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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

Lieberman calls for boycott of Arab citizens after Jerusalem protest in Israel 

Israeli defence minister says Arab residents of Wadi Ara "not wanted here" after stones thrown at vehicles

Israeli defence minister Avigdor Lieberman was widely condemned, but not by fellow ministers, for suggesting a boycott of Arab citizens in an area where protesters against the US change in position on Jerusalem threw rocks at vehicles. Jonathan Ernst / Getty Images)
Israeli defence minister Avigdor Lieberman was widely condemned, but not by fellow ministers, for suggesting a boycott of Arab citizens in an area where protesters against the US change in position on Jerusalem threw rocks at vehicles. Jonathan Ernst / Getty Images)

Tensions over Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital are simmering inside the country as well as the occupied territories, with defence minister Avigdor Lieberman on Sunday calling for a public boycott of Arab businesses in an area where vehicles were stoned by protesters.

The driver and two passengers on a bus were lightly injured when masked Arabs pelted police and other vehicles with stones on a highway in the predominantly Arab Wadi Ara region in northern Israel on Saturday night after a what had been a peaceful protest against Mr Trump's move.

Arab citizens make up a fifth of Israel's population and have voting rights, but face discrimination and are on the defensive as the Benjamin Netanyahu government puts increasing emphasis on the state's Jewish character. They share the anger of Arabs throughout the Middle East over what they see as the US president's endorsement of the occupation of East Jerusalem, the site of Islam's third holiest shrine and the hoped-for capital of a Palestinian state. But there have been no reports of violent Arab responses to the US move outside of Wadi Ara.

Mr Lieberman said the Wadi Ara Arabs, including the more than 50,000 citizens in the city of Umm Al Fahm, should not be considered part of the Israeli polity. "Those people don't belong in Israel. They must be part of the Palestinian Authority, there they can get unemployment benefits and idleness benefits. They are part of Ramallah. They have no connection to the state of Israel and I call on the citizens of the state of Israel simply to boycott Wadi Ara," he told the Reshet Bet radio station.

"One shouldn't go into the stores or receive any services," he added: "These people work to harm the state of Israel, they work against the state of Israel from within our midst ... these people have to understand they are not wanted here."

When the interviewer suggested that all the area's residents could not be judged on the behaviour of the stone-throwers, Mr Lieberman said that thousands of people had taken part in the funerals of two gunmen from Umm Al Fahm who killed two policemen in July at the entrance to the Temple Mount, a site revered by Muslims as Al Haram Al Sharif. "Let us not delude ourselves. We are talking about people who act against Israel, who are incited against Israel. All that they learn in their schools is to hate Israel. Therefore, they have to be transferred to the Palestinian Authority in the framework of an exchange of territory" in which the settlements of Ariel, Maale Adumim and Givat Zeev are annexed.

Prime minister Netanyahu's office made no comment about Mr Lieberman's call, which was condemned by liberal Israelis. The leading Arab politician in Israel, Ayman Odeh suggested it was reminiscent of Nazi boycotts against Jews.

"Lieberman is the representative of fascist regimes in the extremist government of Netanyahu," said Mr Odeh, head of the Joint List which includes most Arab members of the Knesset. "The call for a boycott against citizens just because of their national and religious origin remind us of dark regimes in human history. The idea that such a person is responsible for the security of the state has to worry every sane person."

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Read more:

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Palestinians must take control of their struggle through non-violent resistance

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Mohammed Barakeh, head of the High Follow Up Committee, the senior leadership body of Arab citizens, told The National. "We are in our homeland not by the grace of Lieberman and if anyone is a foreigner here it is not us. This is the behaviour of a colonialist government."

Other ministers failed to condemn Mr Lieberman's statements. Housing minister Yoav Gallant issued a statement in the same vein as Mr Lieberman, suggesting that Arab MPs might well find themselves removed to the Palestinian Authority areas.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel interpreted Mr Liberman's remarks as a call to cancel the citizenship of Israeli Arabs. "We want to remind the minister of defence that the appropriate framework for dealing with violence during protest events is investigation and indictment of those who violated the law. This racist and inciting statement sullies an entire public. The message it transmits is extremely grave: that in the eyes of a minister of the government of all the citizens of Israel, forced cancellation of the citizenship of Arabs appears to be a legitimate."

Sami Abu Shehadeh, a member of the nationalist Balad party's central committee and former member of the Tel Aviv-Jaffa city council, said: "There is nothing surprising about the racism of Liberman. But the issue is that none of the ministers or the prime minister thought that this was racist and that they should condemn it."