The National Lawyers Guild’s Palestine Subcommittee called upon the French government to cease its prosecution of activists urging boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) targeting Israeli products.
In a letter to French Ambassador to the United States Gérard Araud, the Palestine Subcommittee called on France to end all prosecutions of activists under the so-called Alliot-Marie circular, which urges prosecution of BDS organizers on the basis of “discrimination” on the basis of “national origin,” despite the fact that the protesters targeted goods, not people, and urged shoppers of all backgrounds to boycott goods produced by a state engaged in apartheid and dispossession of the Palestinian people.
The National Lawyers Guild Palestine Subcommittee joined French activist groups, BDS France and EuroPalestine, in calling for implementation of the call by Palestinian civil society “to promote the campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions against the State of Israel until it respects international law and the universal principles of human rights.”
Download the letter: Palestine Subcommittee Letter on BDS in France and the Right to Boycott
The letter text follows:
January 25, 2016
Dear Ambassador Araud,
The National Lawyers Guild International Committee was shocked to learn that France’s highest court of criminal appeals (Cour de Cassation) has upheld the conviction of a number of Palestine solidarity activists for publicly calling for the boycott of Israeli goods. The law these activists were found guilty of violating criminalizes behavior which “provokes discrimination, hatred or violence against a person or a group of people by reason of their origin or their membership or non-membership in a specific ethnic group, nation, race or religion.” The Court’s decision, under the guise of combating anti-Semitism, show France’s desire to silence criticism of Israel’s government policies and opposition to Israel’s grave human rights violations. Incredibly, these activists have been sentenced to fines and costs amounting to $35,000.
The Court’s decision follows the earlier controversial directive of former Justice Minister Michele Alliot-Marie (an open supporter of Tunisia’s overthrown dictator, Ben Ali) instructing prosecutors to go after BDS activists in a “firm and consistent” manner across the country.
And now several more activists are facing prosecution in a Toulouse court on June 30, 2016 for having distributed leaflets calling for the boycott of Israeli products while peacefully standing outside of a supermarket, accused for “preventing the exercise of normal economic activity.”
The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) is an US organization of lawyers, law students and legal workers who seek to function as an effective force in the service of the people (both at home and abroad), to the end that human rights shall be regarded as more sacred than property rights. The ruling by the Court of Cassation adds to our growing concern about France’s harsh crackdown on freedom of expression.
France is now the only country other than Israel that penalizes appeals not to buy Israeli goods. Amazingly, the French law, which includes criminal penalties, is harsher than Israel’s, which allows boycott supporters to be pursued for financial damages, but not jailed.
We agree with BDS France that the court decision marks “a sad day for French democracy”. The stated purpose of the convicted BDS activists was “to inform customers about the ethical problems involved in the purchase of goods coming from Israel,” including that their production “is part and parcel of the apartheid situation endured by the Palestinian people, the dispossession of their lands [and] the refusal of the refugees’ right of return.” The store managers did not bring charges, as there was no interference in the freedom of commerce.
The activists were found guilty for speech calling for “discrimination” against the producers and suppliers of goods by reason of their belonging to the “Israeli nation.” This is quite ironic, as Israel recognizes only Jewish (not Israeli) nationality as well as other ethnic and sectarian categories which it assigns to citizens and non-citizens, often against their will.
Moreover, the French BDS activists – as well as the National Lawyers Guild – are publicly committed to opposing all forms of racial and religious discrimination, including anti-Semitism.
As US journalist Glenn Greenwald stated: “Ponder how pernicious this is. It is perfectly legal to advocate sanctions against Iran, or Russia, or Sudan or virtually any other country. But it is illegal — criminal — to advocate boycotts and sanctions against one country: Israel.” Ironically, the French government now supports the new EU-wide rules to clearly label settlement goods, presumably so consumers can boycott them.
We believe that the Court of Cassation violates established principles in French and European law. Hopefully the activists will appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, which is more respectful of freedom of expression. Pending such a ruling, or a change in French law, we are confident that French BDS activists will not be deterred. As EuroPalestine has defiantly stated: “Boycotting the Israeli occupier is an international campaign which nothing will stop.”
The National Lawyers Guild Palestine Subcommittee joins BDS France and EuroPalestine in calling for implementation of the call by Palestinian civil society “to promote the campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions against the State of Israel until it respects international law and the universal principles of human rights.” We affirm our support for the individuals convicted for their speech and ask France to end all prosecutions of activists under the Alliot-Marie decree.
Audrey Bomse, co chair National Lawyers Guild Palestine Subcommittee
Andrew Dalack, co-chair
Amanda Ghannam, co-chair
 See, for example: Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in Occupied Palestinian Territory, Advisory Opinion, I.C.J. Reports 2004, p.136, available at: http://www.icj-cij.org/docket/index.php?p1=3&p2=4&case=131&p3=4; UN Human Rights Council, Report of the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, 25 September 2009, A/HRC/12/48, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4ac1dd252.html; UN Human Rights Council, Report of the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, 25 September 2009, A/HRC/12/48, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4ac1dd252.html
 Glenn Greenwald, “Anti-Israel Activism Criminalized in the Land of Charlie Hebdo and ‘Free Speech,'” The Intercept, October 27, 2015, available at https://theintercept.com/2015/10/27/criminalization-of-anti-israel-activism-escalates-this-time-in-the-land-of-the-charlie-hebdo-free-speech-march/
 CAPJPO-EuroPalestine, “#JeSuisBDS,” October 29, 2015, available at: http://www.europalestine.com/spip.php?article11118&debutencart4=1