizens from us, from
Hadash. We’ve been talking about it for ages.”

If you were a Palestinian, what would you do today?

“In Israel, what my Palestinian friends are doing, and I with them –
[wage] a parliamentary and extra-parliamentary struggle.”

And what about the Palestinians in the territories?

“We have always been against harming innocent civilians. Always.


In all our demonstrations, one of our leading slogans was: ‘In Gaza
and in Sderot, children want to live.’ With all my criticism of the
settlers, to enter a house and slaughter children, as in the case of the
Fogel family [who were murdered in their beds in the settlement of
Itamar in 2011], is intolerable. You have to be a human being and
reject that.”

Israeli soldiers confront Palestinians protesting against land seizures for Jewish settlements, in the
village of al-Mughayyir, north of Ramallah, in the West Bank, January 25, 2019. Credit: AFP

And attacks on soldiers?

“An attack on soldiers is not terrorism. Even Netanyahu, in his book


about terrorism, explicitly categorizes attacks on soldiers or on the
security forces as guerrilla warfare. It’s perfectly legitimate,
according to every moral criterion – and, by the way, in
international law. At the same time, I am not saying it’s something
wonderful, joyful or desirable. The party’s Haifa office is on Ben-
Gurion Street, and suddenly, after years, I noticed a memorial
plaque there for a fighter in Lehi [pre-state underground militia,
also known as the Stern Gang] who assassinated a British officer.

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Wherever there
Israelhas been
News Alla struggle for liberation from oppression,
there are national heroes, who in 90 percent of the cases carried out
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some operations that were unlawful. Nelson Mandela is today
considered a hero, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but
according to the conventional definition, he was a terrorist. Most of
the victims of the ANC [African National Congress] were civilians.”

In other words, today’s Hamas commanders who are carrying out
attacks on soldiers will be heroes of the future Palestinian state?

“Of course.”

Anti­Zionist identity

Cassif terms himself an explicit anti-Zionist. “There are three


reasons for that,” he says. “To begin with, Zionism is a colonialist
movement, and as a socialist, I am against colonialism. Second, as
far as I am concerned, Zionism is racist in ideology and in practice. I
am not referring to the definition of race theory – even though there
are also some who impute that to the Zionist movement – but to
what I call Jewish supremacy. No socialist can accept that. My
supreme value is equality, and I can’t abide any supremacy – Jewish
or Arab. The third thing is that Zionism, like other ethno-
nationalistic movements, splits the working class and all weakened
groups. Instead of uniting them in a struggle for social justice, for
equality, for democracy, it divides the exploited classes and the
enfeebled groups, and by that means strengthens the rule of
capital.”

He continues, “Zionism also sustains anti-Semitism. I don’t say it


does so deliberately – even though I have no doubt that there are
some who do it deliberately, like Netanyahu, who is connected to
people like the prime minister of Hungary, Viktor Orban, and the
leader of the far right in Austria, Hans Christian Strache.”

Did Mapai­style Zionism also encourage anti­Semitism?

'Jerry Seinfeld was born Jewish by


chance. Why should he have
preference over a refugee from Sabra
or Chatila, or Edward Said? This is
their homeland. Not Seinfeld’s.'
“The phenomenon was very striking in Mapai. Think about it for a
minute, not only historically, but logically. If the goal of political
and practical Zionism is really the establishment of a Jewish state
containing a Jewish majority, and for Diaspora Jewry to settle there,
nothing serves them better than anti-Semitism.”

What in their actions encouraged anti­Semitism?

“The very appeal to Jews throughout the world – the very fact of
treating them as belonging to the same nation, when they were
living among other nations. The whole old ‘dual loyalty’ story –
Zionism actually encouraged that. Therefore, I maintain that anti-
Semitism and anti-Zionism are not the same thing, but are precisely
opposites. That doesn’t mean, of course, that there are no anti-
Zionists who are also anti-Semites. Most of the BDS people are of
course anti-Zionists, but they are in no way anti-Semites. But there
are anti-Semites there, too.”

