Article Israel: Prohibition on Distribution of Charlie Hebdo Special Issue as Election Propaganda

(Feb. 11, 2015) On February 4, 2015, the Chairman of Israel’s Central Election Committee, Supreme Court Judge Salim Joubran, issued an injunction prohibiting the Yisrael Beytenu political party from distributing thousands of copies of the Charlie Hebdo special issue to the public as election propaganda. The magazine issues were intended to be placed in an envelope stating, “Ahmed Tibi does not want you to see this. Ahmed Tibi also does not recognize Israel as a Jewish state. We do. Papers do not kill, terrorism does. Bottom line Liberman [referring to Avigdor Liberman, Chairman of], Yisrael Beytenu.” (Knesset Elections Case, No. 7/20, Knesset Member Ahmed Tibi v. Yisrael Beytenu, Central Elections Committee for the 20th Knesset website (Feb. 4, 2015) (in Hebrew).)

Israel’s general election is scheduled for March 17, 2015. (Law for the Dissolution of the 19th Knesset, 5775-2014, Knesset website (in Hebrew) [scroll down to appropriate link on the right].)

The Petition’s Claims

The petitioner argued that the respondents’ plan to distribute the magazines should be prevented based on the prohibition on “election propaganda involving the giving of presents” within the meaning of section 8 of the Elections (Modes of Propaganda) Law, 5919-1959. (13 LAWS OF THE STATE OF ISRAEL 146 (5719-1958/59) (as amended), up-to-date text available at Nevo Legal Database (by subscription) (in Hebrew).) Section 8 provides:

There shall be no election propaganda accompanied by entertainment programmes, including appearances of artists, instrumental and vocal music, the exhibition of films and the carrying of torches; there shall be no election propaganda involving the giving of presents or – except at parties in private houses- the serving of food or drinks … . (Id. § 8.)

The petitioner further argued that the distribution of the issues should be prevented on grounds of constituting a real danger to public safety due to its likely contribution to heightened tensions by severely desecrating Muslim religious symbols. (Knesset Elections Case, No. 7/20, ¶ 3.)

Rejecting these claims, the respondents argued that the distribution of the Charlie Hebdo special issue constituted election propaganda and not a “present.” Additionally, they stated, it was intended as a response to an Israeli bookstore chain’s decision not to sell hard copies of the publication, but rather to make it available on the chain’s Internet site. (Id. ¶¶ 5-6.)

The Decision

Accepting the petition, Joubran determined that the planned distribution was subject to the prohibition on “giving of presents” under section 8 cited above. In his opinion, the section’s objective was to ensure the integrity of elections and prevent undue influence on voters. Considering this objective, he concluded that the prohibition contained in section 8 must be strictly interpreted and enforced to prevent any ambiguity that may lead to a “slippery slope,” (Id. ¶¶ 13-20.)

To illustrate this danger, Joubran cited a similar case involving the distribution of inexpensive dried fruits by the Jewish Home candidate list in honor of the Jewish Festival of the Trees. “What if the distributed fruits were placed in a fancy basket and would be much costlier?” Joubran questioned. “What if a competing party would distribute a ‘disk-on-key’ containing its propaganda films?” According to Joubran, a liberal interpretation of the prohibition on distribution of presents as election propaganda opens the door for enabling the giving of such gifts and leads to a slippery slope that must be avoided. (Id. ¶¶ 21-23.)

According to Joubran, the examination of whether the planned distribution was a prohibited present or legitimate election propaganda relies primarily on the voters’ perception. Millions of copies of the Charlie Hebdo special issue had been sold around the world. In view of the circumstances that led to the publication, it is reasonable to assume that a segment of the Israeli public would be interested in purchasing it for its symbolic value. It was even possible, Joubran opined, that in the future the financial value of the Charlie Hebdo issues will sky rocket and that they may be considered collectors’ items. Under these conditions, he determined, a distribution of copies of the special issue was unquestionably “a present” within the meaning of section 8. Because copies of the special issue were planned to be delivered in an envelope containing the name and the symbol of Yisrael Beytenu, Joubran concludes, their distribution was clearly prohibited election propaganda involving the giving of presents. (Id. ¶¶ 26-28.)

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Israel: Prohibition on Distribution of Charlie Hebdo Special Issue as Election Propaganda. 2015. Web Page. https://www.loc.gov/item/global-legal-monitor/2015-02-11/israel-prohibition-on-distribution-of-charlie-hebdo-special-issue-as-election-propaganda/.

APA citation style:

(2015) Israel: Prohibition on Distribution of Charlie Hebdo Special Issue as Election Propaganda. [Web Page] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/global-legal-monitor/2015-02-11/israel-prohibition-on-distribution-of-charlie-hebdo-special-issue-as-election-propaganda/.

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Israel: Prohibition on Distribution of Charlie Hebdo Special Issue as Election Propaganda. 2015. Web Page. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/global-legal-monitor/2015-02-11/israel-prohibition-on-distribution-of-charlie-hebdo-special-issue-as-election-propaganda/>.