The Steimatzky book chain – which normally sells Israeli and imported books and newspapers, including the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo – has decided to backtrack on its decision to sell the new edition of the weekly at a special event in one of its Israeli stores. Instead, it will be sold only through the chain’s website. In doing so, Steimatzky responded to a warning by the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, which denounced what it called a provocative step that hurt the feelings of Muslims and their faith, and increased the hatred and tension between peoples.
Terrorists acting in the name of Islam murdered 12 people (including most of the editorial board) at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris three weeks ago, because of damage to religious sensibilities and the honor of the Prophet Mohammed. A terrorist also murdered four French Jews in a kosher supermarket in the name of Islam two days afterward. As a result of these events, a mass solidarity march was held in Paris with world leaders calling for the right to freedom of speech, denouncing anti-Semitism and murderous violence in the name of religion.
We must not take religious feelings lightly. But it is impossible to accept a situation in which individuals or groups make use of their hurt feelings as justification for actions to silence others.
Respect and consideration cannot be only the preserve of those who believe in higher powers who created or run the world. Those who do not believe in higher powers also have important values, and one of these is the freedom of expression – which is the exposed side of freedom of thought.
Words and pictures – the materials of which Charlie Hebdo is made – are not reality. They may be hurtful, but they do not kill. Murderous violence because of words and pictures – as hurtful as they can be – cannot be accepted. Surrender, fear and capitulation in the face of them are clear examples of the loss of freedom. Self-censorship or avoiding distributing Charlie Hebdo – this is a suicide of the freedom of expression in response to the attempt to murder it.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must not respond to calls to intervene in the distribution of Charlie Hebdo by a commercial business in Israel. There is also no need for Yisrael Beiteinu, which in normal times encourages harming the rights of Israel’s Arab citizens, to take advantage of this important struggle to advance its own political interests.
Steimatzky must hold the special event it planned to sell copies of Charlie Hebdo, whose editors paid with their own blood for the right to the freedom of expression, and the law enforcement authorities must protect this right.
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