A group of prominent intellectuals and activists is defying France’s crackdown on the Palestine solidarity movement by publicly calling for the boycott of Israeli goods.
This comes just as the French prime minister has announced that his government plans to intensify its restrictions on free speech targeting the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.
“This boycott movement is enjoying growing success around the world as the only nonviolent means to put pressure on Israel,” the public figures’ statement in the independent online publication Médiapart says.
“It permits everyone who wishes to peacefully demonstrate their solidarity and to protest the favorable treatment [Israel] receives from a large part of the international community despite its constant violations of international law,” it adds.
“It is why we call for the support and strengthening of the BDS movement and for the boycott of Israeli goods.”
The signatories are making their call in open defiance of an October ruling by the Court of Cassation.
France’s highest court of criminal appeals upheld the conviction of a dozen Palestine solidarity activists for publicly calling for the boycott of Israeli goods.
It also made France, in addition to Israel, the only country to penalize appeals not to buy Israeli goods.
But the French law, which includes criminal penalties, is arguably harsher than Israel’s, which allows boycott supporters to be pursued for financial damages, but not jailed.
The ruling by the Court of Cassation added to growing concerns about the harsh crackdown on free speech, backed by French President François Hollande, since the murders of journalists at the offices of the magazine Charlie Hebdo in January 2015.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls has ratcheted up the government’s smear campaign and threats of repression against supporters of Palestinian rights.
In a speech to the French Israel lobby group CRIF on Monday, Valls said that his government would be taking further measures to ban demonstrations in support of BDS.
“We have passed from criticism of Israel to anti-Zionism and from anti-Zionism to anti-Semitism,” Valls claimed.
“We will be taking measures,” he announced, “that will demonstrate that enough is enough and we cannot allow everything in our country.”
Valls said he would announce details soon and consult with the interior minister.
Last month Valls warned that robust criticism of Israel’s Zionist state ideology is being viewed as anti-Semitism.
The statement by the French figures calls the October court ruling, which relied on an anti-discrimination law, an “outrage,” particularly in light of France’s loud professions to be the world’s greatest defender of free speech.
“This law is supposed to protect a person or group of people who are victims of discrimination because of their origin or membership or non-membership of a specific ethnicity, nation, race or religion,” the statement says.
“It was never intended to protect the policies of a state against the criticism of citizens, when such criticism takes the form of a call to boycott products,” it adds.
“We will not fold” in the face of this ruling, the signatories declare.
The signers include:
Ahmed Abbes, research director for CNRS, France’s national center for scientific research;
Étienne Balibar, the noted theorist and distinguished professor at the University of California, Irvine;
The sociologist and feminist Christine Delphy, who co-founded the journal Nouvelles questions féministes (New Feminist Issues) with Simone de Beauvoir;
The journalist for Le Monde Diplomatique and anti-Islamophobia campaigner Alain Gresh;
Azzedine Taïbi, mayor of the Paris suburb of Stains.
Translation of full statement
We will not fold under the 22 October 2015 Court of Cassation decision!
In two rulings on 22 October 2015 [Editor’s note: the ruling is dated 20 October], the Court of Cassation declared that it is illegal to call for the boycott of Israeli products and affirmed the heavy convictions of numerous activists in the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.
To this end, the court relied on an article in the press law that refers to the crime of “provoking discrimination, hatred or violence toward a person or group of persons for reason of their origin or membership in a specific ethnicity, nation, race or religion.”
This decision is more than stunning, it is an outrage. This law is supposed to protect a person or group of persons who are victims of discrimination because of their origin or membership or nonmembership of a specific ethnicity, nation, race or religion. It was never intended to protect the policies of a state against the criticism of citizens, when such criticism takes the form of a call to boycott products.
Organizations have repeatedly called for boycotts in the world, of Myanmar (Burma), Russia, China or Mexico without ever invoking this clause.
Despite the insistence of the justice minister, most French jurisdictions have refused in recent years to consider that calls to boycott Israeli goods rise to the level of a violation of the law.
With the Court of Cassation’s decision, France has become the only democratic country in the world where such an interdiction has been put in place.
For a country which for the last year has not stopped proclaiming its attachment to the freedom of expression, it is all the more paradoxical and it is likely that the European Court of Human Rights will review this unwelcome decision.
Even the Court of Cassation must answer for its decisions and respect universal principles, not least the right of expression.
The BDS movement was created in the context of the international community’s resignation to its inability to end colonization or protect Palestinians from the daily abuses inflicted on them by the Israeli army and settlers.
This boycott movement is enjoying growing success around the world as the only nonviolent means to put pressure on Israel. It permits everyone who wishes to peacefully demonstrate their solidarity and to protest the favorable treatment that country receives from a large part of the international community despite its constant violations of international law.
It is why we call for the support and strengthening of the BDS movement and for the boycott of Israeli goods.