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(Wissam Nassar / Maan Images) Boycott activists beat Israel lobby in French high court

Ali Abunimah

November 21, 2013


Palestine solidarity activists in France are celebrating a victory in the country’s highest criminal appeals court this week, affirming the earlier acquittal of an activist in a case stemming from protests calling for the boycott of Israeli goods.

The ruling strikes a severe blow to efforts – supported by the government – to use legal repression to outlaw boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaigns in France.

The court victory comes as France’s Left Party became the first political party in the country to openly endorse BDS.

Supermarket protest

The case dates back to a July 2009 protest in a Carrefour supermarket in Évry, a suburb of Paris.

As the video of the protest above shows, activists wearing t-shirts saying "Boycott Apartheid Israel" sang, danced and chanted slogans calling on shoppers not to buy Israeli goods.

One protestor declared in English, "By these products you are supporting the Israeli army in order to kill the children of the Palestinians, so everyone needs to boycott Israel … If you are supporting peace, if you are supporting justice, you need to boycott these products."

Charged with incitement for posting video

After the video was posted on the website of the group CAPJPO-EuroPalestine, the group’s director, Olivia Zémor, was charged by prosecutors with "incitement to discrimination, hatred or violence toward a group of persons due to their belonging to the Israeli nation."

Zémor was acquitted by two lower courts. However, under the French justice system, the case did not end there.

Four pro-Israel groups – France-Israel Chamber of Commerce, Avocats sans Frontières (Lawyers without borders), Association France-Israel and the Simon Wiesenthal Center-affiliated Bureau National de Vigilance Contre l’Antisemitisme (National Bureau for Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism) – appealed to the Court of Cassation against the acquittals.

Final ruling

In a 19 November judgment, the Court of Cassation – the highest criminal court of appeal – affirmed the acquittals and ruled that the pro-Israel groups had no standing to bring an action.

Implications

"The lack of standing of the France-Israel Chamber of Commerce has been confirmed, at least for all the current cases," CAPJPO-EuroPalestine said in a statement lauding the court’s decision.

Several other cases against activists are still making their way through lower courts in several cities.

The ruling, moreover, "confirms the legality of the boycott Israel campaign as long as this state, its government and its army trample on the most elementary rights of the Palestinian people," the statement adds.

Solidarity was crucial

Olivia Zémor stressed that "national and international solidarity have played a very important part in this victory."

The French "government is watching the fact that repression not only does not stop our BDS actions, but that people that were not involved before are joining us," Zémor wrote in an email to The Electronic Intifada.

Zémor thanked in particular "our British comrades demonstrating in front of the French embassy and consulate."

Campagne BDS France also welcomed the court decision in a 21 November statement.

The group said it "rejoices in this new legal victory and calls on all citizens of conscience to boycott Israel, its products and institutions as long as that country does not respect international law and the legitimate rights of Palestinians."

"Because our governments do not shoulder their responsibilities, as the the scandalous visit of François Hollande to Israel demonstrates, it is our duty to act," the statement added.

France’s president François Hollande, who made a high-profile visit to Israel this week, had publicly opposed BDS and claimed that boycotting Israeli goods – even from West Bank settlements – is "illegal."

The Court of Cassation has proved him wrong.

Left Party endorses BDS

Coinciding with Hollande’s visit to Israel, France’s Left Party (Parti de Gauche) announced on 18 November its endorsement of BDS as a tactic.

The party called on Hollande to demand that Israel free all Palestinian political prisoners, freeze and dismantle settlements on Palestinian land, end the siege of Gaza and "recognize a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders."

Its statement adds:

Given the escalation of the Israeli government’s policy of repression toward all Palestinians, the national bureau of the Left Party, meeting on 16 November, decided to engage the party in the support of the campaigns of BDS France … Everyone can act, notably by boycotting Israeli goods and insisting that French companies do not participate in the colonization and apartheid policies of the Israeli government, and by demanding that the president and government apply real sanctions on Israel. Peace cannot come except by obliging Israel to respect the Palestinians and their universal rights.

Left Party leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon won a respectable 11 percent, or almost four million votes, in the first round of the 2012 presidential election.

While the Left Party currently holds no seats in the National Assembly, Mélenchon holds a seat in the European Parliament and the party has several dozen regional and local elected officials.

Zémor said the party’s endorsement was "psychologically" significant in a country where no major institution, union or university had yet joined the BDS campaign.

Such endorsements, Zémor said, would raise the profile of BDS activism and make it "more difficult to repress with trials."

Note: An earlier version of this post stated that several activists had been charged in relation to the July 2009 protest at the Carrefour in Évry. It has been changed to reflect that Olivia Zémor was the only person charged – and ultimately acquitted – for posting the video online.



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