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Outcry as police beat Joint List lawmaker during East Jerusalem protest

Video shows cop punching MK Ofer Cassif in the head, another kneeling on his face as he lies on ground; Knesset speaker calls to prosecute officers for their ‘brutal behavior’

Joint List MK Ofer Cassif after being beaten by police officers during a protest in East Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, April 9, 2021. (From the Twitter page of Joint List MK Aida Touma-Sliman)
Joint List MK Ofer Cassif after being beaten by police officers during a protest in East Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, April 9, 2021. (From the Twitter page of Joint List MK Aida Touma-Sliman)

Joint List MK Ofer Cassif on Friday was beaten by police officers during a protest in East Jerusalem, drawing condemnations from lawmakers across the political spectrum.

Cassif, the only Jewish Knesset member in the predominantly Arab Joint List, was participating in a weekly demonstration in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood against planned evictions.

In video of the incident, Cassif can be seen arguing with police officers amid a crowd, before one of them pushes him. A mask-clad Cassif appeared to say something, with the officers proceeding to strike and violently grab him.

Cassif then reached his hand toward the face of one of the officers, who punched the MK on top of the head.

After wrestling Cassif to the ground, some of the officers appeared to continue beating him, as shouts of “shame” could be heard from the demonstrators.

In another clip, an officer can be seen kneeling on Cassif’s face as he was on the ground.

Cassif’s glasses were broken and his shirt was ripped during the scuffles, in which police also used stun grenades to clear protesters.

“The police are going crazy here, they’re not letting people demonstrate. They were told I was a Knesset member, it did not interest them,” Cassif said afterward. Lawmakers have immunity allowing them freedom of movement, even at police blockades.

“It’s not the violence against an MK that is the main issue here, it is the continued police brutality against all protesters,” Cassif told Channel 12.

The incident drew widespread condemnation from across the political spectrum.

Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin said he was “shocked” by the incident.

“Brutal behavior like this toward any citizen is improper, let alone a Knesset member who is entitled by law to freedom of movement so he can fulfill his role,” Levin, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, said in a statement.

Levin said he would reach out to Public Security Minister Amir Ohana when Shabbat ends Saturday evening to demand the incident be investigated and that “all necessary steps” be taken to prosecute those responsible.

Despite “abhorring” Cassif’s political views, New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar slammed the “brutal police violence” toward the Joint List MK.

Joint List MK Ofer Cassif after being beaten by police officers during a protest in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, April 9, 2021. (Screen capture: Channel 12)

“I see it as a murderous blow to the Knesset and parliamentary immunity,” Sa’ar wrote on Twitter.

MK Bezalel Smotrich, head of the far-right Religious Zionism party, said the incident was “grave and unacceptable” in a democracy with the rule of law.

“The immunity of Knesset members is critical to fulfilling their role and is not a matter of one side or another on the political map,” he said.

Fellow Joint List MK Aida Touma-Sliman claimed the police had a “green light” from the government to act violently.

“Ofer was attacked by the same government and police that are aggressively trying to impose the occupation and settlers regime in East Jerusalem,” she tweeted.

Police later said the Jerusalem district commander ordered an investigation of the incident.

The incident came days after Cassif and other Joint List MKs sparked an outcry during the swearing-in of the Knesset on Tuesday, substituting the traditional commitment to serve Israel and the Knesset with commitments to fight “apartheid,” “the occupation” and “racism.”

The Knesset’s legal adviser said Thursday the lawmakers would be denied some of their rights as MKs until they give the proper declaration, which they are expected to do Monday.

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