Too late? French court strikes down ban on Israeli companies at defense trade show

Other rulings in favor of Israeli firms likely after Paris Commercial Court decision, but leading companies aren’t rushing to attend Eurosatory 2024, which began on Monday

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Visitors walk past a Type-X robotic combat vehicle on display at the Eurosatory international land, air defense and security trade fair, in Villepinte, a northern suburb of Paris, June 17, 2024. (JULIEN DE ROSA / AFP)
Visitors walk past a Type-X robotic combat vehicle on display at the Eurosatory international land, air defense and security trade fair, in Villepinte, a northern suburb of Paris, June 17, 2024. (JULIEN DE ROSA / AFP)

The Paris Commercial Court struck down on Tuesday restrictions requested by the French Defense Ministry on Israeli companies at the Eurosatory 2024 defense show.

The order suspended “the execution of the measures adopted against the Israeli companies whose stands were prohibited at the EUROSATORY 2024 exhibition, until the closing date of the exhibition.”

The French Defense Ministry last month ordered Coges Event to ban the Israeli defense industry from exhibiting at the show, saying that “the conditions are no longer right to host Israeli companies at the Paris show, given that the French president is calling for the cessation of IDF operations in Rafah.”

The event began on Monday and runs through Friday. Seventy-four Israeli firms had been due to participate, but leading firms contacted by The Times of Israel did not indicate that they would now rush to attend.

The Paris Commercial Court found that the order would lead to discrimination — a criminal offense in France — and Coges could not be forced to discriminate, explained Maxime Seno, a partner at Veil Jourde.

Seno represented the France-Israel Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Draco Ltd. — an Israeli defense telecoms supplier — in their appeal against the French government ban.

A separate ruling from the Bobigny District Court over the weekend — that organizers of the exhibition must ban anyone working for or representing Israeli firms from participating in the event — was not directly addressed by Tuesday’s decision.

Frank St. John, chief operating officer, Lockheed Martin with Yoav Har-Even, Rafael CEO and president, next to an Iron Beam defense system, in Israel, December 5, 2022. (Lockheed Martin)

However, Seno is appealing that decision in a civil court of appeal also on Tuesday.

The Bobigny court ban on individuals relies on the now-stricken government decision, explained Seno, and as such is unlikely to withstand the appeal.

Seno also appealed Monday against the government ban on Israeli companies at Eurosatory at the Conseil d’État, the highest administrative court in France. An announcement will be made later today on when that ruling will be issued.

The latest the court can issue its ruling is Wednesday night at 9:00 p.m. local time, 48 hours after the appeal.

The French-Israel Chamber of Commerce and Draco are also suing Coges in the Administrative Court of Paris.

A representative from Rafael Advanced Defense Systems told The Times of Israel that the court decision changed nothing for the company – it will not set up a booth or send representatives.

Elbit Systems declined to comment on its plans.

Illustrative: Soldier from the IDF Sky Rider unit seen during a training drill at the Tzeelim army base on August 5, 2013, operating the unit’s eponymous unmanned aerial vehicle, manufactured by Elbit Systems. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Seventy-four Israeli firms had been set to be represented at the June 17 to June 21 event at fairgrounds close to Paris’s main international airport, with Coges previously saying around 10 of them were to exhibit weapons.

In a letter dated Saturday, Coges President Charles Beaudoin wrote that the organization believed the Bobigny court’s ruling “goes beyond the government’s decision taken two weeks ago,” as the latter prevented Israeli firms from exhibiting at the fair, while the former banned their representatives from entering.

In his letter, Beaudoin added that Coges is “using the quickest possible legal procedures to appeal these decisions,” but the court’s decision will be enforced for the time being.

The ban on employees of Israeli companies also extended to non-Israelis employed by such firms, while Israelis working for non-Israeli firms will be allowed to enter.

Organizers said that there is no blanket ban on Israelis seeking to visit the fair.

French Minister for the Armed Forces Sebastien Lecornu (L) meets with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant at the Israeli army headquarters in Tel Aviv, on January 22, 2024. (GIL COHEN-MAGEN / AFP)

French Defense Minister Sébastien Lecornu backed the appeal of the Eurosatory organizers.

The government push for a ban angered some top Israeli officials.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant ruled out joining an initiative promoted by French President Emmanuel Macron in which France, the United States and Israel would form a contact group to work on defusing escalating tensions with Hezbollah on the northern border.

“As we fight a just war, defending our people, France has adopted hostile policies against Israel,” Gallant said in a statement. “In doing so, France ignores the atrocities committed by Hamas against Israeli children, women and men.”

His statement came after Macron announced that the three countries had agreed to work together to step up efforts to push forward a roadmap presented by Paris earlier this year to de-escalate the conflict, which has been building since Hamas’s October 7 massacre in southern Israel.

The original announcement regarding the ban came days after an Israeli strike targeting two top Hamas terrorists in Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah sparked a fire in a complex that was housing displaced Palestinians, killing dozens of civilians and triggering international outrage and protests in France.

A screenshot of video filmed by a volunteer of the Palestine Red Crescent Society showing a fire that broke out in a camp for displaced Palestinians in southern Gaza’s Rafah, following an Israeli strike on what the IDF said was a compound used by Hamas in the area, May 26, 2024. (PRCS/AFP)

An Israel Defense Forces probe into the strike found that a hidden store of weapons may have been the actual cause of the deadly blaze, and that the airstrike that targeted an adjacent area had used small munitions that would not ignite such a fire on their own.

Responding to the fatal blaze, in which Hamas-run health authorities in Gaza claimed 45 civilians were killed, Macron said he was “outraged” and demanded an “immediate ceasefire.” Based off these comments, the French defense ministry ordered the ban.

The annual event is one of the world’s largest defense fairs, with over 1,700 firms expected to present to over 60,000 attendees from 150 countries.

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