(photo credit: REUTERS)
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman on Wednesday praised the High Court’s decision to overturn a decision by the Central Elections Committee and permit his party, Yisrael Beytenu, to distribute copies of the “survivors” issue of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.
“The court’s decision is an important message that Israel remains a Jewish and democratic state and that we do not capitulate to threats and violence of Arab members of Knesset who are trying to turn Israel into a country run by the Islamic State,” Liberman said.
The High Court of Justice on Wednesday by a narrow 2-1 vote granted Liberman's Yisrael Beytenu party the right to distribute copies of the special Charlie Hebdo
magazine edition which caricatures the Muslim prophet Mohammed.
Justices Noam Sohlberg and Esther Hayot outvoted Supreme Court president Miriam Naor in her fist major decision being pushed into the minority since recently taking the reins of the court, and reversed the Central Elections Commission decision of their colleague Justice Salim Joubran, who had declared the magazine's distribution an illegal pre-election gift.
The controversy started when Yisrael Beytenu planned to give out copies of French newspaper Charlie Hebdo
’s “survivors’ issue," because the Steimatzky bookstore chain decided to only sell the issue online and not in stores.
The bookstore chain’s decision came after MK Masud Gnaim (United Arab List) said “the country and the [Steimatzky] chain will be responsible for the results” of selling Charlie Hebdo, and that doing so would be cross a redline as far as Israeli Arabs and their leadership were concerned.
The committee’s ruling barring the handout came in response to a petition by MK Ahmed Tibi (Ta’al), who wrote that distributing the newspaper would violate the law against giving gifts as part of an election campaign, and warned that doing so would likely disturb the peace, because it offends Muslims by mocking their religious symbols.
Joubran accepted the first claim as reason enough to ban the Yisrael Beytenu from acting as it planned, adding that it would be better if parties worked to bring Jews and Arabs closer and not take advantage of the tension between them.
At the February 17 High Court hearing on the issue, compromise had seemed in the air, with Naor throwing off the opposing parties in the case suggesting a compromise of Yisrael Beytenu only handing out the first page.Yonah Jeremy Bob contributed to this report.