European Court upholds right to boycott Israel

Man addresses crowd of demonstrators

Calls to boycott Israel are protected free speech, says European Court of Human Rights.

Konrad K. SIPA

The European Court of Human Rights struck a major blow to Israel’s efforts to silence its critics on Thursday when it overturned the criminal convictions against 11 Palestinian rights activists in France.

The court ruled unanimously that the convictions against the activists for calling on shoppers to boycott Israeli goods violated the European Convention on Human Rights’ guarantee of freedom of expression.

The court has ordered the French government to pay each of the activists about $8,000 in damages and awarded them their legal costs.

The ruling is a significant boost to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement that aims to pressure Israel to end its crimes against Palestinians and its violations of international law.

“This momentous court ruling is a decisive victory for freedom of expression, for human rights defenders and for the BDS movement for Palestinian freedom, justice and equality,” Rita Ahmad said on behalf of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC).

The judgment will have major implications for state repression of the BDS movement across Europe, especially in Germany where “advocates for Palestinian rights face fierce restrictions on their civil rights,” the BNC added.

Israel and its lobby have in recent years encouraged governments around the world to pass laws and policies aimed at silencing supporters of Palestinian rights.

Amnesty International also welcomed the ruling.

“Today’s landmark decision sets a significant precedent that should stop the misuse of anti-discrimination laws to target activists campaigning against human rights violations perpetrated by Israel against Palestinians,” Marco Perolini, a researcher for the human rights group in France, said.

The ruling comes at a time when Israel is charging ahead with plans to annex large parts of the occupied West Bank, no doubt encouraged by the failure of the European Union and its member states to take any meaningful action to stop it.

State prosecution

The case was brought to the European Court of Human Rights by the activists who are members of Collectif Palestine 68, a local group that supports the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign.

On 26 September 2009 and 22 May 2010, the activists took part in actions at a Carrefour supermarket in Illzach, a town in northeastern France.

They wore T-shirts saying “Palestine will live” and “Boycott Israel.” They shouted slogans and passed out leaflets urging shoppers not to buy Israeli goods, in order to pressure Israel to stop violating Palestinian rights.

They asked shoppers to sign a petition urging the supermarket chain to stop stocking Israeli goods. They were entirely peaceful actions.

Following the May 2010 action, a public prosecutor charged the activists with inciting discrimination, hatred and violence against a group of people because of its origin, race, ethnicity or religion.

As evidence, the charge sheet specifically cited their campaign slogans, including that “buying Israeli products legitimizes crimes in Gaza.”

The supermarket chain itself filed no legal complaint against the activists.

It was entirely a state prosecution, following the instruction of France’s justice minister who in 2010 told local prosecutors to go after BDS activists.

In December 2011, the criminal court in the city of Mulhouse acquitted the activists.

The trial court rejected charges that the activists intended to incite hatred or discrimination by calling on consumers not to buy Israeli goods.

But in November 2013, an appeals court convicted the activists. It sentenced them to pay fines and costs totaling tens of thousands of dollars.

In October 2015, the Court of Cassation, France’s highest tribunal for criminal appeals, upheld the convictions in a ruling that was widely viewed as a severe setback for freedom of speech.

Protected speech

In its ruling Thursday, the European Court of Human Rights affirmed that “the actions and remarks imputed to the applicants had concerned a subject of public interest” and “those actions and words had fallen within the ambit of political or militant expression.”

It added that “it was in the nature of political speech to be controversial and often virulent.”

The ruling faults the French courts for failing to respect Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights – the guarantee of freedom of expression – and failing to conduct “an appropriate assessment of the facts.”

The campaign group BDS France celebrated the court victory and vowed Thursday to “continue boycott actions of Israeli products and multinational companies that are complicit in Israeli apartheid.”

“We also call for the boycott of complicit Israeli universities and institutions, as well as of cultural and sporting events that promote Israeli apartheid,” the group added.

“Israel, an apartheid country, cannot forever prevent the truimph of justice and freedom for the Palestinian people.”

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Comments

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Make people great again by boycotting all the devils.

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The European Court of Human Rights is nothing to do with the EU, it is part of the Council of Europe and hears claims that member states actions are in breach of the European Convention of Human Rights. The UK is still a signatory to the Convention and still has the Convention included in English, Welsh and Scottish law via the Human Rights Act.

It is therefore fully binding on us as a state.

What is interesting is whether it is relevent to the PSC case against prohibition of council pension funds divesting from Israel.

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I visited Israel and was aware of the displacement and poorer position of one section in contrast to the other.
This shouldn't be legitimated and twisted.

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According to the report here:
https://tinyurl.com/ycufoq8d

it is not $8000 damages to be paid by the French government to BDS-campaigners but:

"France was ordered to pay 27,380 euros ($31,150) to each campaigner."

Hurrah! But these damage figure should be put in perspective: here in Germany + elsewhere for example, entire careers have been ruined with false accusations of "anti-semitism" and BDS-blacklists.
Injustice remnant of the worst witch-hunts in McCarthey times of the 1950s.

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The ECHR has jurisdiction in the UK. It is not to be confused with the ECJ which is an EU institution. Of course, there will now be calls from the Right for Britain to withdraw, but that would make the UK look like a truly backward country. The Right is truly backward, but the country isn't. In the week in which the statue of a racist has been thrown in the Bristol Channel, this is good news for everyone who believes in universal, equal rights and who would like to see the colonial past consigned to the disgrace it deserves. We have the right to call for a boycott of bodies which support the racist State of Israel. Yet what is stunning is that the French State (liberte, egalite, fraternite) pursued the action against the protesters. That reveals the depth of support for Israel amongst the political elite. Wickedness in high places, as Al Sharpton reminded us. Israel is a touchstone for the rich and powerful. It sends a message: "Do what we say, or we will do to you what we have done to the Palestinians." Supposedly democratic, anti-racist governments turn a bind eye to Israel's undemocratic,racist practices. Danton will be turning in his grave. The famed French belief in the Rights of Man, emblazoned on the wall of Le Procope, the oldest cafe in the world, looks a bit sick when the French State runs scared before a few hundred citoyens handing out leaflets. What they fear is justice. What they fear is equality. Across the globe these defenders of the rights of property over those of people side with the Israeli State because equality for the Palestinians implies an equality they deny their own people. The ECHR has made a judgement in defence of a fundamental freedom for the common folk. We have a duty to use it to bring the same freedom to the Palestinians.

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Agree with you but just wanted to point out the statue of Colston, the slaver, was thrown into the Floating Harbour in Bristol not the Bristol Channel which is the name for the lower end of the Severn Estuary and is some 6 miles away

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Thank you ! Thank you so much for finally doing the right thing. The right to boycott the zionist government of Israel for what could be called the most racist in the world in regards to Palestinian
rights is finally seeing the light of day .I hope all countries in the world 's judicial systems will finally agree with this ruling . There are no special people , that have more rights than others.

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A honorable and great step towards achieving justice for the 100 years oppressed palastinians.

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Ali Abunimah

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.