MK sues Google to block anti-Muslim video in Israel

Arab-Israeli mayors, religious leaders demand Google ban access to anti-Islam video in Israel, say it violates at least 3 local laws.

September 19, 2012 13:33
3 minute read.
Google office in Tel Aviv

Google office in Tel Aviv 311. (photo credit: REUTERS/Baz Ratner)


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MK Taleb a-Sanaa (United Arab List-Ta’al) and Arab-Israeli mayors and religious leaders filed a petition with the Jerusalem District Court on Wednesday, demanding that Google take down a YouTube video ridiculing the prophet Muhammad, prevent future publicizing of the film and block all access to the film in Israel.

The petitioners characterized the film as abusing freedom of speech, saying it violated the image of the prophet in a racist manner while trampling his sanctity and desecrating his name.

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Among other things, the petition notes that the video characterizes Muhammad as a pedophile who encouraged his followers to have sexual relations with minors.

The film is also highly damaging, as it violates the dignity and faith of more than a billion Muslims and more than a million Muslim citizens in Israel, the petition states.

According to the petitioners, the publication constitutes incitement to racism against Muslims in violation of Article 144 of the country’s Penal Code, violates the religious feelings of Muslims in contravention of the code’s Article 173, and is defamatory according to the 1965 Defamation Law.

Attorney Kais Nasser filed the petition against Google since Google owns YouTube.

News reports have indicated that Google has already blocked the video in Egypt, Libya, Indonesia and India.

The petitioners argued that freedom of speech should not be abused to permit “serious injury to the religious feelings of others.”

They added that “protection from harm to the sensitivities of the public is a natural need” and is just as important as protection “against physical and economic harm... sometimes [it] is even more important.”

According to the petition, Israeli law prohibits not only attacking the state flag, but also attacking religious symbols.

As such, “damage to the state flag or a religious symbol may not only cause deep emotional harm, but also lead to incitement and violence,” it said.

Citing a 2006 High Court of Justice decision, the petition says that where injury to public sensitivities is so grave and so profound that it could lead to violations of public order, there may be justification for limiting freedom of expression.

The video in question is offensive to the point that it falls into this category, say the petitioners, and it should be blocked to prevent incitement, violence and public disturbances.

The petition also cited High Court precedents discussing how freedom of expression in Israel is more limited than in some Western nations, such as the United States. Whereas the US permits flag-burning – and as a derivative of that principle, also burning religious symbols – Israel does not, said the petition.

A recent High Court ruling mentioned the recent burning of a Koran in the US as an instance of permissible expression there. In contrast, such burning is not permitted in Israel, said the petitioners. In fact, the Koran-burning example, under the High Court decision, would justify the point of view that such acts could lead to violence and even death in Israel and other countries.

By later Wednesday, in recognition of the serious nature of the petition, the court had scheduled an expedited hearing for Thursday afternoon.

In response, a YouTube spokesperson said, “We work hard to create a community everyone can enjoy and which also enables people to express different opinions. This can be a challenge because what’s okay in one country can be offensive elsewhere. This video – which is widely available on the Web – is clearly within our guidelines and so will stay on YouTube. However, we’ve restricted access to it in countries where it is illegal, such as India and Indonesia, as well as in Libya and Egypt, given the very sensitive situations in these two countries. This approach is entirely consistent with principles we first laid out in 2007.”

Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.

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