Do you support BDS?

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“It’s too complex a subject
Israel News All for a yes or no answer; there are aspects I
don’t support.”
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Do you think that the Jews deserve a national home in the Land of
Israel?

“I don’t know what you mean by ‘national home.’ It’s very


amorphous. We in Hadash say explicitly that Israel has a right to
exist as a sovereign state. Our struggle is not against the state’s
existence, but over its character.”

But that state is the product of the actions of the Zionist movement,
which you say has been colonialist and criminal from day one.

“That’s true, but the circumstances have changed. That’s the reason
that the majority of the members of the Communist Party accepted
the [1947] partition agreement at the time. They recognized that the
circumstances had changed. I think that one of the traits that sets
communist thought apart, and makes it more apt, is the
understanding and the attempt to strike the proper balance between
what should be, and reality. So it’s true that Zionism started as
colonialism, but what do you do with the people who were already
born here? What do you tell them? Because your grandparents
committed a crime, you have to leave? The question is how you
transform the situation that’s been created into one that’s just,
democratic and equal.”

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Hadash candidate Ofer Cassif. Credit: Ilya Melnikov

So, a person who survived a death camp and came here is a
criminal?

“The individual person, of course not. I’m in favor of taking in


refugees in distress, no matter who or what they are. I am against
Zionism’s cynical use of Jews in distress, including the refugees
from the Holocaust. I have a problem with the fact that the natives
whose homeland this is cannot return, while people for whom it’s
not their homeland, can, because they supposedly have some sort of
blood tie and an ‘imaginary friend’ promised them the land.”

I understand that you are in favor of the annulment of the Law of
Return?

“Yes. Definitely.”

But you are in favor of the Palestinian right of return.

“There’s no comparison. There’s no symmetry here at all. Jerry


Seinfeld was by chance born to a Jewish family. What’s his
connection to this place? Why should he have preference over a
refugee from Sabra or Chatila, or Edward Said, who did well in the

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United States? They
Israel areAll
News the true refugees. This is their homeland.
Not Seinfeld’s.”
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Are you critical of the Arabs, too?

“Certainly. One criticism is of their cooperation with imperialism –


take the case of today’s Saudi Arabia, Qatar and so on. Another,
from the past, relates to the reactionary forces that did not accept
that the Jews have a right to live here.”

Hadash refrained from criticizing the Assad regime even as it was
massacring civilians in Syria. The party even torpedoed a
condemnation of Assad after the chemical attack. Do you identify
with that approach?

“Hadash was critical of the Assad regime – father and son – for
years, so we can’t be accused in any way of supporting Assad or
Hezbollah. We are not Ba’ath, we are not Islamists. We are
communists. But as I said earlier, the struggle, unfortunately, is
generally not between the ideal and what exists in practice, but
many times between two evils. And then you have to ask yourself
which is the lesser evil. The Syrian constellation is extremely
complicated. On the one hand, there is the United States, which is
intervening, and despite all the pretense of being against ISIS,
supported ISIS and made it possible for ISIS to sprout.

"I remind you that ISIS started from the occupation of Iraq. And
ideologically and practically, ISIS is definitely a thousand times
worse than the Assad regime, which is at base also a secular regime.
Our position was and is against the countries that pose the greatest
danger to regional peace, which above all are Qatar and Saudi
Arabia, and the United States, which supports them. That doesn’t
mean that we support Assad.”

Wrong language

Cassif’s economic views are almost as far from the consensus as his
political ideas. He lives modestly in an apartment that’s furnished
like a young couple’s first home. You won’t find an espresso maker
or unnecessary products of convenience in his place. To his credit, it
can be said that he extracts the maximum from Elite instant coffee.

What is your utopian vision – to nationalize Israel’s
conglomerates, such as Cellcom, the telecommunications company,
or Osem, the food manufacturer and distributor?

