Call to boycott Israeli products: French High Court decision is cause for concern for freedom of expression

The French High Court (Cour de cassation) has just made its decision in the appeal case of a boycott call by activists from Mulhouse. It confirms the judgment of the Colmar Court of appeal of November 2013, which found the militants guilty following their initial release by the criminal court of Mulhouse in December 2011.

AFPS press release, Saturday 24 October 2015

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This is a worrying decision as regards freedom of expression, and we express our full support and solidarity for the activists from Mulhouse affected by this decision.

And yet, the reporting judge appointed by the High Court had left the door open to quash the Colmar Court’s decision, preparing two legal proposals in November 2014: one for, and one against, subject to the decision of the High Court. But the prosecutor had clearly taken sides, and recommended rejecting the appeal in June 2015. This contradicted numerous courts and appeals courts, which have held that:

“In reality, this boycott call constitutes passive criticism of a State’s policy, criticism rooted in the freedom of political debate that is at the very heart of the notion of democratic society. Insofar as the right to speak freely on political issues is an essential freedom in a democratic society, this call for boycott falls within the normal scope of this freedom” (Court of Pontoise, December 2013)

“Whereas it follows from all the articles 1382 of the Civil Code and article 10 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms that the principle of freedom of expression may only be subject to restrictions when necessary to defend the rights of others; the provocation of others to turn away a product or “boycott” falls within the exercise of freedom of expression” (Court of Paris, January 2014)

So it is a State representative who has had the last word.

This very State, which – despite numerous statements by Mrs Taubira (French Minister of Justice) on the political nature of the boycott call, as such rooted in the freedom of expression – has still not repealed the unjust Alliot Marie Circular, which called upon French prosecutors to pursue all activists who called for a boycott of Israeli products.

Should we therefore conclude that is has become impossible in France to question the policy of the State of Israel? That France, the country of Human Rights, is the European exception, the only country where international law activists will be prosecuted in the courts?

We are currently witnessing a systematic offensive by the State of Israel, its embassies and its support networks, which aim to silence any opposition to the Israel’s criminal policy. Even the timid European attempt to respect the rules of the law as regards the differentiation of settlement products, encouraged by 16 European countries, underway for years and still delayed, is the subject of a hysterical intimidation campaign by the Israeli government, which states that any step in this direction would constitute anti-Semitism!

To challenge the policy of a State that violates all the rules of international law and oppresses another people is an absolute right; we intend to fight for the respect of this right, and we call on all democrats to join our fight.

With our friends in Mulhouse, we reserve the right to use all legal channels, national and European, to ensure the respect of freedom of expression. And we solemnly renew our call on the French government to abolish, at long last and without delay, the Alliot-Marie / Mercier Circulars.

We will of course continue our Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign to oppose the State of Israel’s policy of colonization, occupation and apartheid, and to uphold international law. We urge our fellow citizens to join us for our Day of Action on November 7, during which we will demand, in front of Carrefour stores and more generally the major retail chains, that they stop selling products from Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory.

The AFPS Executive Board