Ahead of vote, Gallant denies claim he opposes impeachment of far-left MK

Knesset slated to decide on Ofer Cassif’s political future next week after he accused Israeli leaders of advocating for genocide against Palestinians

Sam Sokol is the Times of Israel's political correspondent. He was previously a reporter for the Jerusalem Post, Jewish Telegraphic Agency and Haaretz. He is the author of "Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews"

File - Defense Minister Yoav Gallant tours Tel Nof Airbase in central Israel, February 4, 2024. (Defense Ministry)
File - Defense Minister Yoav Gallant tours Tel Nof Airbase in central Israel, February 4, 2024. (Defense Ministry)

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Wednesday scrambled to deny rumors that he intends to sit out an upcoming vote on far-left lawmaker Ofer Cassif, who is facing removal from the Knesset over his support for allegations of genocide against Israel.

In a statement, Gallant dismissed claims that he opposes the effort as “false and biased,” noting that he was one of 85 lawmakers who signed a petition to initiate the impeachment process and saying that he intends to be at the vote.

The Knesset plenum is slated to decide on Cassif’s political future on Monday, less than three weeks after the Knesset House Committee voted overwhelmingly to approve the unprecedented expulsion.

According to the law, a supermajority vote of 90 legislators is needed to oust Cassif.

The nearly unanimous committee decision was condemned by Hadash-Ta’al chairman, Ahmad Tibi, who called it “a black day for the Knesset,” and by the center-left Labor party, which dismissed the entire process as “anti-democratic by nature.”

The removal effort came in response to Cassif’s public support for South Africa’s case against Israel at the International Court of Justice, which has been described as “treasonous” by his critics.

Cassif, the only Jewish member of the Arab-majority Hadash-Ta’al party, signed a petition backing Pretoria’s claims and accused Israeli leaders of advocating for genocide and crimes against humanity against the Palestinians.

MK Ofer Cassif, left, and lawyer Michael Sfard at an impeachment hearing on January 29, 2024. (Sam Sokol/ Times of Israel)

In response, Yisrael Beytenu MK Oded Forer set out to invoke a previously unused legal mechanism in the 2016 Suspension Law, under which legislators may drum out a colleague from their ranks if they are found to have committed one of a number of infractions, including expressing support “for an armed struggle” against Israel or inciting racism.

Despite the widespread backlash against Cassif, both Deputy Attorney General Avital Sompolinsky and Knesset legal adviser Sagit Afik have stated that the charges against him fall short of “crossing the criminal threshold” necessary for his removal.

Responding to claims that Gallant intended to sit out the vote, far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir declared that the defense minister’s alleged lack of participation in the process constituted “further proof of the direction in which Gallant has been heading for a long time,” the Walla news site reported.

“It started with orders against settlers and now [results in him] avoiding kicking a supporter of terrorism out of the Knesset. I’m sorry for the path Gallant chose.”

Yisrael Beytenu MK Oded Forer (left) and Hadash-Ta’al chairman Ahmad Tibi (right) argue during a meeting of the Knesset House Committee, January 30, 2024. (Noam Moskowitz/Knesset Spokesperson)

Appealing directly to ministers Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot of the National Unity party, as well as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in the Knesset plenum on Wednesday, Forer declared that it was time to “remove from the Knesset those who claim that [our soldiers] are committing genocide.”

“Gantz, Lapid — the impeachment of the terrorist supporter Ofer Cassif from the Israeli Knesset is the order of the hour,” Forer further tweeted, as part of an effort to build support ahead of Monday’s vote.

Eighty-five lawmakers from both the coalition and the opposition signed onto the petition launching the impeachment hearings, including several from National Unity and Opposition Leader Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party.

While some members of Yesh Atid supported the proceedings, others have come out against them, and a party spokesman told The Times of Israel last month that the party’s MKs are free to vote as they see fit on the issue.

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