“The bottom line is yes. How exactly will it be done? That’s an


excellent question, which I can’t answer. Perhaps by transferring
ownership to the state or to the workers, with democratic tools. And
there are other alternatives. But certainly, I would like it if a large
part of the resources were not in private hands, as was the case
before the big privatizations. It’s true that it won’t be socialism,
because, again, there can be no such thing as Zionist socialism, but
there won’t be privatization like we have today. What is the result of
capitalism in Israel? The collapse of the health system, the absence
of a social-welfare system, a high cost of living and of housing, the
elderly and the disabled in a terrible situation.”

Does any private sector have the right to exist?

“Look, the question is what you mean by ‘private sector.’ If we’re


talking about huge concerns that the owners of capital control
completely through their wealth, then no.”

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What growth was there in the communist countries? How can
Israel News All
anyone support communism, in light of the grim experience
Israel Election
Poland - Holocaust Teen murder Netanyahu - Iran Ilhan Omar - Israel Dome of Rock
wherever it was tried?

“It’s true, we know that in the absolute majority of societies where


an attempt was made to implement socialism, there was no growth
or prosperity, and we need to ask ourselves why, and how to avoid
that. When I talk about communism, I’m not talking about Stalin
and all the crimes that were committed in the name of the
communist idea. Communism is not North Korea and it is not Pol
Pot in Cambodia. Heaven forbid.”

A customer moves along empty shelves as she shops for groceries at a supermarket in Caracas,
Venezuela, July 25, 2017. Credit: Carlos Becerra / Bloomberg via G

And what about Venezuela?

"Venezuela is not communism. In fact, they didn’t go far enough in


the direction of socialism."

Chavez was not enough of a socialist?

"Chavez, but in particular Maduro. The Communist Party is critical


of the regime. They support it because the main enemy is truly
American imperialism and its handmaidens. Let’s look at what the
U.S. did over the years. At how many times it invaded and employed
bullying, fascist forces. Not only in Latin America, its backyard, but
everywhere."

Venezuela is falling apart, people there don’t have anything to eat,
there’s no medicine, everyone who can flees – and it’s the fault of
the United States?

"You can’t deny that the regime has made mistakes. It’s not ideal.
But basically, it is the result of American imperialism and its
lackeys. After all, the masses voted for Chavez and for Maduro not
because things were good for them. But because American
corporations stole the country’s resources and filled their own
pockets. I wouldn’t make Chavez into an icon, but he did some
excellent things."

Then how do you generate individual wealth within the method
you’re proposing? I understand that I am now talking to you

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capitalistically, but the reality is that people see the accumulation
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of assets as an expression of progress in life.
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“Your question is indeed framed in capitalist language, which


simply departs from what I believe in. Because you are actually
asking me how the distribution of resources is supposed to occur
within the capitalist framework. And I say no, I am not talking
about resource distribution within a capitalist framework.”

Gantz vs. Netanyahu

Cassif was chosen as the polls showed Meretz and Labor, the
representatives of the Zionist left, barely scraping through into the
next Knesset and in fact facing a serious possibility of electoral
extinction. The critique of both parties from the radical left is
sometimes more acerbic than from the right.

Would you like to see the Labor Party disappear?

“No. I think that what’s happening at the moment with Labor and
with Meretz is extremely dangerous. I speak about them as
collectives, because they contain individuals with whom I see no
possibility of engaging in a dialogue. But I think that they absolutely
must be in the Knesset.”

Is a left­winger who defines himself as a Zionist your partner in
any way?

“Yes. We need partners. We can’t be picky. Certainly we will


cooperate with liberals and Zionists on such issues as combating
violence against women or the battle to rescue the health system.
Maybe even in putting an end to the occupation.”

I’ll put a scenario to you: Benny Gantz does really well in the
election and somehow overcomes Netanyahu. Do you support the
person who led Operation Protective Edge in Gaza when he was
chief of staff?

