August 5, 2014 at 1:00 am

Ann Arbor protesters call for Israel boycott; mayor says he won't support bid

A group of protesters in Ann Arbor is calling for city leaders to boycott Israeli products because of the monthlong bombing in Gaza.

Members said they met with City Attorney Stephen Postema and emailed Mayor John Hieftje last week about their proposal for a “humanitarian resolution” to boycott “all products imported from Israel to the maximum extent allowed by law.” The email had 47 signatures.

Postema advised members of the group to speak during the public comment section of the City Council meeting scheduled for Thursday and to email Hieftje about their request to schedule a public hearing on the issue.

Israel launched an air offensive on July 8 in response to weeks of heavy rocket fire out of Hamas-controlled Gaza. It expanded the operation on July 17 by sending in ground forces in what it described as a mission to destroy a network of tunnels used to stage attacks. Israel said the last of the tunnels has nearly been destroyed.

In an emailed response to the Ann Arbor group on Sunday, Hieftje said he would not support the measure to boycott Israel.

“While I respect the position of activists on all sides of this issue and have great sympathy for the people of Gaza, Palestine and Israel in this ongoing conflict, I will not be voting in favor of a boycott nor will I vote to hold a public hearing,” he wrote. “Please understand that I will not be debating who’s right or wrong in this conflict in the Middle East. My concern is with the welfare of our city and its residents.”

The group still planned to attend the meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday to call on council members’ support for a boycott, said Blaine Coleman, a protester.

The aim is to spur other communities to do the same and spark action, he said Monday night.

After weeks of behind-the-scenes diplomacy, and a previous truce that collapsed within hours on Friday, Israel and Hamas announced late Monday that they had accepted the proposal for a preliminary 72-hour cease-fire, beginning at 8 a.m. Tuesday. Egypt was then set to host indirect talks to work out a long-term truce over the next three days.

“At 8 a.m. local time tomorrow, a cease-fire starts and Israel will cease all military operations against terrorist targets in the Gaza Strip,” said Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev. “Israel will honor the cease-fire and will be watching to see if Hamas does, too.”

The war has taken nearly 1,900 Palestinian lives, most of them civilians caught in fighting inside Gaza’s crowded urban landscape, according to Hamas medical officials. Sixty-four Israeli soldiers have also died, as well as two Israeli civilians and a Thai laborer who worked in Israel. The heavy death toll has eclipsed that of previous rounds of fighting in 2009 and 2012.

A delegation of Palestinian officials from various factions, including Hamas, has been negotiating with Egypt in recent days. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said the group had accepted the plan.

“It’s clear now that the interest of all parties is to have a cease-fire,” said Bassam Salhi, a member of the Palestinian delegation. “It’s going to be tough negotiations because Israel has demands too. We don’t have any guarantees the siege will be removed.”