Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman denounced Arab citizens who advocate the return of Palestinian refugees to lost homes in Israel as traitors who threaten the state.
An Arab lawmaker, Ahmad Tibi, called Liberman a racist who is trying to cultivate hostility against Arab citizens, who represent a fifth of Israel’s population.
Liberman spoke on Army Radio today following protests by thousands of Arabs in the northern Galilee region on Israel’s Independence Day yesterday. Arabs refer to the day as the “Nakba,” Arabic for “catastrophe,” recalling the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who fled or were evicted from their homes in fighting around Israel’s 1948 creation.
“Whoever goes out on Israeli Independence Day, with Palestinian flags, speaks about the ‘Nakba’ and calls for the ‘right of return’” for Palestinian refugees is part of a “fifth column” working to undermine the state, Liberman said.
Liberman, like most Israeli politicians, opposes the “right of return” on the ground it would ultimately cost Israel, a country of 8 million, its Jewish majority. The United Nations says about 5 million refugees and their descendants are scattered around the world.
U.S.-backed peace negotiations fell apart last month in part over Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel as a “Jewish state.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he would promote a new law defining Israel as the Jewish homeland.
Liberman has questioned the loyalty of Israel’s Arab citizens over the years, and unsuccessfully tried to require them to take a loyalty oath. Today, he repeated his past call to transfer some Israeli Arab towns to a future Palestinian state in a final peace agreement with Israel. Tibi rejects the idea and said the foreign minister is a threat to democracy.
“He is trying to fan anti-Arab feelings and make racism mainstream,” Tibi said in a phone interview. “We are part of the Palestinian people and we are also Israeli citizens. We did not fall from the sky or come as immigrants and we will continue to commemorate the Nakba.”
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