Updated: Former French Justice Minister should face questions in NY about law barring BDS speech

Activism
on 39 Comments

This report came to us from a reliable friend who wishes to remain anonymous.

Update: Christiane Taubira resigned as Justice Minister last night.

The criminal division of the Court of Cassation, France’s highest appeals court, issued a decision last October, affirming that the call to boycott Israeli goods is a misdemeanor in France and punishable as such. Long-time readers may remember that in March of 2014, Mondoweiss published the English translation of a Le Monde op-ed, signed by Ivar Ekeland, Rony Brauman, and Ghislain Poissonnier, calling on the Socialist government to abrogate the “Alliot-Marie circular” that requires French prosecutors to bring criminal charges against individuals who call for boycotting Israeli goods.

The circular, originally issued in 2010 by Justice Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie of the previous right-wing government, “asserts that Article 24, line 8 of the 1881 law on the press allows the punishment citizens or organizations who call for the boycott of goods from a country whose policies they criticise” on the grounds that such a call constitutes a call to national discrimination.

Almost two years after the Le Monde article, the current Justice Minister Christiane Taubira, Alliot-Marie’s successor, has not abrogated the circular; on the contrary, its logic has now been validated by the Court of Cassation. A small group of activists of the French BDS campaign, who in 2010 had chanted slogans, handed out leaflets, and worn T-shirts at a supermarket near Mulhouse, calling for a boycott of Israeli goods, had been brought to trial for “provoking discrimination” against the producers and suppliers of goods (considered as a “group of people”) by reason of their belonging to the Israeli nation. The activists were cleared at the first trial, but in November 2013, they were found guilty upon appeal by the Colmar Appeals Court, and were sentenced to pay 12000 euros in damages to the plaintiffs, as well as stiff legal fees. In rejecting their appeal of this sentence, the Court of Cassation affirmed that in calling upon consumers not to buy Israeli goods, the activists were indeed guilty of the misdemeanor of calling for national discrimination — and that the Colmar Appeals Court sentence was thus legally justified.

By the Court decision of October 20, 2015, France became the only country in the world — alongside Israel — to penalize civic appeals not to buy Israeli goods. The state of emergency declared after the November 13 terrorist attacks in Paris has made it easier for the government of Prime Minister Manuel Valls to prohibit many different kinds of peaceful protest on security grounds, and Valls has recently reaffirmed his intention to take additional measures against BDS activists. Against this unpromising background, activists were heartened by the simultaneous publication of two statements affirming the legitimacy of BDS. A group of intellectuals, including Alain Gresh of Le Monde Diplomatique, philosopher Etienne Balibar, and sociologist Sonia Dayan, published a “Call to boycott Israeli goods” in the online news source Mediapart opening with the defiant words “We will not comply with the decision of the Cour de Cassation of October 20, 2015!” The second statement is an open letter, signed by the Presidents of the French Human Rights League (LDH) and of the France-Palestine Solidarity Association (AFPS) and by the Secretary-General of the CGT trade union federation, calling on Justice Minister Taubira to “abrogate without further delay these circulars that dishonor our country; it would be paradoxical for them to remain associated with your name.”

The Mediapart statement became a petition that within 24 hours was signed by an astonishing 1700 people, all technically at risk of prosecution. To cope with the mounting support, the petition was transferred to a petition-signing site, where it has collected another 4900 signatures. These can be viewed at the following sites (more or less in chronological order):

Here is a French petition.

Here is another French petition.

And there is a separate petition in English with over 3000 signatures:

There is also a letter specifically for international academic signatures.

The open letter to Taubira can be read (in French) here.

[Update: The story is beginning to get picked up by the French mainstream press. Le Figaro today. Sud Ouest too. And AFP today.

[Le mouvement BDS (“boycott, désinvestissement et sanctions”) a lancé une pétition de soutien au boycott des produits israéliens, récemment condamné par la justice, qui a recueilli selon lui quelques 9.000 signatures en quatre jours.]

By sheer serendipity, Christiane Taubira will be in New York this week, and she will be speaking on Friday morning at NYU’s Institute of African-American Affairs.

