Israel’s High Court of Justice has overturned a ban by the Central Elections Committee, which sought to prevent Foreign Minister Avidgor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party from handing out free copies of the provocative French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

3753438241-1Saying, “We won’t let Islamic extremists intimidate Israel and turn it into another Islamic State,” Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman instructed Yisrael Beytenu party activists to buy thousands of copies of Charlie Hebdo’s ‘survivors’ issue’ after Israel’s largest bookstore chain decided not to stock it in order not to incite Muslim rage.

Times of Israel    “We will not allow Islam to intimidate us and turn Israel into a country that surrenders to Muslim threats and harms our freedom of expression,” said Avigdor Lieberman.

Israeli protesters demonstrate outside a Steimatzky bookstore in Tel Aviv, against what they say is the surrender of the bookstore chain to extremist threats

In their decision, the judges wrote that distributing the magazine was “legitimate election propaganda” and did not constitute a prohibited gift, as the elections committee had argued. The court said that allowing the initiative would not pose a realistic threat to the integrity of the elections process, while preventing it would be a blow to freedom of speech.

Israel’s national elections are scheduled for March 17.

Liberman welcomed the ruling, claiming victory against Arab Knesset members who were against the magazine’s circulation because its front cover featured a cartoon drawing of the Prophet Muhammad.

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“The High Court’s decision to allow the distribution of Charlie Hebdo is an important message that Israel remains a Jewish and democratic state and that we shouldn’t give in to threats and violence by Arab members of Knesset who are trying to turn Israel into another Islamic State country,” he said.

The Central Elections Committee had ruled earlier in February against Yisrael Beytenu’s plan to distribute complementary copies of Charlie Hebdo, saying such action constituted illegal gift-giving to voters. Explaining his decision at the time, committee head Justice Salim Joubran said giving out the magazine would constitute election propaganda.

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Arab parties had petitioned against the move, citing election regulations but also the danger of infuriating Israel’s Muslim population due to the cover.

Liberman had 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.

Charlie Hebdo has 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.

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