Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Sunday called on Israelis to boycott Arab businesses in a northern Israeli district that saw rioting over the weekend, and asserted that its residents didn’t belong in the State of Israel.
His comments drew sharp criticism from other lawmakers, including Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who said Liberman’s policy of disowning areas with large Arab populations would lead to Israel abandoning territory in its heartland.
Liberman, in an interview with Army Radio, called on Israelis to boycott Wadi Ara-area businesses after local residents clashed with police on Saturday and threw rocks at passing vehicles during demonstrations against US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
During the unrest, rock-throwers targeted a passenger bus, smashing the windows and lightly injuring the driver. An Israeli journalist also claimed to have escaped a “lynching” after rioters threw rocks at him and at police, then destroyed his motorcycle.
“These people aren’t part of the State of Israel, they aren’t part of us,” said Liberman, who leads the hawkish Yisrael Beytenu party. “It wasn’t just the rocks thrown at buses; a reporter was nearly lynched.”
Trump’s decision last Wednesday to officially recognize Jerusalem and, in the future, to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to the capital sparked mass Palestinian rioting across the West Bank. Some residents of Arab towns in the Wadi Ara district, who have in the past shown solidarity with the Palestinian cause, rioted on highways that transverse the area.
“The people of that place aren’t part of the state. We have seen terrorists coming from there, participation in funerals for terrorists, and a terrorist who came from there and carried out an attack,” Liberman continued. “You can’t go out and demonstrate with a Palestinian flag, take billions in welfare from the country, and then destroy us from the inside.”
He called on Israeli citizens “to boycott Wadi Ara. Don’t buy in the shops, don’t use any services there. Let them feel they aren’t wanted here.”
He also reiterated his vision for a final peace agreement that would see the borders drawn to include large populations of Israeli Arabs within a future Palestinian state, in return for an Israeli annexation of key settlement blocs in the West Bank.
“Within the framework of the permanent-status agreement they will need to be part of Ramallah; that is where they will get their national insurance,” Liberman said, referring to the West Bank city that is the seat of the Palestinian Authority government. “We will annex [the settlements of] Ma’ale Adumim and Givat Ze’ev and Ariel. That is the only solution on the horizon.”
Erdan, the public security minister, rejected Liberman’s comments, telling Army Radio, “I don’t join Liberman in his calls.”
“I am no less right-wing than he is, [but] if the principle is to give up every place where there is an Arab majority then we will need to give up Jaffa,” he said, referring to the largely Arab southern Tel Aviv neighborhood.
MK Amir Peretz, of the opposition Zionist Union faction, called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to denounce Liberman’s comments.
“The call for a boycott of Israeli citizens, even if their way isn’t his way, is not more moral than the perverse calls for boycotts of the settlers,” Peretz said. “The role of leaders is to calm things on the ground, not to agitate.”
MK Issawi Frej, of the dovish Meretz party, called on Israelis to repudiate Liberman.
Referring to planned legislation that aims to make it illegal to boycott Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Frej said, “At last it will be possible to jail the corrupt serial racist Liberman. Instead of Liberman boycotting citizens, it is high time all Israeli citizens boycotted Liberman and cast him aside.”
MK Youssef Jabareen, of the Joint (Arab) List, a resident of Wadi Ara, backed what he called Saturday’s “legitimate protest” and pointed out that Liberman had never called for boycotts of the ultra-Orthodox or Ethiopian communities, both of which have clashed violently with police over issues of compulsory army service and alleged discrimination, respectively.
Responding to the criticism, Liberman doubled down on his boycott call.
“Without loyalty, there can be no citizenship!” he tweeted. “Those who demonstrate in the State of Israel with the flags of Hezbollah, Hamas and the PLO are not part of the State of Israel. They act to harm us and destroy us from the inside. Thus, I call on all Israel’s citizens to institute an economic boycott of Wadi Ari — don’t shop, don’t eat in restaurants, and don’t accept services from them.”
Saturday saw a third straight day of rioting in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip following Trump’s announcement, although protests were markedly reduced from Friday.
In an address last Wednesday from the White House, Trump defied worldwide warnings and insisted that after repeated failures to achieve peace a new approach was long overdue, describing his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the seat of Israel’s government as merely based on reality.
The move was hailed by Netanyahu and by leaders across much of the Israeli political spectrum. Trump stressed that he was not specifying the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in the city, and called for no change in the status quo at the city’s holy sites.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.