In blow to Israel, French BDS activists acquitted of crime in calling for boycott

Twelve French activists from a group called Boycott 68 have been acquitted on charges of “inciting discrimination and racial hatred” for calling on French shoppers to boycott Israeli goods.

The court judgment in the eastern city of Mulhouse deals a blow to efforts by French prosecutors and Zionist groups to outlaw the growing boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. The acquittal received wide coverage in French media.

Campagne BDS France declared in a statement (my translation), on the day of the verdict:

Thursday, 15 December will be a historic date for the Campaign in France. The court at Mulhouse has in effect acquitted the 12 activists prosecuted for their participation in the BDS campaign.

They had been pursued by the usual conveyers of Israel’s policies, as well as by the LICRA [International League against Racism and Anti-Semitism] for “discrimination and inciting hatred and violence toward a group or nation” for having participated in two boycott actions in the Carrefour supermarket in Illzach.

The protests took place in September 2009 and May 2010. The statement noted that similar cases, have been brought against French activists in the cities of Perpignan, Paris, Bordeaux and Pontoise and that on 8 July a court in Paris had acquitted another activist on a similar charge. More cases are pending.

Zionist, anti-Palestinian groups behind charges

Charges against the activists in Mulhouse were brought, according to Reuters, after complaints by the National Bureau of Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism, known by its French acronym BNCVA, the France Israel Chamber of Commerce and LICRA.

BNCVA is an unofficial group that purports to fight against anti-Semitism, but its website indicates that it is closely affiliated with and perhaps a project of the Paris-based European branch of the extreme anti-Palestinian Simon Wiesenthal Center.

The California-based Simon Wiesenthal Center is notoriously behind the destruction of Muslim graves in Jerusalem to build a so-called “Museum of Tolerance.” Shimon Samuels is the director of both the European Wiesenthal Center and the BNCVA.

The real agenda of the BNCVA was revealed in a comment by its president Sammy Ghozlan in reaction to the court judgment. It appears to be to conflate support for Palestinian rights with anti-Semitic statements and acts – which are illegal in France and many other European countries.

The decision, Ghozlan told Reuters, would encourage more “pro-Palestinian propaganda.” “We know,” Ghozlan said, “that such propaganda is the essential source of anti-Semitic acts that take place on our soil.”

The Mulhouse judgment is thus a blow to Israeli-inspired efforts to criminalize support for Palestinian rights in Europe and to legally declare all such speech and action as “anti-Semitic.”

A “civil right” to call for boycott

French prosecutors had asked the court to fine each of the activists €500 ($650), but the judges instead released the defendants. One of the lawyers for the activists hailed the decision, according to Reuters (my translation):

For Attorney Antoine Compte, lawyer for the accused in Mulhouse, the new jurisprudence that appears to be taking root in France signifies that calling for boycott “is a civil right as long as it is accompanied neither by violence nor by pressure on people.” He noted that previous boycott movements in the past, against the Spain of General Franco, or the Olympic Games in China were never the target of legal pursuit.

Even the France-Israel Chamber of Commerce conceded on its website that “BDS won an important legal battle in Mulhouse.”

French BDS activists’ distinctive form of protest

The multiplying efforts to use criminal charges to suppress free speech in France and shield Israel from accountability are an indication of how widespread BDS activism has become, and the distinctive forms of protest French activists have adopted – particularly highly visible actions in supermarkets.

Activists posted a video of such an action at a Carrefour supermarket in southern France on 26 November.

A recent brief documentary that you can view online profiles the increasingly bold protests by French activists and the mounting prosecutions that they have faced.

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Comments

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What a victory for free and democratic speech and action and the international BDS movement. Bravo and Viva to the French activists and to the French judicial system!

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I am relieved that the court at Mulhouse, France, upheld this right. The tactics of the right-wing Zionists are worrying. They are trying to hijack the normal meaning of words such as "racism", and "anti-semitism", as contrived shields for their politically extreme implementation of Zionism. In this way, they attempt to utilise our precious values of human rights to subvert any humanitarian defence of the Palestinians from the right-wing Zionists' relentless, and genuinely racist, campaign of ethnic cleansing. It is grotesque, cynical hypocracy. I would add that this has nothing in common with authentic Judaism, which preaches empathy with one's neighbour and the love of justice. These manipulative Zionist neo-cons are a disgrace to Judaism. Causing such shame is a sin in itself, as stated in Leviticus and elaborated in the works of the distinguished rabbis Maimonides and Rashi. Love and peace from an authentic Jewish sympathiser of oppressed Palestinians.

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.