Arab politicians urge Lieberman boycott

Israel Beiteinu's ex-ambassador Ayalon calls the demand to intercept foreign envoys 'preposterous.'

By BRENDA GAZZAR
January 30, 2009 00:19
3 minute read.
Arab politicians urge Lieberman boycott

Lieberman makes point 224 88 aj. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi [file])

 
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Arab politicians and activists urged dozens of foreign diplomats on Thursday to cut ties with Israel Beiteinu Party Chairman Avigdor Lieberman for what they described as his "fascist" and "extremist" attitudes. "It's important for us to explain to the international community and to the ambassadors and consular officials about the rising wave of fascism in Israeli society led by Lieberman," MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta'al) said in Tel Aviv. He spoke on the sidelines of a roundtable discussion organized by the Mossawa Center - an Arab advocacy organization - and attended by some 40 diplomats based in Israel. Tibi said he was urging international leaders to stop meeting with Lieberman, to boycott him and to boycott any future government of which he would be a coalition partner. "It's important that they behave toward Lieberman the way they did with [French nationalist politician Jean-Marie Le Pen] and [late Austrian politician Jorg] Haider," Tibi said. "Otherwise, it's a double standard." Haider was boycotted after he was elected head of his party, and the government of Austria was also boycotted by several countries, Tibi said. A spokeswoman for Lieberman declined to comment on the calls. However, Danny Ayalon, a former Israeli ambassador to the US and currently No. 7 on the Israel Beiteinu Knesset list, called the suggestion to boycott Lieberman or his party "preposterous." "Haider was a racist because Haider distinguished between races," Ayalon said. "We don't. Our yardstick is only on the merits of the issue, whether an Israeli citizen is preaching or not for the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state and whether someone here adheres to the laws." The Central Elections Committee recently banned Arab political parties UAL-Ta'al and Balad from participating in the February 10 elections. However, that decision was overturned by the High Court of Justice earlier this month. Lieberman led the MKs who had called to disqualify Balad and UAL-Ta'al on the grounds that two parties "support an armed struggle against Israel and that their political platform aims to undermine Israel's existence as a Jewish and democratic state." Lieberman and his party advocate for the annexation of large settlement blocs in the territories in a swap with a future Palestinian state for Arab towns in Israel, something Arab citizens strongly oppose. His party also advocates requiring all Israeli citizens, regardless of ethnicity, to sign a declaration of loyalty to the Jewish State. Western diplomats were attentive to the speakers on Thursday, who discussed everything from Israel's military operation in Gaza, to issues of discrimination and inequality, to frustration Arabs feel regarding their political participation. But the diplomats had mixed reactions as to what, if anything, could be done about the specific concerns of the Arab-Israeli community. "It's important that we take the opportunity, and we are taking the opportunity, to understand the position of the Israeli-Arabs in Israel and, with that understanding, support efforts of coexistence," said one Western diplomat, who asked not to be identified. "It's important to help ensure peace in Israel. It's important for all nations to have peace amongst their people." But others said they did not think a boycott of Lieberman was likely. "Not long ago, Lieberman was a minister in the cabinet, and there was no boycott," another diplomat said. "I personally don't see this as a realistic possibility." However, policies regarding transfer of Israeli-Arab residents, requirements to declare one's loyalty to a Jewish state, or prosecution of Arab MKs who visit certain Arab countries does "give me some reason for concern," he said. Such proposals, he said, "appear to be based on ethnic criteria rather than on equality and democracy." While the European Union has discussed whether or not it wants to upgrade relations with Israel, the issue of the Arab minority in Israel is more an internal issue and not of primary concern to the international community, he said. "Nobody talks about the Arab minority," he said. "Everyone talks about the Palestinians, the peace process, refugees, Gaza, the West Bank and even neighboring countries… The Arab minority is not an issue as far as I can see." A third Western diplomat said he believed the issue of Jewish-Arab relations within Israel was even more politically charged than the peace process. For both sides, "it provokes very emotional reactions," he said. But while the international community had a role in promoting the peace process, he said, he did not see a role for the international community here. "If efforts on the peace process are fruitful, then it would help tremendously to ease tensions and to create trust" between Jews and Arabs in Israel, he said. "That is the role the international community has." He added that Israel, and not the international community, would have to decide whether Lieberman would join the government or not.

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