The announcement of the event — which helpfully offers instructions for registration — describes her as “a woman of convictions who is strongly committed to civil rights and women’s rights.” Although she remains in the Valls government, French progressives mostly seem to agree with this description. Taubira is widely admired for her role in drafting the French law that declares the slave trade a crime against humanity, for her championing of the law introducing same-sex marriage in France, and for her dignified response to outrageous race-baiting by right-wing parliamentarians as well as by a (supposedly ironic) cover of Charlie Hebdo. It’s also widely assumed that she would abrogate the Alliot-Marie directive but her hands are tied; she squirmed visibly when journalist Eric Fassin raised the question in a video interview published on Mediapart in December 2013 (below), and was unable to provide a coherent answer, though her audience at the Institute of African-American Affairs will be relieved to know that she did concede that boycotting in itself is a valid tactic of civic protest.

We can only hope that Taubira will face questions about her stance on this directive when she comes to New York.

THE TEXT OF THE MEDIAPART STATEMENT/BDS PETITION

Call to boycott Israeli goods

We will not comply with the decision of the Cour de Cassation of October 20, 2015!

On October 20, 2015, through two decisions, the Cour de Cassation [the highest appeals court in France] declared that the call to boycott Israeli products is illegal, and confirmed the severe sentence that had been imposed on several activists of the BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) movement. To this end, the court made use of an article on the law of the press that refers to the misdemeanor of “provocation to discrimination, to hatred or to violence against an individual or a group of people by virtue of their origin or their belonging to a specific ethnic group, nation, race, or religion.”

This decision is not merely surprising; it is scandalous. The law in question was intended to protect an individual or a group of people who are victims of discrimination by virtue or their origin or their belonging or not belonging to an ethnic group, nation, race, or religion. It was by no means intended to protect the policies of a State against civic criticism, when that criticism takes the form of a boycott of goods. On many occasions, organizations around the world have called for a boycott of Burma, Russia, China, or Mexico, and this clause was never invoked.

Despite the insistence of the Ministry of Justice, most of the French jurisdictions that have been called upon to rule on this question in recent years have refused to consider the call to boycott Israeli goods to be a criminal offense. With the decision of the Court of Cassation, France has become the only democracy in the world to impose such a prohibition. The situation is that much more paradoxical in a country that for a year has not stopped insisting on its devotion to freedom of expression, and it’s more than likely that the European Court of Human Rights will annul this judgment. Even the Court of Cassation has to take responsibility for its decisions and to respect universal principles, which notably include freedom of expression.

The BDS movement was created in the context of a failure of the international community, which was unable to put an end to settlements and to protect Palestinians from the daily abuses at the hands of the army and Israeli settlers. The boycott movement has been meeting with growing success around the world, as the only non-violent means to put pressure on Israel. It allows all those who wish to find a peaceful expression of their solidarity and to protest against Israel’s favored treatment on the part of the international community, in spite of its constant violations of international law. This is why we are calling to support and strengthen the BDS movement and to boycott Israeli goods.

First signatories:
Ahmed Abbes, Directeur de recherche au CNRS, Paris
Sihame Assbague, activist
Etienne Balibar, Professeur émérite, Université de Paris-Ouest Nanterre
Saïd Bouamama, sociologist
Rony Brauman, medical doctor, essayist
Sonia Dayan, Professeure émérite, l’Université Paris Diderot-Paris7
Christine Delphy, sociologist, cofounder of Nouvelles Questions Féministes
Alain Gresh, journalist
Nacira Guénif, sociologist, Université Paris 8
Christian Salmon, author
Azzedine Taïbi, Mayor of Stains
Marie-Christine Vergiat, member of European Parliament
Etienne Balibar, Professeur émérite, Université de Paris-Ouest Nanterre
Saïd Bouamama, sociologist
Rony Brauman, medical doctor, essayist
Sonia Dayan, Professeure émérite, l’Université Paris Diderot-Paris7
Christine Delphy, sociologist, cofounder of Nouvelles Questions Féministes
Alain Gresh, journalist
Nacira Guénif, sociologist, Université Paris 8
Christian Salmon, author
Azzedine Taïbi, Mayor of Stains
Marie-Christine Vergiat, member of European Parliament

39 Responses

  1. amigo
    January 26, 2016, 2:58 pm

    I have had a “Boycott Israeli goods ” sticker prominently placed on my rear windshield since the last Lawn Mowing exercise in Gaza.I do so proudly but does this mean if I drive to France, I could be arrested by any , “Jean-De-armed ” who happens to be an apologist for Israel,s war crimes.

    The irony is , I drive a Renault car but if France continues with this anti BDS policy , I will have to boycott France and buy a Swedish car next time around.

    Sorry Froggy, nothing personal.

