Israel assembly falls short in vote to expel lawmaker over genocide case

By Thomson Reuters Feb 19, 2024 | 1:24 PM

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Lawmakers from Israel’s religious-nationalist coalition failed on Monday to gain enough votes in parliament to expel a far-left colleague over his support for an International Court of Justice (ICJ) case accusing the country of genocide in Gaza.

A total of 85 of the 120 members of the Knesset backed the motion to oust Ofer Cassif in a plenum session, five votes short of the 90-seat supermajority required.

The highly unusual vote to expel a sitting member of parliament reflects the fury in Israel at the case brought by South Africa, alleging that Israel’s campaign to destroy the Islamist movement Hamas in Gaza amounted to genocide.

Cassif, whose communist Hadash party sits in the opposition as part of a joint list with the left-wing Arab Ta’al party, signed an open letter backing the allegations, although he dismissed claims that he supported Hamas.

“This impeachment request is based on a blatant lie – that I support Hamas’ armed struggle,” he said in the debate ahead of the vote, according to a Knesset statement.

Cassif said the real aim of the vote was “political persecution and silencing of every critical voice in general and of Arab citizens and their representatives in the Knesset in particular” and his motivation in signing the petition was “liberal scepticism”.

“I am not prepared to take the government’s claims about what is happening in Gaza at face value,” he said.

Almost 30,000 people have been killed in Israel’s invasion of Gaza, launched in response to the devastating attack led by Hamas gunmen on Oct. 7 that killed 1,200 people and saw some 250 taken hostage.

Casualty figures from the Palestinian health authorities do not distinguish between combatants and non-combatants and Israel says it makes every effort to reduce civilian casualties but the scale of the killing has drawn huge criticism worldwide and prompted even Israel’s closest allies to urge restraint.

Within Israel, however, support for the military campaign remains high, with most Israelis believing Hamas would repeat the Oct. 7 attack if it had the chance.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich denounced lawmakers who failed to support the motion.

“Anyone who leaves a terror-supporting Knesset member who incites against Israel in time of war is lost along the way,” he said in a statement.

(Writing by Dan Williams and James Mackenzie; Editing by Tomasz Janowski)