“Heaven forbid. But we don’t reject people, we reject policy. I


remind you that it was [then-defense minister] Yitzhak Rabin who
led the most violent tendency in the first intifada, with his ‘Break
their bones.’ But when he came to the Oslo Accords, it was Hadash
and the Arab parties that gave him, from outside the coalition, an
insurmountable bloc. I can’t speak for the party, but if there is ever
a government whose policy is one that we agree with – eliminating
the occupation, combating racism, abolishing the nation-state law –
I believe we will give our support in one way or another.”

And if Gantz doesn’t declare his intention to eliminate the
occupation, he isn’t preferable to Netanyahu in any case?

“If so, why should we recommend him [to the president to form the
next government]? After the clips he posted boasting about how
many people he killed and how he hurled Gaza back into the Stone
Age, I’m far from certain that he’s better.”

Ravit Hecht
Haaretz Contributor

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11 Blake Alcott |  23:38 3 1


fantastic article
Finally a politician I could vote for were I an Israeli. His message
and language are even clearer than those of Balad politicians. For
right of return and against law of return - couldn't agree more.
Why doesn't Cassif make the breakthrough and simply come out
for one democratic state, because that is what his policies amount
to? (Mind you, I'm not a communist at all.) Excellent interview,
Ravit Hecht. I hope Hadash gets at least 3 seats so Cassif
becomes an MK.

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10 David |  22:54 2 4
USA or Syria ?
It's clear, hear what Mr Cassif says: Between the USA and the
Assad regime, he chooses the Assad regime and its 400 000
dead. What a nice future is possible with Hadash party! Thus Mr
Cassif is ready to be on criminals' side against democracy...

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9 CounterPoint By Joel Stein |  19:10 9 12


The problem with such Leftist idealists in the Middle
East is that, in the name of greater "democracy", they
nearly always end up as "useful idiots", eventually self-
destructing by way of empowering Islamist tyrannies.
Keep in mind that Islamist autocracies in Iran's Mullah
regime, Mursi's Egypt and Erdogan's Turkey, were all
initially enabled by such Leftist idealists in the name of
greater democracy! Accordingly, Dr Cassif's vision of a
single "democratic" bi-national state, together with the
Right of Return he is advocating for descendants of 1948
Arab refugees, would inevitably lead to yet another Gaza-
like dysfunctional Muslim Brotherhood dictatorship,
where he and his like would end up either in jail or exile
(if they are lucky to evade being thrown out of rooftops)!
Before he advocates such drastic policies, I invite Dr
Cassif to some greater appreciation of Israel's current
democracy which, though imperfect, provides even a pro-
enemy Jew like him with equal political rights and a
representative voice in the country's parliament. (no content)