    • DaBakr
      January 26, 2016, 5:53 pm

      @am

      what are you going to do when you find out how many israeli components are used in volvo’s.

      • Mooser
        January 26, 2016, 6:19 pm

        That’s it, “Dabakr” you encourage Israel to stop selling those parts to Volvo! That’ll show ’em.
        Better still, maybe Israel could just make the parts defective and cause accidents. Give ’em the “severe consequences” directed at “any entity” “MaxNarr” warned us about.

      • amigo
        January 26, 2016, 6:54 pm

        “what are you going to do when you find out how many israeli components are used in volvo’s.”duhbaker

        I am going to transfer the boycott sticker to my new vehicle and hope the substandard components from the rogue entity do not let me down.Given that Israel cannot manage a average run of the mill democracy it would be hard to expect them to efficiently run a hi tech manufacturing industry.

        Israel cannot even manage to declare it,s borders.

      • talknic
        January 27, 2016, 4:03 am

        So DaBakr …. how many Israeli components are used in Volvos?

    • Froggy
      January 27, 2016, 11:34 pm

      Understood, amigo.

      (Time may come when boycotting France is the right thing to do, BTW.)

      As I refuse to be bullied into silence, it’s just a matter of time before they come after me.

      Froggy… thinking that perhaps, after all, there is merit in the Breton separatist movement

      • amigo
        February 1, 2016, 4:35 pm

        Hi Froggy , what confuses me about the French Gov , (not the citizenry) are their latest efforts on the so called peace process and their promise to recognise the State of Palestine if the proposed talks fail.How do they square this with these anti democratic policies against BDS and consequently , free speech.

  2. Keith
    January 26, 2016, 4:43 pm

    One thing which seems relevant to me is that these laws, while being enforced in regards to Israel which has a powerful lobby and may enjoy sympathy, can later be used more generally once the precedents have been established. All Western societies are undergoing an assault on personal rights and liberties as society becomes more openly authoritarian, a national security state.

    • Froggy
      January 28, 2016, 12:06 am

      With regards, Keith. Can you, or anyone, imagine that any government entity can shut up the French public?

      • Keith
        January 28, 2016, 11:16 am

        FROGGY- “Can you, or anyone, imagine that any government entity can shut up the French public?”

        Sure can. How are things going for Dieudonne and Alain Soral? We have entered a transition period where the you-know-what is going to hit the fan and the gloves are coming off.

      • Froggy
        January 28, 2016, 3:37 pm

        Keith :: It is different for people like Dieudonne and Alain Soral, individuals with some degree of celebrity who express their views in a public venue. However, nobody can stop open discussion that takes place in private space. I don’t see how they can.

      • Keith
        January 28, 2016, 9:19 pm

        FROGGY- “…who express their views in a public venue. However, nobody can stop open discussion that takes place in private space.”

        I hear you. Exercise caution when communicating in public.

  3. pgtl10
    January 26, 2016, 4:54 pm

    By the Court decision of October 20, 2015, France became the only country in the world — alongside Israel — to penalize civic appeals not to buy Israeli goods.
    ______________________________

    That’s incorrect. In the US, it’s a felony with up to ten years imprisonment to boycott Israel or participate in a boycott of Israel.

    • tree
      January 26, 2016, 5:29 pm

      No, your statement is incorrect. It is only illegal in the US for a company to enter into an agreement with the Arab League, or any foreign county, to boycott Israeli goods without prior US sanction for such boycott. It is not illegal for any US resident to decide to boycott Israeli goods on his/ her own volition, nor is it illegal for such citizen/resident to advocate that others boycott Israel, hence it does not “penalize civil appeals not to buy Israeli goods”.

      The applicable law you are incorrectly referring to is here:

      link to bis.doc.gov

      • tree
        January 26, 2016, 5:48 pm

        BTW, this is one reason why the PA does not itself call for a boycott of Israel and the plea comes from Palestinian civil society instead. There is a fear that direct PA sanction or call would trigger the two 70’s era US laws.

      • Mooser
        January 26, 2016, 6:09 pm

        Thanks, “tree”.

      • tree
        January 26, 2016, 6:28 pm

        You’re welcome, Mooser.

        Just a side note but every time you put quotes around my name I have a minor existential crisis that I may not really be here. ;-) You can call me tree.

      • italian ex-pat
        January 26, 2016, 7:14 pm

        @ tree:

        Help me understand. Are you saying that a US company would ONLY be violating the law by ‘agreeing with a foreign country’ to boycott Israeli goods – not if it boycotted them on its own?
        I was under the impression it was the latter.

