You could not make this up; the country that prides itself as a world leader in free speech has now basically banned one of the most powerful boycott movements launched by ordinary citizens. The cries of “liberty, equality, fraternity” are now beginning to ring hollow in France where the powerful Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement has been criminalised by a French court.
This is a victory only for those who want to make criminals out of people exercising their right to free speech. That is exactly what France has done to anyone and everyone who shows support for the Palestinians and dares to speak out against the crimes committed routinely and with impunity by Israel against the oppressed people of the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Israel has failed miserably to win the hearts and minds of ordinary citizens around the world with its brutal military occupation, so now it is using its government’s allies to crack down on the BDS movement. It is an irony that many of these allies have themselves imposed sanctions on countries such as Iran, Iraq and Russia over the years but when citizens enforce their own boycott against Israel it is deemed wrong and immoral. In France it has now also become illegal.
The French Court of Cassation in Paris refused to accept the legitimacy of the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) until Israel ends its colonisation and dispossession of the Palestinian people. Instead, the court agreed with the Zionist claim that BDS is a form of anti-Semitism.
The French high court upheld the criminal conviction of 12 political activists for the “crime” of advocating sanctions and a boycott against Israel as a means of ending the decades-long military occupation of Palestine. The activists went to a supermarket wearing shirts with the slogan, “Long Live Palestine, boycott Israel” while handing out pamphlets informing the public that, “Buying Israeli produce means legitimising crimes in Gaza.”
The ruling carries a prison sentence or a fine of up to £30,000, and for many it makes a mockery of the “Je Suis Charlie” campaign, which saw more than a million take to the streets of Paris to defend the right to free speech earlier this year. Given that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was at the front of the cynical parade of government leaders supposedly supporting free speech in Paris, it is perhaps no surprise that, in France at least, free speech is not extended to supporters of justice for the Palestinians.
“The BDS movement has been crystal clear from its launch that we oppose a system of Jewish ethnic and religious supremacy and not Jews as a population,” explained Mick Napier, a founder of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, “just as hostility to white supremacy in South Africa was not based on enmity towards white people per se there or anywhere else.”
The worldwide BDS effort has grown over the decade since its formal launch into a challenge to the ability of the Israeli State to forever crush Palestinian aspirations to freedom by means of overwhelming violence, added the veteran campaigner. “The various attacks on BDS from political and government elites are a sign of weakness on the part of the pro-Israel forces, not of strength.”
Napier pointed out that only 200 metres from the Palais de Justice, where the French judges criminalised BDS political activity a few days ago, the Pont St Michel has a small plaque which reads: In memory of the numerous Algerians killed during the bloody suppression of the peaceful demonstration on 17 October 1961. “Hundreds of anti-colonial demonstrators were tortured and murdered by the Paris police, many of them thrown into the Seine to drown,” Napier continued. “The judges who made the anti-BDS judgement stand as part of a long tradition of suppressing outbreaks of solidarity between French citizens and colonial slaves.”
Celebrated journalist Glenn Greenwald was just as direct in describing the post-Charlie Hebdo “free speech” march in Paris as a fraud because it was led by many world leaders who imprison or even kill people for expressing prohibited views. “The march took place in a country that is one of the most hostile to free speech rights in the West, as France quickly demonstrated in the days after the march by rounding up and prosecuting Muslims and other anti-Israel activists for the political views they expressed.” He noted that a “great”, best-selling book by French philosopher Emmanuel Todd released this year argues that these “free speech” marches were a “sham,” driven by many political sentiments — nativism, nationalism, anti-Muslim bigotry — that had nothing to do with free speech. “The absurdity of France’s celebrating itself for free expression was vividly highlighted by [the anti-BDS] decision from that nation’s highest court, one that is a direct assault on basic free speech rights.”
There are concerns that Israel will now exert pressure on other allies, including America, Canada and Britain, to use state machinery and legislation to outlaw the growing BDS movement. It is high time, therefore, to expose the French action for what it is in an effort to deter such moves. “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” are all well and good; but now we must add “hypocrisie” and France should hang its head in shame.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.