Egged on by Israel, France bans Salah Hammouri from speaking

Ali Abunimah

The Electronic Intifada  /  March 16, 2023

Prior to his expulsion from his native Jerusalem, France’s government made a big show of supporting Salah Hammouri – at least verbally.

President Emmanuel Macron’s administration publicly admonished Israel that the Palestinian French human rights lawyer “must be allowed to exercise all of his rights and live a normal life in Jerusalem, the city where he was born and where he resides.”

Despite such toothless protests from Paris, Israeli occupation authorities subjected Hammouri to years of imprisonment without charge or trial and finally expelled him to France in December.

One would think that having lectured Israel in this manner, the government in France – where Hammouri has never been charged with or convicted of any crime – would at least want to set an example by treating its citizen with a modicum of respect for his basic human and political rights.

But instead, egged on by Israel and its lobby, the Macron administration is, in its turn, subjecting Hammouri to Israeli-style harassment and persecution which has resulted in his speaking events being canceled or banned by government decree.

According to Hammouri, on Wednesday night French authorities prohibited an event in which he was due to take part in the eastern city of Nancy on Thursday.

Hammouri told The Electronic Intifada that he saw the bans “as an extension of my expulsion” by Israel and as “an attack on free speech.”

Arnaud Cochet, the French government’s top official in the region where Nancy is located, explained he took the decision because the announcement of Hammouri’s appearance had provoked “strong emotions” in the Jewish community and thus presented a threat to “public order” – a broad pretext that is now regularly used to censor Hammouri.

This attack on his rights is only the latest turn in an ongoing campaign by the French government.

Phone call from intelligence

In February, according to the Paris newspaper Le Monde, an agent of France’s domestic intelligence service called up an activist with Association France Palestine Solidarité.

The agent wanted to know whether Hammouri would be speaking at a public event the Palestinian rights group was planning to hold later that month in Versailles to discuss Amnesty International’s report on Israeli apartheid.

“The officer made no secret of his intentions,” Le Monde reported. If Hammouri “were to be invited to the event, it would be banned.”

It just so happened that Hammouri, the son of a French mother and a Palestinian father, hadn’t been invited, and the event went ahead without interference from Macron’s secret police.

Among France’s pro-Israel Jewish communal groups, some lawmakers and within the government, Hammouri is seen as a “potentially dangerous agitator,” according to Le Monde.

It is more likely that they fear that Hammouri, as a charismatic advocate for his people’s cause with a harrowing personal story, would prove an embarrassment to Israel’s propaganda efforts in France.

Certainly, France’s top Jewish communal and Israel lobby group CRIF is playing an active part in the smear campaign against Hammouri – whom it accuses of affiliation with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a left-wing political party and resistance group which Israeli occupation authorities have designated as “terrorist.”

Bogus conviction

Le Monde notes that those attacking Hammouri often point out that in 2005 Israeli occupation authorities arrested and in 2008 convicted him for taking part in a supposed plot to kill Ovadia Yosef, a prominent Israeli rabbi who habitually incited genocidal violence to “annihilate” Palestinians.

Yosef died in 2013.

Hammouri, who always maintained his innocence, was held for three years without charge or trial, before accepting a plea deal from Israel’s military court in order to obtain a shorter sentence.

The military court has a conviction rate for Palestinians of nearly 100 percent.

The illegitimacy of this conviction was always well understood by French authorities.

In 2011, Alain Juppé, France’s foreign minister at the time, wrote that Israel’s accusations in the case had “never been corroborated by any element of proof.”

Yet now the Macron administration is treating Hammouri as if he – not the military occupation regime that subjected him to years of imprisonment, persecution and finally expulsion from the land of his birth – is the criminal.

Israeli interference

In February, Hammouri was scheduled to speak at an event sponsored by the city of Lyon, marking the anniversary of the 1993 Israeli-Palestinian Oslo accords.

In a blatant intervention by a foreign government, the Israeli embassy in Paris wrote to the mayor of Lyon, citing the Yosef case and cynically invoking the memory of the Holocaust, to demand that the city pull out of the event.

France’s hardline interior minister Gérald Darmanin also intervened with local officials to pressure Lyon to cancel the event – which the city did.

Darmanin later bragged in parliament that had Lyon’s mayor not canceled the event, he would have issued a decree banning it anyway on the pretext that it would have disturbed “public order.”

The minister has issued several such banning orders against Palestine solidarity groups and Muslim leaders over their criticism of Israel in recent years, which have later been overturned by the courts.

Amnesty International France, which was due to participate in the Lyon event, stated that “hate speech against Salah Hammouri on social media, sometimes coordinated, aims to prevent him exercising his freedom of expression.”

The human rights group noted that across France in recent months, Palestine-related events have been canceled following various forms of pressure amounting to censorship.

Nonetheless, the “public order” pretext was invoked again this week to try to prevent the French public from hearing about Hammouri’s experiences of Israeli military occupation and persecution.

On 13 March, the French government applied threats and pressure on a venue in Poitiers, in western France, to cancel a booking for that same day by a local Palestine solidarity group for an event featuring Hammouri.

Citing Hammouri’s military court conviction in the Ovadia Yosef case, the Macron administration’s local representative Jean-Marie Girier wrote, “Already banned from gatherings in Lyon and Paris, the visit of Mr. Salah Hammouri elicits a strong reaction from the Jewish community.”

“I demand … that you take your responsibility and cancel this conference,” Girier wrote to the director of the Centre d’Animation de Beaulieu, a publicly funded events space.

Girier’s handwritten postscript reinforced the message, implying that if the event was not canceled the government might step in.

In fact – contrary to Girier’s claims – no meeting involving Hammouri had been banned in Paris. And the event in Lyon was canceled by the city itself – albeit under government threats and pressure.

Notably, the administrative court in Lyon even rejected a petition in late January from an Israel lobby group demanding that the event be prohibited.

But this time, the government’s threats failed and the event in Poitiers went ahead as planned.

Israeli genocide inciter to arrive in France

Meanwhile, as Elsa Lefort, a human rights defender and Salah Hammouri’s wife has pointed out, France is allowing a planned visit by Bezalel Smotrich, the ultra-far-right Israeli minister who recently issued a genocidal call for the Palestinian town of Huwwara to be “wiped out.”

With a note of irony, Lefort called on people to send to Darmanin examples of Smotrich’s many racist and violent statements so that the interior minister “can get to know this great humanist.”

Although France is allowing this inciter of violent racial and ethnic hatred into the country, French officials reportedly do not plan to meet with him themselves.

Amid Paris’ ongoing crackdown on supporters of Palestinian rights, 19 French labor unions, human rights groups and social organizations wrote to Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne this week calling on the government to halt its efforts to muzzle criticism of Israel which are often done under the pretext of fighting anti-Semitism.

The groups urged Borne “to act urgently to halt the threats, the climate of intimidation and witch hunts in the service of a third country which violates human rights and international law daily.”

They also called on the prime minister to act to “stop the threats and defamation against our compatriot Salah Hammouri.”

Ali Abunimah is executive director of The Electronic Intifada