8 Smadar |  17:25 8 5
Thank you Ravit Hecht for the excellent interview and
great questions. Dr. Ofer Cassif will not have too many
Jewish or Israeli people agreeing with him or join his
political crusade, and I say this despite the fact that my
father and mother used to be, when they were younger,
Zionist Communists, then Zionist Mapai members, then
Zionist Liberal realists!
Of course I am including my relatives who were all Iraqi Jewish
born and reside in Israel today. Once they were all socialists and
now believe in the free market and socialist safeguards by
government. First and foremost I should mention, when my father
attended Hebrew University in Jerusalem in the early 1950s as a
political science major, (he also ran for political parties) and Moshe
Dayan was in his foreign relations class, there was a professor at
the campus, who show my father a flyer/newsletter from the
Lebanese Communist Party, which stated specifically its support
of the Jewish homeland as the State of Israel in 1948. They were
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theIsrael
first political
News All party in the Middle East to support the Zionist
Project - a Jewish state within the Muslim neighbourhood.
Israel Election Second,
Poland -Zionism
Holocaustbegan
Teenin the 19th century
murder in response
Netanyahu to anti-
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Semitism, which of course we continue to experience today with
its revival unlike seen for some time. This is a development
because of a number of variables including the unresolved Israeli-
Palestinian issue, far-right political nationalism, the refugee
migrations as resulting from regional conflicts and leaders who
thrive on chaos to deflect from their responsibilities. But Zionism
refers to the fundamental notion that the Jewish people or the
Jewish nation deserve their self-determination, a sovereign
territory and refuge for those who experience anti-Semitism - the
Law of Return was created for this sole purpose - Israel as a
haven in the desert along with its inhabitants, the Palestinians
alongside. Zionism does not propagate supremacy or exploitation
of any people. Judaism entails belonging to the Israelite nation of
over 3000 years history, originating as a state in ancient Israel
through King David's unification of Judah and Israel, and having a
religious affiliation through customs and traditions. Why would Dr.
Cassif support the removal of this Jewish distinction along with its
political democratic system, unless he does not like the Jewish
people and their religion, which to me spells anti-Semitism? That's
committing genocide with the stroke of a pen! You can be secular
and Jewish. If one wishes to abandon the practices of their
religion/ethnicity, that is their own personal prerogative. There is a
spectrum of Judaism just as there is a spectrum within Islam,
Christianity, Catholicism, etc. Thirdly, I find it very difficult how Dr.
Cassif equates atrocities - I prefer this term of atrocity or plural
atrocities, committed by terrorist organizations vs.
individuals/leaders within a UN recognized government. As
Israelis, we cannot allow ourselves (the Israeli Government, which
also represents the Jewish people-at-large) to commit any
premeditated atrocity or atrocities. We know the era of colonialism
and imperialism is essentially over as globalism and geopolitics
within the free market is predominately the form of economics and
has been successful. We know, however, full well that when
dictatorial leaders such as those in terrorist organizations or
leaders such as Assad commit atrocities such as the genocide
and expulsion of millions of Syrians, there is not and will not be
anything comparable by an Israeli leader. Israel is a democracy
which is accountable for its actions. However, we have a right to
be fearful of what Hamas Palestinian leadership can gravitate
towards and this is the dilemma. Building tunnels to commit
violence towards civil Israeli society is not ethical. Using kids to do
your bidding at the border Gaza fence and potentially infiltrate into
Israel is not ethical. To continue the terrorism mandate for over 30
years towards Israel without recognizing our need for existence is
not ethical. Does the IDF build tunnels to reach kindergartens?
One can say, like Dr. Cassif, they reject those who commit
violence but what guarantee does he give us that one day Hamas
followers won't even blossom into ISIS-type of violence within a
future Palestine? I say this despite believing in two-states for two
peoples. Hamas currently executes 'traitors' without a
recognizable tribunal system. There is no equivalence to Israel's
judicial system. I am not saying Israel's justice system is always
perfect, but it is democratic. At the same time, Dr. Cassif is correct
that we should be currently concerned about committing wrongful
Palestinian deaths and putting IDF soldiers in this predicament
with the 'enemy'. Finally, Israel has to recognize the Nabka as the
Palestinian tragedy and come up with something similar as we
have in Canada with the "Truth and Reconciliation Agreement" the
Canadian Government signed with the First Nations in Canada.
We are still working on this political, cultural and economic
rectification between the Aboriginal peoples and the Canadian
Government. Nothing comes easily but we all must have hope for
peace and reconciliation despite never forgetting the past.

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7 Michael Aronson |  20:42 15.02.2019 11 0


Social Cooperation
Politics tries to facilitate cooperation among people. So does
economics. In democratic countries, it works by voting and
majority rule. It also works by the price system. However, when
beliefs become extreme and non-negotiable, both systems fail. At
that point Clausewitz's belief comes into play: "War is politics by
other means."

