Israeli book chain scraps plan to sell Charlie Hebdo in stores

Heeding uproar, Israeli bookstore chain scraps plans to sell Charlie Hebdo edition in stores

Israel’s largest bookstore chain canceled plans for in-store sales of the Charlie Hebdo "survivors’ edition" and announced Sunday that it would sell the magazine only online, after warnings by Arab lawmakers and activists.

The first issue printed after the attack on the Paris satirical magazine featured a cartoon depicting the prophet Muhammad weeping and holding a sign bearing the now-popular solidarity phrase “Je suis Charlie.”

The Israeli chain Steimatzky, which offers many foreign publications, announced last week it would hold a one-time sale of the magazine at its store in the Ayalon Mall in Ramat Gan, a Tel Aviv suburb. Responding to interest from Israeli readers, the company ordered 700 copies, it said.

In both Israel and the Palestinian territories, people rallied in solidarity with France after the attack. But the new issue of the magazine sparked massive protests among Palestinians and plans to sell it openly in Israel angered Arab leaders.

According to Israeli media, Arab lawmaker Masoud Ghnaim sent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a letter urging him to intervene and prevent the sale of “offensive” depictions of the prophet.

The politician called the move “very dangerous and foolish,” and said “this is not freedom of expression but a grave offense to the Muslims’ holy of holies” that could have serious consequences. The outcome was unpredictable, he said, and the government of Israel and the chain would “bear responsibility.”

After his and other warnings campaigning against the move, the chain changed its plans and announced the controversial publication would be sold online only.

The management of the chain said it “upholds freedom of expression entirely” and will continue selling the magazine online.

The controversy was quickly politicized, tapping into Israel’s election campaign and the animosity between Arab lawmakers and the right-wing party Yisrael Beiteinu, headed by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

In a Facebook post, Lieberman condemned the lawmaker’s warnings as “another crossing of red lines” on the part of Israeli Arab leaders. “We will not allow Israel to be turned into an ISIS state and we will not allow radical Islam to intimidate Israel into a state that capitulates to threats and harms the freedom of expression,” he wrote.

A small campaign called for a boycott of Steimatzky for giving in to "Israeli Muslim terror."

Sobelman is a special correspondent.

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