Our following interview fell into the middle of two chapters around Israel. The first were the ongoing protests against the Netanyahu government that indicated a deep rupture within the Israeli state and society. The second started on last Saturday, when the Palestinian struggle for an independent and sovereign state has opened a new chapter of armed resistance against Israeli occupation forces.
We spoke on both topics with Ofer Cassif, Communist Party of Israel and Hadesh member of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset.
In response to the recent events, the interview starts with the second chapter: Cassif’s evaluation of the fighting. Then follows his evaluation on the long-going rupture within Israel. Lastly, we asked Cassif on the first repercussions of the fighting on domestic Israeli politics and the standing of Prime Minister Netanyahu.
How is your evaluation of the fighting?
It is a horrible situation, with a lot of people losing their lives both on the Israeli and the Palestinian side: In Gaza, the West Bank and also inside Israel. I am afraid that the number of deaths will increase heavily.
We need to understand the context of the fighting: This is the occupation. It has long been stated already that the situation created by the occupation will explode, because the Palestinian people does not accept living under the conditions of this brutal, lethal repression, and like all peoples on earth, it will take up resistance.
Netanyahu’s government “wanted this war”
The only way to solve this horrible situation, horrible for both Israelis and Palestinians, is to eliminate the occupation and to establish the free, independent, sovereign State of Palestine, including the rights of the Palestinians that have fled to return to their lands. Otherwise, we will continue having the bloodshed.
Where do you place the Netanyahu government in this?
The guilt for the current fighting, the horrible crimes and violence belongs to the Netanyahu government. For sure, because it is responsible for the occupation of Palestinian lands, the ethnic cleaning and all. But there is more: Netanyahu’s government wanted this war.
See, there have been protests against Netanyahu for 40 weeks. Every week, people took to the streets against him, sometimes up to half a million citizens. Yesterday was the first time that a protest has been cancelled.
This government of Netanyahu is actually trying to complete a fascist coup d’état. It’s purpose is, among other things, to unleash another naqba on the Palestinians.
UWI note: The following part of the interview has been recorded before the start of the recent clashes.
Can you explain the content of the protests of the last weeks? What is the contradiction here, what is the disputed matter? Some argue that it is a conflict between Jews of different origin, such as the Ashkenazi and the Sephardi.
That is nonsense. It is true that there is the Sephardi are still discriminated, but to picture the conflict as one between Jews of different origin is typical rightwing identity politics. Netanyahu does that to divide and control.
“Democratic versus Jewish State”
Protests started around the reform of the judicial system, but the main issue is more fundamental: What kind of state shall Israel be? A democratic state, a Jewish state, or both at the same time. Since 1948 there have always been three camps on that question, with the center arguing that the state could be both, Jewish and democratic at the same time. That fraction has decreased in recent years.
As Communists, we always defended the position that the state cannot be democratic and Jewish at the same time. It must be truly democratic, with equality and inclusiveness for all, including the Palestinians. More and more people support that notion, among them also citizens of Jewish belief as well as Muslims, Palestinians.
On the other side are those who demand a Jewish state and even include fascist ideologies of racial supremacy. They have a theory of the Jewish race. And these have 5 or 6 ministries in the current government, including that for interior security.
These guys share information with the occupying settlers, they organize pogroms, and what to establish the state on the idea of Jewish racial supremacy.
So, the domestic conflict is about the future nature of the state of Israel.
The conflict even started threatening Israel’s institutional structure?
Yes. I’ll give you an example. Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, defined the military as a melting pot for all the different immigrants to Israel from various parts of the world. But today, young people publicly state that they don’t want to go to the military because they do not want to part of the occupation. This is a disaster for the public debate.
I rejected military service for that reason back then, and went to prison for that. But that time, I was one of the few. Now, there are much more.
From Shin Bet over the police to the Armed Forces: Who supports Netanyahu, and who supports the protesters?
And the protests are reflected in acts of disobedience in the military. How would you evaluate the position of the security forces in the conflict you described above.
Israel has always been a very militarized society. There are three main institutions here: The armed forces, the police and shabak or shin bet, the Israel Security Agency.
I think that the higher ranks of the shabak and the majority of its agents are against the coup of the Netanyahu government, and thus, support the protests.
The police supports the government and rejects the protests, from its chief to the vast majority of its members. That is also visible in the violence they have shown against the protesters.
Dangers of civil war
The armed forces are the most important organization here, because it is the biggest, everyone has to go there, including women. It is culturally a very important institution, because it is not a professional but a popular army, thus heterogeneous.
Now, the majority of the ordinary soldiers are fascists, racists and fanatics. But when you get to the higher ranks, that the officers are more professionals than politicians. And without being sure, I think there is a conflict there and that might even lead to a civil war.
UWI: We would like to remind our readers that this part of the interview has been recorded before the recent eruption of clashes.
A civil war inside Israel?
Yes. There is already a Cold War since weeks and important divisions inside these institutions. And if the conflict around the judicial reform radicalizes, I think the command of the army and the shabak will side with the protesters, while the police and the ordinary soldiers will side with Netanyahu. Therefore, the situation is very dangerous and about to explode.
Where do you place the United States in that conflict?
They carry huge responsibility. First of all, either Biden or Trump, the United States is an imperialist power, though Trump is obviously the worse.
But Biden just needed to say one word to Netanyahu to stop the pogroms, the settlements, the coup, and Netanyahu would stop, because Israel. Is fully dependent on the United States in terms of arms, finance, international diplomatic support etc.
UWI: Continuing with the second part of the interview, recorded after the start of clashes.
How was the reaction in the domestic Israeli politics to the eruption of clashes?
Firstly let me emphasize that in the long run, there is no other way but to establish an independent and sovereign Palestinian state to solve this conflict.
As I mentioned above, the protests against Netanyahu have stopped for now. Oppositional leaders such as Lapid and Gantz are seeking to enter a coalition with Netanyahu now. Unfortunately, they do not oppose his policies against the Palestinians.
As for Netanyahu, he is both stronger and weaker now: Stronger, because he can act and try to unite Israel against the enemy out there. But he is also weak, because he is afraid of judges, of the international community, of the Israeli public opinion and even afraid of his wife. Netanyahu is a paranoid leader. And we all know that weak people can at the same time be very brutal and violent.
This interview was conducted together with the website Piaglobal.com