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6
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6 Alexandria Khalil | All20:04 15.02.2019
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17 3
@David - reply
Israel Election Poland - Holocaust Teen murder Netanyahu - Iran Ilhan Omar - Israel Dome of Rock
@David - I am not a Communist. I'm more in line with Democratic
Socialist - Canada, Denmark, Sweden, Norwary. Yes Communism
did terrible things - all that describe and more. Communists were
also anti-Muslim. The USSR did terrible things to their Muslim
citizens. However, we must be honest and agree that so did and
does Capitalism. I don't believe in perfect systems or utopias. I
am against the Cult of Personalities that plague our world. I am a
believer in bi-nationalism because that is where the situation is
now - all commingled. Not too different from where they were prior
to 1948. What can make politics? - Evangelical fetishes of
Muslims and Jews causing Armageddon is one way of making
politics. Falwell, Hagee, Huckabee, Pence, and the Israeli right
wing are friends based on their respective politics. Not me - I'm
not a believer in Armageddon, or Messiahs of any kind. I'll try
politics based on friendship, mutual respect and not causing the
return of any Messiah.

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David |  14:27 3 2
@Alexandria Khalil
Hi Alexandria. Good ! :) you don't try to make the Messiah come
or come back. I myself don't try. As for what you say about
communism and capitalism, I am not a capitalist but I really
think we can't tell communism and capitalism are equal in
fairness or unfairness. Yes, some bad things happened with
capitalism, but freedom has only happened under capitalism till
now, whereas only dictatorships happened under communism.
These are facts. As for bi-nationalism, I think it is the best way to
go into new waves of wars for decades or centuries. I sincerely
think that promoting bi-nationalism is a way to deny the other
side's legitimacy. And it isn't by chance almost all of those
supporting bi-nationalism are pro-Palestinian - it's a way to deny
self-determination for the Jewish people. As a human being, you
have to understand Jews too. We Jews need self-determination.
This is not a luxury for us. I myself live in France and it's crazy
how antisemitism grows. On the far left, on the far right and on
the Islamic side. We Jews need a state because the world is a
dangerous place for us. We refuse to go back to a time when
killing Jews was easy because we were people without a state
and people without a territory. You have to understand us as I try
to understand the Palestinians. I want a Palestinian State
because I think people can't live under occupation for eternity
and because as a Jew and a Zionist I don't like domination over
other people. We need a state to keep being free and at the
same time, I know you need a state to be free. It isn't only a
matter of peace and justice, it's a matter of safety too. But bi-
nationalism wouldn't last. At first, Jews would become a
minority fast, and there's no happy minority in the countries
being Israel's neighbors. Then, the hatred against Jews and their
presence in Palestine/Israel is too high in the Arab world for us
to survive with love and flowers. We Jews need a state and its
safety. What's more, I think it's weird for some Palestinians to
wish such fusion or merging with their decades-long enemy -
who wants to marry his enemy? The Palestinians suffered too,
and such a will is not sane. What they really want to reach
behind this will is the whole territory of what was the British
Mandate. And that's why bi-nationalism is a way to conquer
territory for the Palestinians. To me it's the same position as the
settler's one. The settlers are unable to see the Palestinians. Or
when they "see" them, they say in the future the Palestinians will
have the same rights as Jews in one Jewish state (Rivlin's
position). Both views - for the settlements and for bi-nationalism
- are unable to recognize the other side's legitimacy. Honestly, I
think many people in Israel recognize the Palestinian legitimacy
for a state, many writers and intellectuals and militants talk this
way, but on the Palestinians side nobody says a Jewish state is
legitimate - no intellectual, no writer... They can promote two
states but it isn't the same thing as saying a Jewish state is
legitimate. I think the issue here is about seeing the "other" in
the Palestinian society. And that's very sad. Even if you don't
agree with a position, diversity of views means a society can
generate a democratic debate with different views. There are
many ideas I don't like in Israel - on the far left and on the right -
but I know their existence means a diversity of thought is
created here. And at the end such a diversity is good for
everybody. Have a good day.

