The mayor of Lyon has canceled round table talks due to be held on Wednesday in the presence of the Franco-Palestinian lawyer Salah Hamouri. Grégory Doucet said he regretted not being able "to calmly guarantee freedom of expression" in a context marked in recent days by an outbreak of violence between Israelis and Palestinians.
"My role as mayor is to ensure civil peace and harmony in the city", he said during a press briefing on Monday, stressing that his decision was due to "the risks of disturbing public order".
The Rhône police chief had earlier sent a formal notice to the town hall, asking it to cancel the conference entitled "Thirty years after the signing of the Oslo Accords, view of Palestine".
On Sunday, one of Doucet's assistants, Florence Delaunay, had to leave a ceremony dedicated to the memory of the liberation of the Auschwitz camp after being booed by the public, noted a correspondent from French news agency AFP.
"There was very strong verbal violence, a form of intimidation (...) and I must do everything so that the violence suffered there is not imported here in Lyon," underlined Doucet on Monday.
This comes against a context of heightened tension in the Middle East.
On Sunday, President Emmanuel Macron echoed other world leaders in condemning a series of deadly incidents in the West Bank and Jerusalem.
An Israeli raid in the Jenin refugee camp on Thursday killed nine Palestinians.
This was followed by a deadly shooting outside a Jerusalem synagogue on Friday and a gun attack by a 13-year-old Palestinian boy that wounded two in the city on Saturday.
In a telephone conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday, Macron "recalled the need for all to avoid measures likely to feed the spiral of violence", according to his office.
Macron also expressed his "readiness to contribute to the resumption of dialogue between the Palestinians and the Israelis", the statement added.
Neutrality in question
Meanwhile, Salah Hamouri's invitation to Lyon, like the title of the round table, was perceived as a "provocation" by several local representatives, including the chief rabbi of Lyon Daniel Dahan.
In protest, the religious leader resigned last Friday from a body interconfessional association created in 2002 by the town hall of Lyon to promote "living well together".
Hamouri has been in France since his expulsion from Israel in December, an act deemed "contrary to law" by authorities in Paris and condemned by the UN, which described it as a "war crime"
The 37 year-old lawyer denies accusations by Israel that he has links with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), considered to be a terrorist organisation by the Jewish State and the European Union.
The European Jewish Organization (OJE), which fights against anti-Semitism, for its part seized the administrative court of Lyon to have the conference suspended, in the name of "the neutrality of the public service". The request was rejected Monday morning by the judge.
The Council for Jewish organisations in France (CRIF), which had planned a press conference on Monday afternoon on "the repercussions and dangers resulting from the maintenance of the conference organised by the town hall of Lyon", said in a press release that the mobilisation "was no longer necessary" as a result of the mayor's decision.
For their part, Hamouri's supporters denounced in a press release the "intimidation (...), the harassment and the defamation of the censors" who "want to condemn him to silence".
Last week, Doucet defended his decision in an interview with the regional daily newspaper Le Progrès to invite the Franco-Palestinian lawyer for this "focus on the Palestinian territory".
"He is a French citizen who has the right to express himself", he stressed, recalling that he himself was "aligned with France's position on a two-state solution", also supported by the United Nations.
He also announced that he was not giving up on the "project to describe, with all those of goodwill and people who respect the democratic framework, the real situation in Israel and Palestine" and planned "future meetings with the general public on this theme" according to a letter sent Monday to various associations.
"This is the whole spirit of our approach, both to address complex geopolitical issues and thorny local situations: to be respectful of republican values (...), to ensure that harmony is maintained, and, never, to be silent in the face of injustices or untruths", this letter stated.