Boycott leadership: solidarity with French activists

The following press release was issued by the secretariat of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee on 9 September 2010:

The Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC), on behalf of its constituent organizations and unions representing the majority of Palestinian civil society, strongly condemns the decision taken by French authorities to prosecute people of conscience for calling for a boycott of Israeli produce. These state-sanctioned forms of repression amount to active support for Israeli violations of international law and have serious implications on political freedoms in France and across Europe.

On 13 September, five members of the group “Boycott 68” will appear in court charged with “incitement to discrimination, hatred or violence” after distributing leaflets asking shoppers to boycott Israeli products (“Halte aux procès politiques contre les défenseurs du droit!BDS France). Last year, Sakina Arnaud was fined 1000 euros for attaching a “Boycott Israel” sticker to a fruit juice carton. Arnaud will appear in court again on 24 September to appeal the decision. The campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel, called for by Palestinian civil society in 2005, is a nonviolent, just and effective way of pressuring Israel to comply with international law and end its institutionalized discrimination and violence towards Palestinians. People of conscience all over the world, including many progressive Israelis and Jews, engage in BDS campaigns as a form of solidarity with an oppressed people, suffering under Israeli occupation and apartheid. BDS is based on unambiguous respect for international law and universal human rights; as such, it is categorically opposed to all forms of racism and racial discrimination, including Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. The BNC is therefore deeply troubled by state-sanctioned smear campaigns against BDS activists.

Most of the cases against solidarity activists have been brought following pressure from Bureau National de Vigilance Contre l’Antisemitisme (BNCVA) with assistance from other pro-Israel pressure groups and are part of a wider campaign of attacks against Palestine solidarity activism. “Altogether, we have filed over eighty similar complaints, everywhere in France,” the President of BNCVA boasted recently (“Soutien d’eurodéputés à des militants français poursuivis pour avoir appelé au boycott d’Israël,” Le Pays, 9 September 2010). The BNC has previously criticized the French Prime Minister for making unfounded and inflammatory insinuations about the movement to boycott Israel. According to activists, police regularly demand the names and addresses of those present at BDS demonstrations. The BNC is astounded that the authorities in a country that has historically contributed so much to the development of the principles of citizenship and human rights would succumb so easily to the demands of the Israel lobby and curtail political freedoms so blatantly.

French MEPs Jacky Henin and Nicole Kill-Nielsen recently spoke out against the repression of Palestine activists. “In that case, justice is used for political purposes,” said Henin (“Soutien d’eurodéputés à des militants français poursuivis pour avoir appelé au boycott d’Israël”). The BNC hopes that these comments will enrich the debate in France about the repression of those who stand in solidarity with Palestinians.

The actions taken by French state bodies to shield Israel from legitimate criticism and opposition show the strength of the BDS movement on one hand, but also reduce the possibilities of a just and lasting peace, present a serious threat to freedom of expression, and bolster Israel’s impunity in violating human rights on the other. The failure of the French government to end its complicity in maintaining and protecting Israel’s violations of international law and Palestinian rights, let alone to hold Israel accountable for these violations, calls into question France’s compliance with its own obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention and the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice against Israel’s wall and colonial settlements. Its active repression of principled activists who attempt to remedy this failure is reprehensible.

The BNC warmly salutes all French BDS activists due to appear in court and is inspired by their stated intention to step up their campaigns in reaction to this repression. We call upon the French government to:

  • Drop all charges against activists engaged in nonviolent, morally commendable solidarity campaigns aimed at challenging Israel’s grave violations of international law and official French complicity;
  • Take measures to ensure that France’s rich history of political freedom is maintained and that freedom of association and freedom of speech are not curtailed in this shameful way again;
  • End France’s complicity in maintaining Israel’s occupation and apartheid and hold Israel accountable for its persistent violation of international law.

The BNC also calls upon people of conscience and international solidarity groups to:a

  • Send messages of support to the activists due to appear in court by email at campagnebdsfrance A T yahoo D O T fr
  • Write to the French embassy in your country demanding that these charges be dropped and condemning France’s repression of basic freedoms and civil rights.

Editor’s note: this release was originally published with one of the French MEPs’ names listed incorrectly. This version of the release has been corrected.