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5 CounterPoint By Joel Stein |  18:33 15.02.2019 17 18
Not a word about the "the Jewish Nakba" -- over 1 million
Jewish refugees from Arab/Islamic countries that were
expelled as a result of the same conflict??? ..... Today a
majority of Israel's Jewish population is descended from
such refugees from the Middle East and North Africa,
whose numbers, as well as lost property, businesses and
assets left behind, far exceed those of Arab Nakba
refugees from Israel/Palestine. ..... Accordingly, if there
was an Arab Nakba, there was also a significantly larger
Jewish Nakba, leading to an impromptu de facto
population exchange between two warring parties -- not
unlike Turks-Greeks, Muslim-Hindu Indians, Germans-
Poles, etc in the past century. ..... Accordingly:

CounterPoint By Joel Stein |  02:20 1 2


@Tom: When you talk about the Mufti-Hitler alliance
and their joint plan to exterminate Israel's Jews, I'd be
pleased to say a few words on Weizmann and Ben-
Gurion.

David Gerald Fincham |  21:12 7 3


@Smadar There was no Jewish Nakba
You are quite right. The Declaration of the State of Israel called
for the 'in-gathering of the exiles'. Israel strongly encouraged
Jews living in Arab lands to migrate to Israel and most of them
did so voluntarily.

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CounterPoint By Joel Stein |  19:26 6 4


@Smadar: This is just nonsense and a huge denial of
actual history. I urge you to go back to history and see
how Jews in Iraq (the Farhoud pogrom included!),
Egypt, Libya, Algeria, etc, faced Genocide and were
forcibly expelled or had to flee for their lives! For in-
depth reference material on the Jewish Nakba, see links
below:

Tom |  18:47 4 4
@CounterPoint by Joel Stein And YOU have "not a
word" about Ben-Gurion's, Weizmann's, et al role in
that!

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Smadar |  18:45 11 4
@CounterPoint by Joel Stein

4 Alexandria Khalil |  17:24 15.02.2019 20 7


Dr. Ofer Cassif
Kudos to Dr. Cassif and Haaretz - it's nice to see excellent minds
and great journalism is still alive. As a Palestinian American I want
to add that the Arab countries were also wrong in adopting
nationalism (Baathism) and is a political thought I completely
renounce. The great histories of Jews of the Middle east were also
erased - neighbors turned against neighbors. These governments
later used this ideology against any opposition of the government.
This in turn brought us the Islamists. I commend Dr. Cassif for
talking about the Christians of the Galilee. There are so many
untold stories. My late mother in law's family is from Haifa. She
used to light her Jewish neighbor's candles. My friends the
Ibrahim's are from Sufit - their father, Mohammad Ibrahim, Abu
Khalil, always spoke fondly of his best friend, a Jewish butcher. He
still had the key to his home yet never spoke ill of his friend.
Excellent article. Thank you.

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David |  19:09 15.02.2019
@Alexandria Khalil
Alexandria, do you think Hadash, a Communist Party, can mean
any future? Communism always talked of brotherhood between
people, made perfect speeches - but how did it behave?
Massacres, deportations, dictatorships, discriminations,
antisemitism, etc. Then, I don't think individual stories or
friendships can make politics. We have to see issues in a
political way. The Jewish people need a state, and the
Palestinian people need a state. Only a share is fair. That's it,
even if the Arab or Jewish neighbor isn't friendly.

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3 Ben Alofs |  14:25 15.02.2019 15 9


Thanks for this interview, Ravit Hecht

David |  19:01 15.02.2019 7 5


@Ben Alofs LOL

2 Levi |  09:02 15.02.2019 9 14

ravit Hetch

1 Paul |  16:48 14.02.2019 24 45

I have a great Idea
Gideon Levy, Amira Hass and this nutcase should establish a new
party and call it.....Hate Israel.......they can throw a coin to decide
on who will lead and be 1 or 2

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Paul |  18:48 4 1

@quodlibet
I don't think so.....but thanks

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Quodlibet |  08:07 15.02.2019 19 14


@paul
Read carefully, and sort out ideas. You might learn something.

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