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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

Will the French Anti-Boycott Law Lead to a Pan-European Law?

Filed under: Europe and Israel, International Law, Israel, Settlements

France’s supreme appellate court, La Cour de Cassation, which is the highest court in the country, has finally made an important ruling that any activity aimed at imposing a boycott on Israel constitutes a hate crime or a clear instance of discrimination.

The ruling actually applies Article 24 of France’s Law on the Freedom of the Press, which was first passed on July 29, 1881, and updated in December 2004. This law imposes imprisonment or a fine of 45,000 euros on a person or entity “that incites to discrimination, to hate or to violence against a person or a group of persons on the basis of extraction, affiliation or nonaffiliation with an ethnic group, nation, race or religion.”

This October 27, 2015 ruling came in the wake of two major incidents in a huge supermarket of the Carrefour chain, located close to the town of Mulhouse in the southern part of the Alsace region in the northeast of the country.

In the first incident, which occurred on September 26, 2009, dozens of BDS activists streamed into the supermarket wearing shirts with the slogans “Long Live Palestine” and “Boycott Israel.” They handed out leaflets charging that buying products from Israel means “granting legitimacy to the crimes that Israel perpetrates in the Gaza Strip,” that “Israel murders innocent children,” and that “The CARREFOUR chain is a collaborator.”

BDS activists in France
BDS activists in France after removing Israeli-made products from Carrefour Supermarket shelves. (YouTube)

Despite the complaints that official Jewish organizations conveyed to the French authorities, the same thing happened in the same supermarket on May 22, 2010. In both incidents the activists engaged in vandalism, throwing all Israeli products on the floor and emptying the shelves in the kosher products section without being stopped by the security guards. Most French supermarkets have a kosher-food and modesty-observing section for Jews just as they have halal sections for Muslims; in recent months the latter have greatly expanded with thousands of products. During Muslim holidays the supermarket shelves are inundated with halal products.

A local court finally convicted all those who took part in planning and perpetrating these acts, fining them a cumulative sum of 12,000 euros.

This is not the first time that activists who engage in incitement to hatred and discrimination have been convicted. The EuroPalestine organization has tried more than once, without success, to run as a political party in elections for the French parliament and even for the European Parliament. Its website has waged a mendacious and despicable anti-Israeli propaganda campaign for years. The comedian Dieudonné, who is active in a pro-Palestinian organization, has also been convicted several times for Holocaust denial, anti-Semitic statements and jokes, and for popularizing the quenelle salute among young people.

Although the BDS movement is illegal in France, it continues to receive instructions from the movement’s founder, Omar Barghouti, who usually resides in London. Barghouti claims that he is operating in a democratic country where freedom of political expression is as absolute as freedom of the press. He says that the law allows him to criticize the policies of the Israeli government, and has more than once called for opposing Israel with all means including violent and armed opposition.

Thanks to the initiative of French Jewish parliamentarian Pierre Lellouche, a member of the Republican Party of former President Sarkozy, since 2003 the so-called Lellouche law has broadened the laws against racism to include discrimination against countries.

Over the years, however, French governments have capitulated to the Arab boycott, and a detailed list was even published of French companies that were “victims of the boycott.” Most of the companies that were boycotted were owned or managed by Jews. In any case, it is beyond doubt that the boycott, whether on the governmental or the popular level as in the BDS case, is fueled by both tacit and open anti-Semitic motives. The funding for these activities must be stopped, and the authorities must outlaw any movement or organization that supports a racist boycott.

The recent ruling by the supreme appellate court is certainly encouraging. It establishes unequivocally that promoting the boycott of the Jewish state is a hate crime and entails incitement to discrimination. This important ruling, however, was insufficiently covered in the French media and only won headlines in Israeli newspapers.

The judges in Paris deserve praise, as do the umbrella organization of French Jewry, CRIF, and the nongovernmental organization BNCVA along with its president Sammy Ghozlan for their spirited activity. These dedicated activists constantly monitor pro-Palestinian activists for any attempts to violate the existing laws.

It is now all the more vital to work for the adoption of the French law by other European countries, such as Britain. Whoever fights anti-Semitism and racism must condemn the ugly phenomenon of the boycott in all the domains – economic, cultural, and academic. Attempts to glorify the boycott of Israel should not only be denounced but also severely punished in a deterrent fashion.

Although Europe is an important economic power, in the sphere of foreign and defense policy it is still faltering, and the major decisions in this sphere are actually made by three countries: Germany, Britain, and France. It is now their responsibility to maintain the existing status quo and prevent the boycott of Israel and its products, standing firm against the pressures exerted by pro-Palestinian organizations and movements. One may criticize the policy of the Israeli government, but one may not boycott a democratic state that is a member of the United Nations while, at the same time, exalting Islamic State as it sows death and terror. Debates at every venue — in the media or on campuses — are essential to increased understanding, and the recent debate at Oxford University showed that there are those who will listen to Israel’s message. Indeed, the arguments of American Prof. Alan Dershowitz persuaded more students than the slanders and distortions of the BDS activists. Their movement opposes any peace process, incites against Jews, and maliciously sabotages any attempt at Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation.

And finally it must be noted that the ongoing Palestinian terror activity in the territories and within Israel is likely to spark anti-Jewish incitement and violence in Europe as well. It must not be forgotten that Jews have already been killed in a kosher supermarket in Paris and at the Otzar Hatorah School in Toulouse.

Hence, the authorities must be prepared to act urgently and apply the laws of enforcement and deterrence, relentlessly prosecuting all the inciters.