French activists say NO to Agrexco
This article was written in 2010 as a contribution to a BNC e-magazine commemorating the 5th anniversary of the BDS call in July 9th 2005. Click here to read other articles in the magazine.
The French BDS Campaign was launched in the summer of 2009 with the endorsement of over 50 organisations, including trade unions, political parties, and human rights organizations. The movement made significant progress within a short period. Several cities across the country now have an active BDS groups. The issue of boycott is gradually becoming established in public discourse, often referred to in major newspapers such as Le Monde.
One of the main targets of the campaign is Agrexco, Israel’s leading exporter of agricultural produce that distributes 60-70 percent of fruit, vegetables, flowers and herbs produced in the Israeli settlements illegally built on Palestinian land. The GF group, the largest Mediterranean importer of fresh produce, won a bid issued by the Lanuedoc-Roussillon Regional Council to operate at the Sète harbour. Agrexco is set to benefit from the deal as it plans to use Sète as the main entry point for its products to the European market. The “Coalition contre Agrexco” was established in the spring of 2009 to oppose Agrexco’s expanded presence in France. It is also now present in most towns in southern France including Nimes, Mende, Ales, Narbonne, and Perpignan. Agrexco still exports to the port of Marseille, a few hundred kilometres from Sète, but wishes to move. At Sète, Agrexco is promised a better, if not controversial, deal in the form of muzzled unions and mostly temporary workers.
Agrexco’s actions have profound impact in the lives of Palestinians. In the Jordan Valley for example, 7,000 settlers have appropriated 95% of local Palestinian agricultural lands and control 98% of the water. Much of Agrexco’s produce is already grown locally in southern France. The local agricultural sector has come to a crisis point due to the flood of cheap imports from Spain, Morocco, and Israel. Despite Agrexco being in clear violation of international law by exporting produce grown illegally on occupied land, it continues to profit from sales to European markets and benefits from customs exemptions offered by the European Union.
Several street demonstrations have been organized, including a march in May 2009 that included several thousand people. Tactics used include public education campaigns and lawsuits. The latter hopes to exclude Agrexco from preferential European trade agreements. A dedicated French BDS Campaign working group is in discussion with the management of Carrefour and other supermarkets to ban the sale of Agrexco’s products.
Agrexco exports to all of Europe. Products are flown to London, Marseille, Valencia and Genoa. The coalition coordinates closely with other European groups also working in the campaign.
Trials and Tribulations
The French BDS Campaign has confronted several obstacles. Last October, French Senator Alima Boumédiène-Thiery and prominent activist Omar Slaouti were charged with ‘incitement to hatred, discrimination or violence.’ These charges were dismissed due to procedural violations.
Sakina Arnaud, in Bordeaux was charged with a fine of one thousand Euros for having damaged the packaging of Israeli products. He is now appealing the fine in the Supreme Court. In Mulhouse 12 activists have been prosecuted for calling for the boycott of Israel. Stephane Hessel, co-writer of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and former French ambassador faces a trial for his support for the BDS campaign.
This is the result of a campaign by pro-Israeli activists and French government officials to condemn and halt the actions of the French BDS Campaign and stifle freedom of expression. This government, as many see it, has been the most pro-Israeli in French history. Despite this, the campaign will not stop its work in support of international law and Palestinian rights.