French court lifts Israeli-ordered ban on event in Palestine
In a key victory for freedom of expression and human rights in France, a court in the eastern city of Nancy overturned a government injunction that blocked an event involving Salah Hammouri, the Palestinian-French lawyer and former political prisoner who was taken from his hometown of Jerusalem by the Israeli occupation authorities was expelled, prohibited December.
The judge called the order a serious and manifestly unlawful violation of the right to freedom of expression.
The French government’s ban on the Nancy event – imposed at the instigation of the Israeli embassy – was just the latest attack on Hammouri in an ongoing campaign to have him silenced by President Emmanuel Macron’s government and the French Israel lobby bring.
The court’s decision came Thursday night just under an hour before the scheduled start of the event, titled “A son of Jerusalem expelled from his native land by Israel,” co-sponsored by Association France Palestine Solidarité and Amnesty International France.
The event passed without incident.
Just a day earlier, the prefect of the department of Meurthe-et-Moselle – a prefect is the highest representative of the state in a French region – had banned the event, citing a threat to “public order”.
This is the same pretext the government has used to try to thwart Hammouris from making other appearances across France.
Prefect Arnaud Cochet based the claim, no doubt on behalf of the Interior Ministry, that pro-Israel Jewish groups had announced a counter-demonstration. He also received letters from the Israeli embassy in Paris, the Israeli consulate in Strasbourg and elected officials warning of unrest if the event goes ahead.
Cochet also banned the pro-Israel counter-demonstration, which would hardly show fairness.
By announcing a counter-demonstration, thereby raising the possibility of using violence to provoke the government ban, pro-Israel groups were in effect attempting to exercise what they called a “heckling veto” — a form of intimidation to shut down free speech.
As one definition puts it, an “interjection veto occurs when the government accepts speech restrictions based on expected or actual reactions from opponents of speech.”
US courts, including the Supreme Court, have consistently ruled that such government restrictions violate the First Amendment guarantee of free speech.
In France, the law allows for much broader government restrictions on speech in the face of an alleged threat to public order, but any speech restriction measures must be “necessary, appropriate and proportionate” to addressing that threat.
The court in Nancy ruled that the government’s actions fell short of those conditions and that Hammouri’s ban on performing was “a serious and manifestly unlawful violation of freedom of expression and association”.
The judge also found that no evidence had been presented that Hammouri had made statements during any of his public appearances elsewhere in France that could be construed as inciting riots.
“It is clear that the Interior Ministry is willing to listen to the demands of the Israeli embassy and CRIF [France’s main Israel lobby group]and at the excitement and pressure from local pro-Israel groups who cannot tolerate the idea that years of judicial harassment, repeated imprisonment and then his expulsion by Israel to France in December have failed to silence this tireless champion of the Palestinian cause to bring, “said the association France Palestine Solidarité on Friday.
While Hammouri was still in Israeli detention without charge or trial, awaiting expulsion from his Palestinian homeland, French authorities have repeatedly told Israel that he “must be allowed to exercise all his rights and lead a normal life in Jerusalem, the city.” , in which he was born and led, to lead where he dwells.”
But since his expulsion to France, the Macron administration has worked with Israel and France’s powerful Israel lobby in a concerted campaign to try to smear and silence Hammouri by pressuring venues to cancel his performances or to ban them entirely.
As confirmed by the Administrative Court in Nancy, these efforts involve illegal restrictions on freedom of expression and association that have no place in any country masquerading as a democracy.
Palestine solidarity groups called a rally in Paris on Friday to defend freedom of expression and show their solidarity with the Palestinian liberation struggle.