France Penalizes Boycott of Israeli Products (GateStone Institute) by Peter Martino 07/12/12)
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Calling for a boycott of Israeli products is treated in the same
manner as would be a call for the boycott of Islamic products.
Publicly calling for the boycott of Israeli products is a case of
incitement to discrimination on the basis of nationality.
Last May, the Cour de Cassation, the Supreme Court of France, ruled
that calls for a boycott of Israeli products constitute
discrimination and as such are illegal under French law.
The verdict was the final ruling in a legal battle that went on for
years. On 9 July 2005, exactly seven years ago, the Palestinian
Authority called for a worldwide Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions
(BDS) Campaign against the Jewish State. In February 2009, following
the Gaza War in the winter of 2008-2009, several leftist and pro-
Palestinian organizations in France convened to organize a French BDS
campaign. The activists target French and international corporations
that do business in Israel, French branches of Israeli companies, and
supermarkets selling Israeli products.
Supermarkets are raided by commando units who block the entrances or
storm the premises in order to remove the Israeli products or label
them with stickers stating that Israel is an "apartheid state." Often
the raids are videotaped and posted on YouTube. The French
revolutionary Left considers BDS to be a huge political success. The
BDS actions attract a lot of support from Muslims youths from the
suburbs surrounding the French cities. It is the first time since the
1960s and 70s that the French Left has been able to mobilize large
numbers of youths.
BDS activists have succeeded in intimidating a number of supermarkets
to remove Israeli products from their shelves, movie theaters to stop
programming Israeli movies, and universities to cancel lectures by
Israeli citizens. The lectures were boycotted simply because of their
nationality and their Jewish religion; not for the opinions they
personally might have held about Israeli politics.
Soon after the BDS raids began, the French Bureau National de
Vigilance Contre l´Antisémitisme (National Bureau of Vigilance
Against Anti-Semitism), a Jewish organization that was founded in
2002, started to lodge complaints against BDS at courts all over
France. Sometimes the courts went along with the complaints,
sometimes they did not.
In February 2010, the penal court of Bordeaux convicted Saquina
Arnaud-Khimoun for labeling Israeli products with the
sticker "Boycott Apartheid Israel." The court ruled that she
had "hindered the normal exercise of economic activities by making a
distinction on the basis of nationality." The French anti-
discrimination act of 1981 prohibits "incitment to discrimination,
hatred or violence against a person or a group of persons on the
basis of descent, ethnicity and nationality or the fact whether or
not one belongs to a race or a religion." Arnaud-Khimoun was
sentenced to a fine of €1,000 ($1,230). In October 2010, the Appeals
Court of Bordeaux reaffirmed the verdict.
However, in July 2011, a court in Paris acquitted Olivia Zémor, a
member of the group EuroPalestine, for posting a video on the
internet showing Palestinian and French activists wearing t-shirts
calling for a boycott of Israel. Zémor was brought to court by four
organizations, including the Israeli Chamber of Commerce.
The Paris court ruled that calling for the boycott of Israeli
products is not prohibited under French law. The tribunal said
that "Criticism of a State or its policies cannot be regarded, in
principle, as infringing the rights or dignity of its nationals,
without seriously affecting freedom of expression in a world now
globalized, whose civil society has become a major actor, and since
no ´criminal offence against a Foreign State´ has ever been
established under substantive law or international common law,
because this would be contrary to the commonly accepted standard of
freedom to express opinions."
The court added that "Since the call of a boycott of Israeli products
is formulated by a citizen for political motives and is part of a
political debate relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – a
debate concerned with a matter of general interest with international
significance – the offence of incitement to discrimination, based on
the fact of belonging to a Nation, is not constituted." Moreover, the
court pointed out, "certain sectors of Israeli opinion support the
BDS call." In this regard, it explicitly referred to the declaration
of the Israeli Women´s Coalition for Peace.
The verdict in the Zémor case encouraged Arnaud-Khimoun in her
decision to bring her case to the French Supreme Court. On 22 May,
however, the French Cour de Cassation reaffirmed that publicly
calling for the boycott of Israeli products is a case of incitement
to discrimination on the basis of nationality.
This Supreme Court´s ruling is in line with earlier French
jurisdiction. In September 2004, a French mayor was convicted because
during a session of the town council he had called to "boycott
Israeli products in protest against the Israeli politics with regard
to the Palestinians." This appeal was also posted on the town´s
internet site. The mayor was convicted by the Appeal Court and by the
Supreme Court. In 2007, the French Supreme Court also convicted a
French firm that had given a certificate to a company in the United
Arab Emirates declaring that its goods had not been transported by an
Israeli company and would not be delivered to Israel.
French BDS activists who took their cases to the European Court of
Human Rights (ECHR) in Strassbourg, also saw their cases turned down.
On 16 July 2009, the ECHR ruled that the French verdicts prohibiting
boycotts of Israeli products were not violating human rights. BDS has
since tried to circumvent these verdicts by emphasizing that the BDS
boycotts are limited to products from the "occupied territories."
This, however, is contradicted by the website of BDS-France which
calls for boycotts of Israeli products in general.
In an op-ed in the French weekly Le Nouvel Observateur, French lawyer
Michael Ghnassia wrote that the ban on calling for a boycott of
Israeli products is not an infringement of free speech because these
boycotts affect all Israelis. Hence, the call to this boycott "is
based on a racial, religious or national criterion and rather than
representing a simple opinion, is a discriminatory action." He points
out that the boycott is also inspired by "a manifest attempt to
delegitimize the State of Israel."
While the ECHJ has upheld the French convictions, it should be noted
that France is the only country in Europe where calling for a boycott
of Israeli products has been prohibited. In other European countries,
courts have so far not convicted BDS activities. It should also be
noted that while in the United States the simple call for a boycott
is protected by the First Amendment, European countries have
restricted free speech and often convict people of incitement to
discrimination and hatred for simply expressing their opinions about
Islam. At least in France, calling for a boycott of Israeli products
is treated in the same manner as would be a call for a boycott of
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