The état d’urgence in France – Talk online

On December 14, 2017, the Minerva Center for the Rule of Law under Extreme Conditions (Haifa/Hamburg) hosted a symposium on Institutional Governance Structures for National Emergencies – Before, during and after. The talks of the coference were streamed online on youtube. The contribution of Matthias Lemke and the comment by Myriam Feinberg can be found here.

The other contributions are also available on the youtube-page of the Minerva Center, which can be accessed here.

Abstract 10/15: Myriam Feinberg (University of Haifa) – Terrorism – The Permanent Exception. A Comparison of France and Israel


This paper aims to examine the consequences on democracy of ‘permanent emergencies’ linked to terrorism, through the examples and comparison of France and Israel’s states of emergency. France has already extended the state of emergency, originally declared after the November 2015 attacks, for over a year. Israel has been under a state of emergency since its creation in 1948. In both cases, the existence of a state of emergency allows the government to adopt a number of measures which wouldn’t be legal otherwise.

Terrorism is often treated as an exceptional crime which requires an exceptional response, including the adoption of states of emergency. The changing nature of the terrorist threat requires a flexible legal framework, but there are a number of issues with creating exceptional regimes to deal with it, especially if these exceptional regimes become permanent. Exceptionalism might justify extreme rules and a wider range of measures because usual rules are considered insufficient. Yet, the desire for a symbolic message and swift action against terrorism should not cheapen the strength of existing legal measures, which run the risk of piling up without being actually implemented. In fact, we witness an inflation of terrorism legislation often adopted hurriedly and without proper implementation tools or sufficient budget. In turn, these emergency measures tend to settle in the long run as people get used to a new normal, leading to a slippery slope of what is acceptable. For instance, the new terrorism law in Israel enshrines in regular legislation measures that were, on principle, only applicable under the state of emergency.

In addition, emergency fosters extremes and often targets specific groups of people that can then become ostracized. In turn, this can create a climate of fear and resentment towards those suspected of terrorism, as well as discriminatory measures. States will tend to focus on the external and exceptional threat, instead of addressing long-term and domestic issues, which contribute to terrorism, such as radicalisation and integration.

Finally, under states of emergencies, the executive often adopts the primary role in setting the norms, which puts aside the review role of the judiciary. Yet, both in France and Israel, courts have increasingly become involved in ensuring the protection of fundamental freedoms and the separation of powers under states of emergencies, two intrinsic components of democracies. The paper will examine these three particular issues in the two states, and draw conclusions on the impact of exceptional counterterrorism measures on democracy and the rule of law.