Israeli defense chief calls for Arab boycott after protests

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NJ Burkett has the latest from Jerusalem (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

Israel's defense minister called Sunday for a boycott of Arab businesses in an area where residents took part in violent protests against President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, as a Palestinian stabbed an Israeli security guard in the volatile city in the first attack since the dramatic announcement.

Avigdor Lieberman, who heads the nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party, said the Arabs of Wadi Ara in northern Israel were "not part of us" and that Jewish Israelis should no longer visit their villages and buy their products. Hundreds of Israeli Arabs protested Saturday along a major highway in northern Israel, where dozens of masked rioters hurled stones at buses and police vehicles. Three Israelis were wounded and several vehicles were damaged.

"These people do not belong to the state of Israel. They have no connection to this country," Lieberman told Israel's Army Radio. "Moreover, I would call on all citizens of Israel - stop going to their stores, stop buying, stop getting services, simply a boycott on Wadi Ara. They need to feel that they are not welcome here."

Lieberman has long called for Wadi Ara to be included in his proposed swap of lands and populations as part of a future peace agreement with the Palestinians. The residents, like many of Israel's Arab minority, sympathize with the Palestinians of the West Bank and often openly identify with them. But they are also Israeli citizens who largely reject the notion of becoming part of a future Palestinian state.

The comments sparked criticism of racism and collective punishment toward a community of which only a small minority were violent. It also raised questions about how Israel could so aggressively oppose international boycott campaigns against it while one of its most senior ministers called for one against its own citizens.

Ayman Odeh, the head of the Arab Joint list in parliament, said Lieberman's call for a boycott of Arabs was reminiscent of the worst regimes in history. Gilad Erdan, the minister of public security from the ruling Likud Party, said that Lieberman's diplomatic plan was not applicable and he rejected the notion of giving up the country's sovereignty just because it had Arab citizens.

The violent protests inside Israel were part of the larger Palestinian "day of rage" following Trump's announcement that he recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and planned to move the U.S. Embassy there.

Protests and demonstrations took place in dozens of locations across the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, lands captured by Israel during the 1967 war that the Palestinians want to be part of their future state.

They resumed briefly Sunday, with Palestinian youths in the West Bank city of Bethlehem hurling stones toward Israeli soldiers, who fired back with rubber bullets and tear gas.

In Jerusalem, police said a 24-year-old Palestinian stabbed an Israeli security guard at the entrance to the city's central bus station. Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the guard sustained a serious wound to his upper body and the attacker was apprehended.

Israel's Channel 10 TV news aired security camera footage from the scene showing the attacker removing his jacket near the security gate and then thrusting what looked like a knife into the guard's chest before fleeing.

In more than two years of intermittent attacks, Palestinians have killed more than 50 Israelis, two visiting Americans and a British tourist in stabbings, shootings and car-ramming attacks. Israeli forces have killed more than 260 Palestinians in that time, mostly attackers.

Trump's announcement raised fears that a new wave of violence would erupt in its wake. But three days of mass protests were relatively contained. Four Palestinians were killed in Gaza in Israeli airstrikes following rocket fire from there and in clashes along the border. In the West Bank there were dozens of injuries, but no deaths.

The status of Jerusalem lies at the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Trump's move was widely perceived as siding with Israel. Even small crises over Jerusalem and the status of the holy sites in its Old City have sparked deadly bloodshed in the past. Trump's announcement triggered denunciations from around the world, even from close allies, that suggested he had needlessly stirred more conflict in an already volatile region.

In Israel, the move was embraced as a long overdue acknowledgement of Israel's seat of parliament and government and the historic capital of the Jewish people dating back 3,000 years. Upon departing for a diplomatic visit to Paris and Brussels, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was prepared to respond to critics.

"While I respect Europe, I am not prepared to accept a double standard from it. I hear voices from there condemning President Trump's historic statement but I have not heard condemnations of the rockets fired at Israel or the terrible incitement against it," he said. "I am not prepared to accept this hypocrisy, and as usual at this important forum I will present Israel's truth without fear and with head held high."
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