And why are they exchanging fire with the US in tit-for-tat attacks around the region?
An impassioned Israeli MP sparked a political and social explosion earlier this week when he signed a petition in support of South Africa's genocide case against Israel being heard at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague.
Ofer Kassif, who has voiced his support for South Africa on social media, will support South Africa's legal application when it comes before the International Court of Justice on Thursday and Friday. He wrote on X on January 7: “My constitutional obligation is to Israeli society and all its residents, not to a government whose members and associates call for ethnic cleansing and even actual genocide. It was not me and my friends who invited South Africa to The Hague, those who are harming the country and its people.
Israel bombarded the Gaza Strip for 100 days, killing more than 23,000 Palestinians, including 10,000 children.
Who is Ofer Kashif? Kassif is a politician from the left-wing majority Arab party Hadash Taal, and Hadash is the Hebrew acronym for the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality. He was born in Rishon Lezion, near Tel Aviv, in 1964 and served as a member of the Israeli parliament for nearly five years. Kassif holds a PhD in political philosophy from the London School of Economics and worked as an academic at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem before joining parliament.
His tendency to go against the grain of Israeli society is not new. In the late 1980s, a pro-Palestinian Israeli, also a proud communist, spent time in prison for refusing military service in the occupied territories.
He said he was beaten by police in 2021 while participating in protests against illegal Jewish settlements in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem. His attacks on the state of Israel in front of parliament, including calling former Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked a "neo-Nazi scoffer", led the Central Election Commission to bar him from the 2019 elections.
However, this decision was overturned by the Supreme Court, and he was elected that year with just under 4.5% of the national vote and six Knesset seats. This compares with Kahol Lawan, an opposition political coalition led by Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party and former defense minister Benny Gantz, who is also a member of Netanyahu's war cabinet, with 35 seats, more than 26% .
Yossi Mekelberg, an associate professor in Chatham House's Middle East and North Africa program, called Kassif "an anomaly in Israeli politics." "The majority of Israeli Knesset members belong to Zionist parties. This is not the case in Kashif," Mekelberg said of anti-Zionist politicians.
He angered some by refusing aid to Ukraine, which is at war with Russia. When Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke via Zoom to the Knesset in March 2022, a month after the Russian invasion, Kashif refused to participate.
"I do not support unnecessary wars that hurt innocent civilians, empower those in power, and enrich warlords," Kashif said on Twitter. "I do not support those who persecute Ukrainian nationalists and communists. No, I do not support Russian nationalists who hate President Putin and communists." "It's not about war, it's about peace."
What are his views on Palestine? Kashif is a strong supporter of a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine.
In an interview with the Israeli Communist Party website in December 2023, he said: “As a people, the Palestinians have the right to their own independent state. “This agreement divides the land with the State of Israel, an independent and sovereign Palestinian state, which will enter the former territories that Israel occupied in June 1967, i.e. the Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem and the West Bank. "There is no other way."
He strongly opposed and protested against Israeli settlement in the Palestinian territories. In February 2022, he joined protesters in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem, where families were being evicted from their homes to allow settlers to move in. How was Kashif's position communicated to the Israeli people?
it's not good. Kashif is one of 400 Israelis out of an estimated 9.5 million people who have signed a petition supporting South Africa's lawsuit against Israel. As a member of the Knesset, his public behavior was like a red rag to a bull. Kashif, who called for an aerial bombardment of the Gaza Strip after Hamas attacked southern Israel on October 7, was suspended from the Knesset for 45 days for criticizing the war.
Israeli lawmaker Oded Forer called Kashif's decision to protest against his homeland "treason" and said "his words will no longer be heard while the blood of our soldiers and civilians drips from the ground." Forer is currently collecting signatures from lawmakers to remove Kassif from the Knesset. According to Knesset rules, before the National Assembly can vote to expel Kashif, Forer must convince 70 lawmakers to support his proposal and then win the approval of a committee of the Knesset's lower house. But Kashif seems to enjoy Israel's harsh and chaotic political situation. "He is in many ways more of an activist than a member of parliament," Mekelberg Kassif said. "And what you see is what you get."
Kashif lost friends in the Hamas attacks that killed an estimated 1,139 people. In an October 19, 2023 interview with the New York magazine Waging Nonviolence, he called the Hamas raid "morally repugnant". But in the same interview, 12 days after Israel began bombing the Gaza Strip, he told a non-profit media organization that his staunch rejection of Israel's military response had led to "brutal attacks, including death threats, from the part of the Israeli right". opinion".
He added: “They cannot stand and do not want to accept that I and others can show compassion and empathy to the innocent people of Gaza. At the same time, they show sympathy and concern for the people of Israel. It is not a contradiction.”
What do pro-Palestinian Israelis think of him? Global Palestinian rights advocates took to social media to praise Kashif's decision to go public with his position on the ICRC case against Israel in South Africa. But views on Israel are more nuanced among the pro-Palestinian left. "He is someone we respect and support despite our political differences in opposing genocide," said Israel Against Apartheid activist Neta Golan.
Ofer Neiman Kashif, a pro-Palestinian Israeli activist in Jerusalem, said he believed Russian President Vladimir Putin was too "soft". Neumann added: “I disagree with [his] reluctance to consider options other than a two-state solution. But here Palestine and genocide are the focus. In short, for me he is an anti-establishment comrade".