Activism

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

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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

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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… Read more »

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… Read more »

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… Read more »

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… Read more »

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.