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Israeli lawmaker says those who speak out against the war in Gaza face consequences


This country's highest-ranking Jewish elected official, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, says Israel's prime minister is an obstacle to peace.


CHUCK SCHUMER: Prime Minister Netanyahu has lost his way by allowing his political survival to take the precedence over the best interests of Israel.

MARTÍNEZ: On the Senate floor yesterday, Schumer called for a new Israeli election. His Republican counterpart, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, objected.


MITCH MCCONNELL: Israel is not a colony of America. Only Israel's citizens should have a say in who runs their government.


The sharp divisions over Israel's war in Gaza are also on full display inside Israeli politics. Far-left-wing lawmaker Ofer Cassif survived an effort last month to expel him from Israel's legislature, the Knesset, after he voiced support for South Africa's genocide case against Israel at the International Court of Justice. Netanyahu's allies accused Cassif of supporting terrorism. Cassif told our colleague, Michel Martin, he believes the war is a pretext for Netanyahu to seize even more power.

OFER CASSIF: Everybody knows that the government tried to pursue a coup d'etat under the sugarcoated term of judicial reform, in order to turn Israel into a full-fledged dictatorship. So now they are doing the same but under the smokescreen of the war in Gaza. And my persecution and my colleagues' persecution and attempts to silence us is not only of members of the Parliament. But the citizens at large, especially Arab citizens in Israel, have been persecuted intensely since 7th of October. People have been fired from their workplaces and suspended from their university studies solely for expressing grief and sympathy for the innocent civilians in Gaza.


What was your reaction when you saw this move to impeach you? How did you feel about that?

CASSIF: Believe it or not, I was not that worried about myself. I had life before the Knesset, and I guess that I live life after the Knesset if I'm not assassinated before.

MARTIN: Do you honestly feel that there may be an attempt on your life as a consequence of your positions?

CASSIF: Absolutely. It's very clear Israeli society, under the continuous incitement of Netanyahu and his bigots, Israeli society is not only polarized and enclaved, but even families of the hostages are under violent attack. The violence level in Israel, political violence and violence in general, but the violence - the political violence in Israel is on the rise.

MARTIN: You said on the floor in defense of yourself arguing against impeachment and you've said repeatedly you do not support armed struggle. You do not support terrorism, and you certainly do not support Hamas, and you certainly do not support the massacre of October 7. But I do want to ask, do you think that the Netanyahu government is committing genocide right now?

CASSIF: I think that this should be investigated. There are many crimes that are going on there. Eighty-five or 90% of Gaza is in ruins. No water, no hospitals, starvation, hypothermia, I guess, as well. Those are crimes. If they amount to genocide or not, this is to ICJ to investigate.

MARTIN: So what do you think should happen now?

CASSIF: There's no military solution. The fanatic Palestinians and the fanatic Israelis must understand there is no military solution to this situation, only a political one. And it was like that 75 years ago, 57 years ago when the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem began, and now. So no military option at all. The main factor that allows or enable this terrible carnage and bloodshed to continue is the administration of United States.

MARTIN: What role would you like to see the United States play, given everything that has happened so far, given where we are now?

CASSIF: When the United States continuously - and it doesn't matter which administration is in power, Democrats or Republicans. It's been going on like this for too many years that there is a blind support not for the people of Israel - I want to emphasize that - for the government of Israel. Those are not the same. If the United States wants really to assist and to stand with the people of Israel, like I do, they should do everything possible against the government of Israel. This specific government who supports Jewish supremacy and racial theory, literally and explicitly, once they support them, it is as if they supported David Duke. If the Biden administration and the people of America really want to help both the Israeli people and the Palestinian people, they must force the government of Israel to end it.

MARTIN: Ofer Cassif is a member of the Israeli Knesset. He survived an effort to impeach him. Ofer Cassif, thank you so much for speaking with us.

CASSIF: Thank you. It was a pleasure.

FADEL: We asked the Netanyahu government to respond to Cassif's remarks, but we haven't heard back. For more coverage and for differing views and analysis, you can visit Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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