      • Mooser
        January 26, 2016, 11:43 pm

        “Just a side note but every time you put quotes around my name…”

        Since the “handles” or “nyms” or “user names” we use aren’t always recognizable as names, I put quotes around them. That’s all there is to that.

      • tree
        January 27, 2016, 3:22 pm

        Hi ex-pat. My understanding of the laws and their scope comes from comments and links made by Hostage. See here for some of his comments on the subject:

        link to mondoweiss.net

        My understanding of the 1976 anti-boycott amendments to the Export Administration Act and the Ribicoff Amendment to the 1977 Tax Reform Act, garnered from his comments and links, is that it only applies to persons or companies complying with foreign boycotts of Israel, most specifically the Arab boycott.

        It prohibits complying with certain foreign requests to comply with the Arab boycott of Israeli goods when participating the import of goods into Arab countries. When Hostage mentioned that “transnational businesses figured out how to game the system a long time ago”, my understanding of that statement, gleaned from his links, is that these companies can bypass the law by stating that they are simply complying with the legal requirements of entry into the port of said Arab country, without explicitly mentioning the boycott provisions of that country, or, alternatively, by positively certifying the imported freight’s country of origin to said Arab country (if that origin is other than Israel) rather than negatively certifying that its origin is Not Israel.

        In any case, both amendments refer to complying with foreign countries’ boycotts, specifically the Arab countries’ boycott of Israel. They do nothing to prohibit a civic boycott against Israel (or any other country) based on its violation of international law and it poor human rights record . That is why no anti-BDS organization has attempted to use them against BDS. They just don’t apply in the case of BDS.

        I hope that helps to answer your question.

        This link of hostage’s was very helpful to me in understanding the scope of the two amendments:

        link to exportlawblog.com

  4. HarryLaw
    January 26, 2016, 7:28 pm

    According to the French Court of Cassation the BDS supporters were found guilty of boycotting Israeli goods, if those BDS protesters boycotted goods from the occupied territories ‘the West Bank’ and ‘Golan Heights’ in my opinion that would not breach the law since the goods are not Israeli goods, here is how the UK Trade Descriptions Act describes country of origin..Section 36 of the Trade Descriptions Act 1968, Country of origin is determined thus;
    Section 36: Country of origin.
    “1. “For the purposes of this Act goods shall be deemed to have been manufactured or produced in the country in which they last underwent a treatment or process resulting in a substantial change”.
    This is consistent with World Trade Organization and European Union rules. See also European Commission-Israel Association Agreement Protocol 4.
    Here is how European Union Regulation 2913/92 establishing the Community Customs Code.
    sees it.
    ORIGIN OF GOODS. Article 23.
    1/ Goods originating in a country shall be those wholly obtained or produced in that country.
    2/ The expression ‘goods wholly obtained in a country’ means;
    a/ Mineral products extracted within that country.
    b/ Vegetable products harvested therein. etc etc.
    Other articles cover manufactured goods which indicate that a goods origin shall be deemed to originate where they underwent their last, substantial, economically justified processing and resulting in the manufacture of a new product or representing an important stage of manufacture.
    So as an example, imagine a situation whereby a Frenchman took up residence in the UK, who bought and operated an English vineyard, the harvested grapes, bottling and production wholly carried out in the UK, but he called his wine and labelled it French wine, obviously that would contravene the regulations, and the French wine growers would be up in arms.
    Israelis growing vegetables or producing things in occupied territory cannot call these products Israeli goods therefore a BDS call to boycott these goods in my opinion would be legitimate.

    • upsondundas
      January 28, 2016, 5:37 pm

      This is fine but? How would people know where the hell anything was grown in Israel or in any other part on the land if it just says product of Israel. Having been there I would know if some apples were labeled Product of Israel I would presume that they were from The Golan heights but i don’t think anyone else would even if they were interested in the BDS movement…..Would the Israelis be honest anyway in any amount of labeling ? How are people to know ,I am sorry if I don’t seem switched on enough about this movement I am comparatively a new boy in all of this and I would appreciate your help…. While I was over the I visited “The S Daniel Abraham Center for Strategic Studies” at Netanya Academic College Does anyone know anything about this team? I was a bit worried when I found out that a former Char was Maj Gen ret Danny Yatom Director of the Bloody Mossad!

