The Central Elections Committee on Wednesday ruled against the Yisrael Beytenu party’s plan to distribute complimentary copies of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, saying such action constituted illegal gift-giving to voters.
Explaining his decision, committee head Justice Salim Joubran said giving out the magazine would constitute election propaganda.
Arab parties had petitioned against-the move, citing election regulations but also the danger of infuriating Israel’s Muslim population.
Last Sunday, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman ordered his party activists to buy up and hand out copies of the “survivors’ issue” of the satirical magazine, featuring a caricature of the prophet Muhammad, after a local bookstore backed out of selling it at the last minute.
In response, the Arab parties lodged a complaint with the elections committee in an effort to bar the move, warning of backlash.
The issue was released amid an international wave of support for the French weekly in the wake of a terror attack on its editorial offices in Paris that left 12 people dead.
The magazine had in the past angered some Muslims by printing caricatures of Muhammad. The issue released in mid-January drew widespread protests across the Muslim world, including in Gaza.
Journalist Sharon Gal, a new addition to the Yisrael Beytenu slate, had told Channel 2 the distribution was not a “provocation, and not because we have something against Muslims.”
“We think all religions must be respected, and we want the Jews to be respected as well. We are doing this in the name of the freedom of speech,” he said.
The Steimatzky company announced last Saturday that it had dropped its plans for in-store sale of the magazine, and said it would sell it online instead. Steimatzky said it had not received threats or come under pressure but had changed its plans due to complaints from customers living far from the Tel Aviv area — where the sale was scheduled to take place — who would be unable to buy the magazine in person.
The bookstore chain’s decision prompted Liberman to instruct Yisrael Beytenu party activists to buy thousands of copies of the latest issue of the French satirical magazine for distribution, in a move denounced by Israeli Arab MK Masud Ganaim (Ra’am-Ta’al).
Ganaim said the sale of the magazine was “not a matter of freedom of expression” but rather a way to put down Muslims.
“If the Prophet Muhammad is belittled, don’t think people will sit back with their arms folded,” he said last Sunday, according to Ynet.
“Perhaps we need to redefine freedom of expression,” he added. “When Islam is attacked, it’s freedom of expression, when Jews are attacked, it’s anti-Semitism.”
The new issue of Charlie Hebdo followed a January 7 massacre by Islamic extremist brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi at the offices of the magazine. Ten Charlie Hebdo employees and two policemen were killed in the attack.
The brothers declared the shooting was revenge for the weekly having published cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. They were both later killed in a shootout with police.
AFP contributed to this report.