BDS – victory for freedom of expression: call to boycott recognized as a civil right

European Court of Human Rights (File)

The AFPS Executive Board

The France Palestine Solidarity Association (AFPS) welcomes the judgment rendered this Thursday, June 11 by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR): in the case regarding 11 activists convicted by the French justice system for their acts of call to boycott, the ECHR ruled against France.

It is thus recognized that the call to boycott is a civil right, as long as that call is motivated by criticism of a State and its policy. And the State of Israel, which violates international law and human rights on a daily basis, is no exception.

The ECHR’s judgment has dealt a powerful blow to those organizations in France that act as mouthpieces for Israeli policy by attacking freedom of expression and the right to citizen action, and to all those at the highest level of French government who claimed that the call to boycott was prohibited in France.

As an active participant in the international Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, a non-violent campaign initiated in 2005 by 170 Palestinian civil society organizations, the AFPS has been leading initiatives in this area with its partners for many years. These initiatives are based on principles consistently motivated by criticism of Israel’s policy. The AFPS intends to continue and intensify its actions while remaining faithful to its Principles.Now that the ECHR has ruled against it, France has obligations. Beyond the reparations it owes to the activists who were unjustly convicted, France must announce that the scandalous Alliot-Marie and Mercier circulars are definitively and unequivocally obsolete, and it must solemnly state that it will respect the civil right to call for a boycott of the State of Israel and Israeli policy, as is the case for any other State.

AFPS President Bertrand Heilbronn remarked:

This is a just victory for freedom of expression and civic action. We call on our fellow citizens to come together in greater numbers to fight for the rights of the Palestinian people, and for the universal values of freedom, equality, and dignity that this fight represents. The BDS campaign is part of that fight, and we will continue to pursue it so long as Israel refuses to comply with international and human rights law.

At a time when the State of Israel is preparing to cross yet another line in violation of international law through its plan to annex a major part of the West Bank, civic action also carries with it the demand that States finally commit to the path of sanctions – a precondition for a future based on international law and respect. 

The AFPS Executive Board, 11 June 2020

Background information

In this French case, charges were made against 11 activists who had carried out calls to boycott Israeli products in an Alsace supermarket in 2009 and 2010, in protest of Israeli policy and in particular the crimes committed by Israel against the Palestinian population of Gaza. The activists were initially acquitted by the Mulhouse Court in 2011, but then convicted by the Colmar Appeals Court in 2013. The Court of Cassation upheld this ruling in October 2015. The activists appealed to the ECHR in March 2016.

These activists’ actions, like hundreds of others, were carried out as part of the international BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) campaign, a non-violent campaign initiated in 2005 by Palestinian civil society organizations to pressure the State of Israel to comply with international law.

The ECHR’s decision establishes unanimously that the Colmar Court of Appeal’s ruling and the Court of Cassation’s upholding of that appeal constitute a violation of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which establishes the principle of freedom of expression and limits its restrictions to specific cases.

This decision negates the fallacious assimilation of a politically motivated citizens’ campaign with any kind of economic discrimination, an assimilation which would have scandalously limited the scope of civic activism.