French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has issued a warning that robust criticism of Israel’s state ideology is being viewed as anti-Semitism.
His comments have prompted concerns that Palestine solidarity activists could face even harsher state repression than they currently encounter.
Valls made his comments in the National Assembly on Wednesday after an anti-Palestinian lawmaker accused the campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel of inciting the murder of Jews.
Meyer Habib falsely claimed the BDS campaign targeted Jews and faulted the Valls government for not doing enough to crack down on it.
“In recent months the campaign to boycott Israel, or BDS, has reached alarming proportions,” Habib told parliament.
“I wrote to the minister of justice, not once but twice, without any response,” he complained. “Mr. Prime Minister, when it comes to discrimination, to racism and anti-Semitism, no act is harmless: all endanger the republic, especially if they remain unpunished.”
Habib holds one of the seats for French citizens living abroad. His district includes southeastern Europe and Israel. In practice, however, he has operated more as a representative of Israel’s government, rather than of French citizens.
He was elected to the seat with the endorsement of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“The boycott creates a climate of hate in France,” Habib claimed. “Have we forgotten that in January it was the Hyper Cacher supermarket that [Amedy] Coulibaly chose as a target? Stigmatization occurs before killing.”
Habib was implying that BDS activism had inspired the murder of four people at a kosher supermarket in Paris on 13 January, the same day as the Charlie Hebdo attack.
The lawmaker asserted that the recent EU decision, supported by the French government, to accurately label products from Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and Golan Heights “stems from the same logic of stigmatization.”
“Does Europe have nothing better to do when the Islamic gangrene is spreading and there are massacres in Toulouse, Brussels and in the middle of Paris?” Habib asked.
Citing a recent French court ruling, Habib claimed that “calling for the boycott of Israel is illegal.”
He complained that French BDS campaigners were due to hold a conference the following day at the University of Paris VIII.
Attachment to Israel
Far from rejecting the assertion that his own government was contributing to the murder of Jews by backing the labeling of settlement goods, the prime minister used the opportunity to warmly praise Habib, telling him, “I know your attachment, which I share, to the State of Israel.”
“I tell you in the clearest possible terms,” Valls added, “the government condemns all campaigns to boycott Israeli products.”
Valls also backed Habib’s assertion that opposition to Zionism – Israel’s state ideology – “tips into anti-Semitism.”
“I warn all those who participate in these types of campaign, which lend themselves not to condemning this or that policy, but Zionism, and from there pass blithely into anti-Semitism,” the prime minister said.
It also condemned the prime minister’s comments for “confirming at the highest level of the state” a false conflation between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.
Habib’s assertion that BDS activism might have contributed to the murder spree at the kosher supermarket is “particularly shameful and shocking,” the statement added, “especially when one knows that Campagne BDS France struggles against all forms of racism and hatred, whether anti-Semitism or Islamophobia.”
Prime Minister Valls did not specify what consequences might await citizens who defy his warning, but France has a long history of prosecuting campaigners for Palestinian rights and restricting their free speech.
And since the 13 November attacks, France has been under a state of emergency, giving the government even more draconian powers.
It has already used them for blatantly political purposes that have no conceivable connection to fighting terrorism.
During the recent Paris summit on climate change, the French authorities used their emergency powers to place 24 environmental activists under house arrest.
One of the the banned persons was accused in a government warrant of being a “principal leader of the ultra-left movement.”
The French branch of Amnesty International has warned that the state of emergency presents a threat to basic democratic freedoms and individual rights in France.
Anti-Palestinian campaigners were quick to capitalize on the 13 November atrocities that killed 130 people across Paris in order to tar the BDS movement.
Pro-Israel media and the extremist Ligue de Défense Juive (Jewish Defense League) claimed without a shred of evidence that the Bataclan concert venue where gunmen killed 90 people “was targeted as punishment for hosting pro-Israel events.”
It may only be a matter of time before police – who have carried out thousands of warrantless raids on homes and businesses across France – turn their attention to the Palestine solidarity movement.
“Despite all these attacks that seek to silence us and criminalize solidarity with the Palestinian people, at the price of freedom of expression, we remain more determined than ever to continue and amplify our fight against Israeli apartheid,” Campagne BDS France stated.
Palestine solidarity activists in France, facing mounting threats from the hate and slander campaigns of anti-Palestinian extremists allied with a repressive government, will themselves undoubtedly need a great deal of international solidarity in the days ahead.