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FRANCE: Yes, the boycott of Israel is legal 17Sep11

The tribunal of the 17th magistrate’s court of the Paris law courts, which specialises in matters regarding press rights, the defamation of public figures and the freedom of expression, has given a most important and clear ruling on the right of citizens and consumers to call

The tribunal of the 17th magistrate’s court of the Paris law courts, which specialises in matters regarding press rights, the defamation of public figures and the freedom of expression, has given a most important and clear ruling on the right of citizens and consumers to call for a boycott of Israel and its products. It concerns all of us. Here are below the grounds for the decision. Please circulate widely.

This ruling, whose grounds are precise and strongly supported, is the subject of a very interesting commentary in the latest issue of the ‘Gazette du Palais’ (September 2011 no. 244, p.15), entitled “PUBLIC FREEDOMS : The call for the boycott of the products of a State by a citizen is not forbidden under French law”, and signed by a magistrate, Ghislain Poissonnier.

These grounds must be known, and read all the more carefully as the BDS campaign is developing throughout the world, while legal proceedings against it are going to take place in France, starting with those on 20 OCTOBER 2011 in BOBIGNY, because of the remarkable obedience of the Sarkozy government to Israeli desiderata.


The judges who heard us on 17 June 2011, acquitted Olivia Zémor on 8 July. She had been accused of discrimination against the Israeli nation, and incitation to racial hatred by the government and four associations of the Israeli lobby in France. They stressed that :

“Since the call for a boycott of Israeli products is formulated by a citizen for political motives and it is part of a political debate relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – a debate concerned with a matter of general interest with international significance, the offence of provocation to discrimination, based on the fact of belonging to a Nation, is not constituted.”

When the ruling was given on 8 July, the judge explained that the article of law cited by the plaintiffs (article 24, paragraph 8, Law of 1881) is designed to “fight any form of racism” and cannot be cited in order to forbid a call for boycott “suggesting a certain form of conscientious objection, which each of us is free to express or not to express” and “ launched by non-governmental organisations without prerogative powers”.

Relying on the decisions of the Court of Cassation and of the European Court of Human Rights, the tribunal pointed out that :

“Criticism of a State or its policies cannot be regarded, in principle, as infringing the rights or dignity of its nationals, without seriously affecting freedom of expression in a world now globalized, whose civil society has become a major actor, and since no ‘criminal offence against a Foreign State’ has ever been established under substantive law or international common law, because this would be contrary to the commonly accepted standards of freedom to express opinions”.

Using the examples developed by the defence lawyers, Mr Antoine Comte, Mr Dominique Cochain and Mr Henri Choukroun, the tribunal added that “the other calls from certain sectors of civil society for the boycott of such and such products coming from a country or a company are numerous, without having ever been incriminated as misuses of freedom of expression”.

Here the judge lists a great many previous and recent calls for the boycott of products, tourism in certain countries, Olympic games in others, among which the boycott of the Year of Mexico in France in 2011 and the boycott of Burmese products by Carrefour.

He also insists on the fact that we can never be accused, of “provocation to discrimination, violence or hatred against a group of people because they belong to the Israeli nation, since certain sectors of Israeli opinion support the BDS call”. (He explicitly refers to the declaration of the Israeli Women’s Coalition for Peace, Israelis who ask international artists not to come and perform I Israel, and to the support given by many personalities from Desmond Tutu to French ministers, parliamentarians or intellectuals, whom we cannot suspect of any form of racism.)

Examining the opposite views presented by the plaintiffs, the tribunal points out that : “The confrontation of points of views is very likely to convince us that the peaceful and unrestrained call for the boycott of Israeli products is an integral part of the opinion debate generated everywhere in the world by the preoccupations linked with the settlement of a conflict which has raged for more than 60 years.”


Regarding the publication of that BDS video by Olivia Zémor on the website and its content, the tribunal therefore concluded that :

>“The publication of a video lasting a few minutes, during which activists called for the consumers of a supermarket not to buy products from Israel and to support such a boycott for political reasons, on a matter of general interest with international implications, which has mobilised the international community for years, until now in vain, with the aim for a peaceful settlement : does not constitute in any of its elements an offence of provocation to discrimination, hatred or violence against a group of persons on the grounds of belonging to a nation, in this case Israel”.

>Likewise, “The language of the presentation, unquestionably militant, is indissociable from the call for a boycott, which the defendant is free to support in order to express her views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Incidentally, it is worth noting that the tribunal of the 17th magistrate’s court in Paris, declared “inadmissible” one of the plaintiffs, the Israeli Chamber of Commerce.

The plaintiffs naturally appealed this ruling, and are continuing to pursue some militants for the same acts, hoping they will deal somewhere else, with judges and prosecutors likely to be more easily influenced and less anxious to enforce freedom of expression.


So, on THURSDAY 20 OCTOBER NEXT, Olivia, Maha, Mohamed and Ulrich will be ordered to appear before the Bobigny Tribunal, which postponed the hearing to 20 October 2011.

An exemplary turnout is essential for this occasion, therefore we ask you to reserve this date in order to come and support us, as early as midday on that day at the Bobigny Tribunal (Metro station Pablo Picasso. Terminus of line 5).

We shall remember that, on 17 March 2011, the lady judge who chaired the hearing had not shown much equity between the parties. Mrs Krief had thus allowed the private bodyguards of some lawyers of the plaintiffs, equipped with earpieces inside the court room, to communicate permanently with the outside. At the same time, she had taken the trouble to criticize some people sitting quietly on public benches, for their (sic) “smiles” or “leaning heads” !


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