      • HarryLaw
        January 29, 2016, 10:45 am

        upsondundas. I agree, the settlers do mix their products with others from Israel proper, but many superstores know exactly where their stocks come from, if the Israelis are committing fraud, then on their heads be it, they will be found out. In the case of Ahava and the Golan Heights Wine etc the Israelis admit the products are made in occupied territory. Labeling those two products alone as ‘Palestinian’ or as settlement produced wine of Syria, would start the ball rolling nicely.

  5. John Douglas
    January 26, 2016, 9:53 pm

    This is not a bad development for BDS or those advocating for Palestine. It threatens people who are acting against an obviously oppressive regime as a matter of conscience and it highlights, explains and publicizes the BDS movement.

    • HarryLaw
      January 27, 2016, 5:00 am

      John Douglas, I agree, but how about going one step further and a group of BDS activists outside a French store with banners saying ” Do NOT boycott Israeli goods or any goods produced in illegally occupied Palestine or the French state will put you in jail” or some such wording, not breaking the law but making the law look oppressively stupid. Any other ideas?

      • Shmuel
        January 27, 2016, 5:38 am

        how about going one step further and a group of BDS activists outside a French store with banners saying ” Do NOT boycott Israeli goods or any goods produced in illegally occupied Palestine or the French state will put you in jail”

        Brilliant! Protesting against Israeli occupation, French repression of free speech and political expression, and taking the piss — all at the same time.

        « Ceci n’est pas un boycott! » ;-)

      • Kay24
        January 27, 2016, 6:06 am

        Great idea. Nothing like some reverse psychology to get their message across.

        Maybe the same message can be used for billboards in the US too.

      • Mooser
        January 27, 2016, 11:04 am

        “and taking the piss — all at the same time.”

        And everybody will wear buttons saying “Je suis generis!

      • Froggy
        January 28, 2016, 12:10 am

        HarryLaw :: That suggestion is pure dead brilliant!

  6. talknic
    January 27, 2016, 4:10 am

    No law can force individuals to recommend or buy Israeli goods and;
    No law can stop individuals from not buying Israeli goods and;
    No law has yet been passed that prevents anyone from saying certain goods are produced in illegal Israeli settlements in Palestine

  7. Bumblebye
    January 27, 2016, 5:32 am

    SHOCKER!!!
    TAUBIRA RESIGNS!!

    link to theguardian.com

    • talknic
      January 27, 2016, 6:11 am

      @ Bumblebye

      link to theguardian.com

      Sometimes laws have a way of backfiring. One wonders what will eventually happen when French Israelis return from terrorizing Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza

      • Froggy
        January 28, 2016, 12:14 am

        talknic :: Return to where? Not France, surely.

      • talknic
        January 28, 2016, 1:54 am

        @ Froggy

        link to haaretz.co.il alas, some, yes

      • Rashers2
        January 28, 2016, 7:23 am

        That one might live long enough to witness such poetry……

      • Froggy
        January 28, 2016, 3:40 pm

        Why would these zionistas, who are on paper citizens of France, return to France?

  8. Froggy
    January 28, 2016, 12:02 am

    ‘… “Alliot-Marie circular” that requires French prosecutors to bring criminal charges against individuals who call for boycotting Israeli goods.’

    -LOL- There aren’t enough jail cells in all of France to hold the enormous numbers of French individuals who are boycotting Israel.

    Yes, you read that right. Israel. Those are Israeli soldiers murdering those those Palestinian civilians, and Israelis stealing their land, and an Israeli government that is behind it all. When the subject comes up, almost every French person I’ve discussed this with is already either boycotting Israel, or just generally avoiding Israeli goods.

    Do these stupid zionistas think that we French have such short memories that we don’t remember those boys who were murdered for playing footie on a beach that is in their own country? Do they think that we don’t notice that the big brave Israelis soldiers murder teenage girls for carrying a scissors? We notice. And we remember.

    The dogs may bark, but the caravan travels on.

  9. Theo
    January 28, 2016, 8:52 am

    It may not apply to above article, however madame Ministére Taubira resigned from the french government, being the only member of that hapless group who has guts and a backbone.

    Hollande and Vall want to change the french constitution to be able to take away the citizenship from sentenced terrorists, what would have far reaching consequences not only for the convict, but also to his/her family, who may be innocent, therefore it is illegal.
    Instead of being part of it, she stepped down, a quality that usually you do not find with politicians.

Leave a Reply