Israel's Islamic Movement Protests Prophet's Caricatures Outside French Embassy

Jack Khoury
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Protesters hold placards that say "Mohammad is the prophet of mercy" as they demonstrate near the French Embassy, Tel Aviv, October 29, 2020.
Protesters hold placards that say "Mohammad is the prophet of mercy" as they demonstrate near the French Embassy, Tel Aviv, October 29, 2020.Credit: AMMAR AWAD/ REUTERS
Jack Khoury

Hundreds of members of the Islamic Movement protested outside the French Embassy in Tel Aviv Thursday against French President Emmanuel Macron's support for displaying the caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed.

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Among the demonstrators were senior members of the movement, as well as members of the Joint List party's Ra'am faction. They waved flags of the Islamic Movement and of Turkey, and carried signs expressing the holiness of the prophet, and warning against insulting Mohammed, shouting "Allahu Akbar," a Muslim expression of faith meaning 'God is the greatest' in Arabic.

The movement's chairman, Sheikh Hamad Abu Daabes, said that they came to protest against Macron and against the "insulting" and "Islamophobic" Charlie Hebdo cartoons. Abu Daabes also called for a boycott of French products throughout the Arab and Muslim world. "They must pay a heavy economic price for Macron's statements," he said.

Former Joint List lawmaker Masoud Ghanem, a leader in the movement, told Haaretz that the group also condemns Thursday's murder in Nice, in which a man killed three people, including one by beheading, while reportedly shouting "Allahu Akbar."

"We believe in the values of Islam, which is a religion of forgiveness and tolerance," Ghanem said. "We are therefore against any harm done to innocent civilians anywhere. But we cannot go back to routine in the presence of the statements and actions by Macron and his government."   

Ghanem said that France cannot claim that they are acting only against an extremist brand of Islam while insulting the global Muslim population: "One or two percent are extremists, so they slander an entire people," he said. "This is unacceptable, and we expect an immediate apology and a change of policy."

The Islamic Movement's policy bureau chairman, Ibrahim Hijazi, reiterated that they condemned the violence, "but Macron and those who adopt his policy need to understand that every discourse of hate may cause extremists from both sides to do violent things." He added that "we saw what happened at the mosque in New Zealand, and that was because of a discourse of hate. We call on Macron to end this policy and not to insult the feelings of Muslims all over the world."

When asked members of the movement's southern branch were the only ones present at the demonstration, Hijazi said, "We organized this and invited everyone, and it's each person's choice whether they participate or not."

Thursday's protest in Tel Aviv was the latest in a series of demonstrations by Muslims in Israel and the Palestinian Territories. On October 26, there were demonstrations throughout Arab-majority cities in Israel. 

The next day, around 80 people came to the embassy, in a demonstration organized by the Imam's Association of Holy Land. French ambassador Eric Danon met with representatives, who handed him a letter to be given to the French authorities. 

On October 16, a French teacher, Samuel Paty, was beheaded by an 18-year-old Muslim man of Chechen origin, after sparking a small controversy among for showing caricatures of the prophet during a civics class. The perpetrator was shot and killed by police.

The event, which French authorities said was a terrorist attack, came days after a speech by the French president in which he took aim at Islamic "separatism." He advocated for a two-pronged approach to deal with the phenomenon, through more enforcement and better social support for integration.

Muslims pray during a protest against comments by French President Emmanuel Macron defending cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, near the French embassy, Tel Aviv, October 29, 2020.Credit: JACK GUEZ - AFP

French authorities cracked down on several Muslim organizations and institutions loosely affiliated with extreme Islamic ideology, including by closing a large mosque near Paris. In a speech at a national homage for Paty, Macron also doubled down on France's intention to protect freedom of expression, and the publication of the caricatures. 

This has brought him in direct confrontation with leaders and the public in the Muslim world, eliciting strong condemnation in Iran, Pakistan, and especially Turkey - with President Erdogan bringing the French president's mental health into question.

France has warned its citizens worldwide against repercussions. On Thursday, a guard was attacked at the French consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Muslim protesters step on a sign depicting French President Emmanuel Macron as a medieval crusading knight, during a demonstration near the French embassy, Tel Aviv, October 27, 2020. Credit: JACK GUEZ - AFP

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