Court overturns French ban on Palestine solidarity groups

A man with a microphone addresses people holding signs in a street

A rally in Toulouse on 5 March against the French government’s order dissolving the solidarity group Collectif Palestine Vaincra. On 29 April, France’s highest court, the Conseil d’Etat, suspended the order against that group and one other. (via Facebook)

Emmanuel Macron’s war against campaigners for Palestinian rights suffered another big setback on Friday.

The Conseil d’Etat, which acts as France’s supreme court ruling on government actions, suspended the president’s order banning two Palestine solidarity groups.

The court upheld the right to call for a boycott of Israeli goods and found the government’s accusations of “anti-Semitism” against the two groups to be unfounded.

In February, on Macron’s instructions, interior minister Gérald Darmanin ordered the dissolution of Collectif Palestine Vaincra (Palestine Will Win Collective) and Comité Palestine Action (Palestine Action Committee).

The government accused the two groups of inciting hatred and violence in relation to Israel.

In a summary of its rulings, the Conseil d’Etat said it suspended the government orders after finding no evidence “that the positions taken by these groups, although clear-cut and even virulent, constitute a call for discrimination, hatred or violence or a provocation to commit acts of terrorism.”

With respect to Comité Palestine Action, the court ruled that the government’s order was “a serious and manifestly illegal violation of the freedom of association and freedom of expression.”

In a finding relevant to the Palestinian-led BDS – boycott, divestment and sanctions – campaign, the Conseil d’Etat stated that “the call for a boycott of certain Israeli products by Collectif Palestine Vaincra cannot by itself justify a dissolution order in the absence of other provocations inciting hatred and violence.”

That is in tune with the unanimous June 2020 decision by the European Court of Human Rights that France’s criminal prosecutions of activists who have called for such boycotts violate fundamental guarantees of freedom of expression.

The Macron administration has been trying to sidestep that European ruling in order to continue its pro-Israel repression.

No evidence of anti-Semitism

In a blow to efforts to equate criticism of Israel and its Zionist state ideology with anti-Jewish bigotry, the Conseil d’Etat found that the government failed to provide evidence of “anti-Semitic acts” by the two groups.

The full ruling on Comité Action Palestine states flatly that “it is not established, contrary to the interior minister’s claims, that the group disseminated anti-Semitic publications on its website.”

The government must now pay around $3,000 to each of the groups. The ruling immediately suspends the order dissolving the two groups pending a final ruling expected at a later stage.

Decisions by the Conseil D’Etat cannot be appealed.

Collectif Palestine Vaincra hailed the Conseil d’Etat ruling for “reaffirming the legitimacy of supporting the Palestinian people” and said it was “celebrating that it could freely pursue its struggle.”

The group thanked activists who had protested the government measure, and several solidarity organizations, including Association France-Palestine Solidarité and the Jewish-French Union for Peace (UJFP), that filed briefs in its support at the Conseil d’Etat.

UJFP welcomed the ruling as a “victory against the criminalization of the solidarity movement.”

Almost 11,000 people had signed a petition against the dissolution orders.

Comité Action Palestine said it “would like to dedicate this victory to the Palestinian people and their struggle.”

This is the second major rebuke in the space of a week against Macron’s violations of the fundamental rights of French citizens.

On Tuesday, the Conseil d’Etat, overturned a government decree ordering the closure of a mosque in Bordeaux.

Macron’s interior ministry issued the order earlier this year on the pretext that the mosque was spreading hatred against France and Israel and inciting terrorism.

“Milestone” judgment in Germany

And in Germany last week, a court sided with the local Palestine solidarity committee against city authorities in Stuttgart.

The European Legal Support Center (ELSC), a group that defends free speech about Palestine, hailed the decision as a “milestone judgment” that “reaffirms the right to boycott.”

Following a smear campaign in Israeli media, Stuttgart authorities began denying the solidarity group access to city premises and refused to advertise its events on the city’s website.

The municipality cited the 2019 resolution passed by the Bundestag, Germany’s lower house of parliament, smearing the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement as “anti-Semitic.”

The German court affirmed that the Bundestag resolution is nonbinding, and that the Palestine solidarity group’s activities are constitutionally protected free speech.

ELSC noted that this recent decision is “consistent with a growing trend in German case law, which upholds the right of activists to use public facilities for BDS-related events.”