Defying court ruling, French figures call for Israel boycott

Protestors defying a ban on Palestine solidarity demonstrations in Paris hold a banner saying “Stop the blackmail: Anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism,” 26 July 2014. (Alain Bachellier/Flickr)

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.”

Legal crackdown

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.

New restrictions

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.

“Outrage”

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;

  • Saïd Bouamama, an academic who is on trial under France’s harsh anti-free-speech laws for a book he wrote critical of France’s colonial past;

  • The journalist for Le Monde Diplomatique and anti-Islamophobia campaigner Alain Gresh;

  • Azzedine Taïbi, mayor of the Paris suburb of Stains.

The other signatories are university professors Sonia Dayan and Nacira Guénif, anti-racism activist Sihame Assbague and scientist, filmmaker and former Doctors without Borders president Rony Brauman.

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.

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Comments

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Freedom of Expression is an inalienable HUMAN RIGHT.
France has no right to curtail anyone from expressing themselves via a non violent form of protest such as BDS.
France states that freedom of speech is important. BDS is followed by people of conscience but no one is forced to adhere to it less they wish to do no reason to ban it.

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My local CASINO in Forcalquier stocks Israeli sweet potatoes. As I did in England before moving here, I immediately put a BOYCOTT ISRAEL on the potatoes. It is in english but the intent is clear in any language. ISRAEL is an apartheid state like South Africa once was, and when Nelson Mandela was called a 'terrorist'. We won.

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Restriction on free speech, in the land of Libert, Equality and Fraternity !

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Excellent report. Those prepared to defy these prohibitions deserve international support.

In a bizarre development, the French Ministry of Education has announced a program of "secular" visitations throughout the school system, in which thousands of volunteers will lecture students on the evils of sectarianism and virtues of the current state policy restricting religious expression. An account of the initiative appears here-

http://www.theguardian.com/wor...

Buried near the end of the article appears this observation-

"According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, the French education system is one of the least egalitarian in the world. Only 5% of children with working-class parents reach university doctorate level and only 4% reach the elite graduate schools known as grandes ecoles."

Trying to persuade marginalised, deprived, racially stigmatised children to support a system they know severely limits their future prospects because that system allegedly represents a version of liberty, is bound to fail. It deserves to fail. But such projects help to purvey the government's view that the problem in French schools is something called "radicalisation". Incidentally, neither the government nor the author of the article seem prepared to countenance the possibility that social alienation of the poor stems largely from the stifling grip on national life of the rich, nor that Islamist attacks in France occur in the context of neo-colonial wars of profit waged by that country and its allies throughout Muslim lands.

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Anyone familiar with the French legal and political system should be aware of the preposterousness of any claims by the French (and in particular its political-parasite class) of their support for freedom of speech.

For example: it is illegal to criticise the laws regarding antisemitism and holocaust denial - the so-called 'Loi Gayssot' (Gayssot's Law).

I wrote a blog post in 2006, that simply stated that it was morally wrong for governments to outlaw any speech (even calls to violence... which are not violence themselves, obviously). In particular, I wrote that 'denying the holocaust' should be treated no differently than claiming that Elvis is still alive or that a genocidal sky maniac (HWHY) granted Palestine to an incestuous nomad (Avram) in exchange for founding a genital mutilation cult (Judaism).

My view was, and is, that if someone believes that the Holocaust did not happen, individuals might be outraged, but the State has no proper role: furthermore, any outraged individuals have no right to do any violent act towards the person whose speech they dislike.

I wrote this after an Australian court decision that found against an Australian academic - Frederick Toben. I wrote it while living outside of France.

Fast forward to 2008 (and I was living in France): I was hauled in for a discussion with the paramilitary police (gendarmes are soldiers first, and police second), and asked to explain the blog post.

I said (in French, of course): "The law is bullshit: the post does not deny the holocaust... it says, simply, that people may think what they like, and say what they think - so long as they don't commit any violence. Let's bring this shit on, and we will see how the ECHR views it: bear in mind that your names will be attached to this decision for the rest of your lives."

There were no charges.

As an aside: it is also illegal to whistle the national anthem, anyone who does so can be subject to a fine of 25,000 euro.

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WTF? Illegal to whistle the national anthem in France? You are kidding me . . . ?

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Furthermore, Islamaphobia is no different to anti Semetism, why no laws on that? In fact it seems to me that France practises Islamaphobia in various guises. There should not be a certain religion or one ethnicity above another singled out for "special" treatment in law or by political design.
It is decisive and without doubt morally wrong.

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Just wanna tell you that la court de cassation isn't a "court of criminal appeals" it's a third juridiction which establish if previous trial has been made rightly according to the law

Ali Abunimah's picture

You are correct that the court deals with interpretation of the law. Our description is adequate and accurate for the purposes of this article. It is the court of last resort in most criminal cases.

Ali Abunimah

Ali Abunimah's picture

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.