Court: No temporary ban on anti-Islam video

Petitioners request court force Google to block access in Israel to video; A-Sanaa: Courts would block film ridiculing the Holocaust.

Google office in Tel Aviv 311 (photo credit: REUTERS/Baz Ratner)
Google office in Tel Aviv 311
(photo credit: REUTERS/Baz Ratner)
A Jerusalem District Court judge on Thursday denied MK Taleb a-Sanaa (United Arab List- Ta’al) and others’ petition for a temporary injunction blocking an anti-Islam video ridiculing the prophet Muhammad on Google and YouTube.
The two sides started the battle over the petition’s main argument seeking a permanent injunction, but no final decision was made.
Sanaa frequently compared the Innocence of Muslims trailer to a movie making fun of the Holocaust, claiming that the courts would be quick to force YouTube and Google to take down any movie deemed offensive to Jews.
He pleaded with Jerusalem District Judge Miriam Mizrahi to approve the temporary injunction, but was unsuccessful.
Outside the courtroom, Sanaa slammed the courts.
“They are forcing people to go out and have violent demonstrations,” he said. “Freedom of expression is not expression without limits, and it’s not that whoever doesn’t want to hear it won’t pay attention. The fact is that people were actively hurt by this. It can’t be that because [the courts] are not Muslim [they] won’t worry about the feelings of Muslims,” he said.
Google presented a spirited defense of free speech, the limits of a search engine and other arguments.
Wading into the conflict between freedom of speech and offending public sentiments, Google invoked the inability to truly block access to a Webvideo in the digital age.
But Google did not limit itself to freedom of speech arguments.
In an attempt to sidestep the entire petition, Google said it was not a “publisher” of movies or anything else, but an engine for searching for all kinds of items.
If it is not a publisher, it cannot be ordered not to publish anything, said Google. In other words, it is useless to order a company to stop doing something it does not do in the first place.
Emphasizing the point, Google lawyer Hagit Blaiberg stressed that viewers had to take action in order to see the offensive video, unlike a billboard or other publication in the public sphere. “It’s a choice, they have to go to it,” she said.
“Someone who doesn’t look for the video won’t find it, so the public that could be offended by the video can avoid watching the clip for now,” Mizrahi said, possibly revealing the judge’s position on the overall petition.
On that note, Google lawyer Blaiberg noted that the Knesset had thoroughly debated the issue of holding search engines liable for various postings and had declined to do so to date.
Google’s role in the case was further complicated by the confusion over its relationship with YouTube and Google Israel. “All I know about Google is that it’s a search engine,” Mizrahi quipped at one point.
Mizrahi also said she had not seen the trailer for Innocence of Muslims.
“We can watch it right here, it will just take 10 minutes,” responded Kais Nasser, the lawyer representing Sanaa and other petitioners.
Google also managed to take the side of the petitioners, as if to say that there was a villain here, but that the petitioners were going after the wrong party.
If the petitioners want to hold someone accountable for the video, said Google, they should be suing the video’s producer.
In terms of actually stopping the harm itself, Google noted that even if the petitioners got all of the relief they asked for, Israelis would be able to view the movie on other search engines.
There was no way to stop people from viewing the video, unless the entire world blocked off the Internet everywhere, which was not possible, Google said.
In that light it would also be unfair to make Google suffer for its success as a top-search engine and to help its competitors by arbitrarily preventing Google from allowing access to certain items while its competition could continue to allow access.
Next Google attacked procedural aspects of the petition.
Google said it was improperly filed as it mixed together criminal counts with civil ones.
The claims needed to be separated, said Google, and the criminal ones must first go to the police and follow the regular process before they found themselves in court.
Specifically regarding defamation, Google said it was impossible to sue for defamation on behalf of someone, Muhammad, who died so long ago.
Finally, several times Google hammered home the point that Google Israel did not control YouTube and that even if the petitioners won the case, they would not get what they wanted, since Google would not have the power to force YouTube to block the video.
The petitioners rejected Google’s technical argument about lack of control of YouTube, noting that in several other countries the video was blocked on YouTube when objecting parties turned to Google.
The petitioners’ full demands had been that Google take down the video, prevent future publicizing of the film and block all access to the film in Israel.
In their petition, they had 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.
Among other things, the petition had noted that the video characterized Muhammad as a pedophile who encouraged his followers to have sexual relations with minors.
According to the petitioners, the publication constituted incitement to racism against Muslims in violation of Article 144 of the Penal Code, violated the religious feelings of Muslims in contravention of the code’s Article 173, and was defamatory according to the 1965 Defamation Law.
About 20 political and religious leaders accompanied a- Sanaa to the courtroom.
“Islam is a religion of love, living together like brothers, and good livelihood. It’s lies what they said, and anyone who said anything bad about Muhammad needs to have their tongue cut out,” said Zatmi Ali, one of the supporters of the ban.
Zeidan Badran, the head of the Basma village local council in Wadi Ara and one of the petitioners named in the court document, said that he was worried about violence from Egypt and Libya spreading to Israel and the Palestinian territories as a result of the movie. He said he would urge the entire Arab world to boycott Google for 30 days to show the power of their numbers.
Both sides asked to respond further to the arguments made in court.
The court gave Google until September 30 to respond, the petitioners until October 9 to respond, and scheduled the next hearing for October 15.