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Police ask attorney-general to allow criminal probes of Joint List MKs Tibi, Cassif

Force accuses the two lawmakers of assaulting police officers, obstructing a police officer in carrying out his duties, and making threats; pair deny they did anything wrong

Joint List party members Ahmad Tibi, left, and Ofer Cassif during a court hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem August 22, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Joint List party members Ahmad Tibi, left, and Ofer Cassif during a court hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem August 22, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Police on Monday asked Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara to authorize a criminal investigation into Joint List MKs Ahmad Tibi and Ofer Cassif over two separate incidents earlier this month in which they are accused of assaulting police officers, obstructing a police officer in carrying out his duties, and making threats.

Evidence about the incidents was gathered on the orders of Police Chief Kobi Shabtai and sent to the attorney general, the force said in a statement. When it comes to investigating a member of Knesset, the attorney general must grant approval for the probe to move forward.

Under a 2005 change to the Knesset immunity law, members of the legislature no longer receive automatic immunity from prosecution but must request it from the plenum when relevant.

If charges are brought against Tibi and Cassif, the two MKs can ask the Knesset House Committee to grant them immunity from prosecution, which would then need to be ratified by the Knesset.

Cassif was filmed hitting a police officer over the weekend after security forces blocked his vehicle as he tried to reach a protest in the West Bank, while Tibi is accused of obstructing police and helping a suspect escape during an attempted arrest in Jerusalem last week.

In a statement, Cassif said: “I didn’t attack an officer. That is a gross lie. The officer pushed his hand in my face and I slapped it,” the Haaretz daily reported.

The lawmaker further charged that police had violated his right as a lawmaker to freedom of movement by blocking his path during the clash.

Tibi has claimed that the suspect in question did not actually manage to escape and had immediately been caught by officers, but then managed to bolt, only to be finally apprehended later. He also later published a video standing next to the suspect, who was released the following day.

In the clip, the suspect appeared with both his wrists in bandages, which Tibi said was due to injuries caused by officers. Noting that the man had already been released from police custody, Tibi insisted he was only fulfilling his duty as a public servant trying to prevent the very injuries the man allegedly suffered.

In footage taken during the incident, Tibi can be seen yelling at police and pulling the suspect away from officers, allowing him to run away. Police said the suspect, who was not named, was later captured following a foot chase.

Public Security Minister Omer Barlev wrote on social media at the time that Tibi’s actions were “intolerable, especially coming from a Knesset member misusing his immunity.”

The same day, Cassif lightly hit an officer on the head during a heated verbal exchange after police and Border Police stopped his car in the South Hebron Hills to prevent him reaching a West Bank protest.

In a video, a police officer attempts to halt Cassif’s vehicle. The car bumps into the officer, who approaches Cassif and shouts at him to move his vehicle away.

After a brief exchange of words, Cassif then strikes the officer and accuses him of an attack.

Parliamentary immunity allows MKs to travel almost everywhere in the country. It was not clear why Cassif was being barred from entering the area, or if the police officers knew who he was.

Cassif is the only current Jewish lawmaker in the Arab-majority Joint List party. He is known for his outspoken politics and getting into heated arguments with other Jewish Knesset members.

Tibi, a veteran Knesset member and medical doctor, is among the most well-known Arab lawmakers in the country, thanks to his sarcastic made-for-social-media wit and frequent appearances on TV news programs. His high profile has also made him a target of right-wing ire.

In 2017, then-Joint List MK Basel Ghattas had his immunity lifted and he was convicted of exploiting his position to smuggle cellphones and notes to Palestinian terror convicts in Israeli prisons.

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