Israelis, Defy the Boycott of Arabs and Go Shopping in Wadi Ara

Lieberman’s statement that residents of Wadi Ara are 'formally citizens of Israel, but they are not part of Israel,' reflects worse on the state than residents of Wadi Ara

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman speaking to legislators from his Yisrael Beiteinu party, July 2017.
Emil Salman

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman called for a boycott of residents of the largely Arab Wadi Ara region of the north yesterday. “I call for boycotting Wadi Ara. Don’t go there and don’t buy there,” he said, and explained why: “So they understand that they are not wanted here. They are not part of us.”

The background to his sweeping, racist, ultra-nationalist call were the clashes that erupted on Shabbat in Wadi Ara following President Trump’s declaration that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. In demonstrations in the north, some of the demonstrators threw stones at a bus, at police cruisers and at other vehicles.

“These people don’t belong to Israel. They have no connection to this country, and they are working from within,” Lieberman said about the Israeli citizens who reside in Wadi Ara. This isn’t a case of another slip of the tongue on the part of an impassioned cabinet minister but rather consistent policy on the part of a person with an unenlightened, Jewish ultra-nationalistic worldview. In another radio interview, he repeated his inciting remarks: “There is nothing for these people in the State of Israel. They need to be part of the Palestinian Authority,” he said – and again called for a boycott of their businesses.

Singling out citizens on national and religious grounds and calling for a boycott against them are familiar characteristics of dark regimes, and they are always presented as a response to a threat. Lieberman’s comment that residents of Wadi Ara are “formally citizens of Israel, but they are not part of Israel,” reflects more on the State of Israel, in whose cabinet Lieberman is a senior member, than on the residents of Wadi Ara.

Have Israeli governments over the years related to the residents of Wadi Ara as equal citizens? Has Israel demonstrated sensitivity to the complex identity of Arab citizens, which is regularly wedged between the rock of the Israeli occupation of their brothers and the hard place of their second-class Israeli citizenship?

It is understood that there is no justification for violent rioting, but there is a fundamental difference between condemning violence on the one hand, and racist generalizations and a call for a boycott and transfer of population on the other. Arab citizens of Israel are an important part of the civil fabric in Israel despite the ongoing discrimination against them. A responsible government must do everything it can to promote our living together rather than harming it.

Lieberman – whose citizenship is no more legitimate than that of Arab citizens – has relieved himself of that responsibility. He has made it a practice of inflaming passions, of provoking and dividing, yet not a single cabinet member, certainly not the prime minister, has stood up to defend Wadi Ara’s residents. A cabinet minster who incites against citizens and calls for a boycott of them cannot serve in his position. The only response to this disgrace is a citizens’ initiative not only to refuse to cooperate with the boycott but actually to go shopping in Wadi Ara.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.