Tony Greenstein | 28 October 2015 | Post Views:

French Boycott Poster

Whereto Liberty
Fraternity and Equality now?  In reality
it never existed as the French revolution was coterminous with the existence of
the most profitable slave colony of all, Santa Domingo/Haiti. 

The actions of the French
Supreme Court, which has effectively outlawed support for BDS in France, at the
same time as it turns a blind eye to the attacks of the JDL on Palestinian supporters,
is an outrage and almost certainly a breach of the European Convention on Human
Rights.  Whether that is the road that
the BDS campaign in France will take remains to be seen but as Glenn Greenwald
says, how come one can support a boycott and sanctions of every country in the
world bar Israel?  What is it that makes
the ‘Jewish’ State different?  The fact
that it is the most racist state in the world?
Glenn Greenwald  2015-10-27
Israel was furious when French Bank BNP Paribas pulled out of Israel
French BDS Poster

The post-Charlie Hebdo “free speech” march in Paris was a fraud for multiple
reasons, as I wrote at the time. It was led by dozens of world leaders, many of
whom imprison or even kill people for expressing prohibited views. It was
cheered by many Westerners who feign upset only when free speech abridgments
are perpetrated by Muslims, but not — as is far more common — by their own
governments against Muslims.

Worst of all, 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. 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 this week’s decision from that nation’s highest court, one that
is a direct assault on basic free speech rights. The French high court upheld
thecriminal 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. What did these French criminals do? This:

Add caption

The individuals arrived at the supermarket wearing shirts emblazoned with the
words: “Long live Palestine, boycott Israel.” They also handed out fliers that
said that “buying Israeli products means legitimizing crimes in Gaza.”

An Egyptian wears a T-shirt with a logo of BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions), a campaign started by Palestinian activists to boycott Israel and Israeli-made goods, April 20, 2015. Photo: Amr Nabil/APIn 

France —
self-proclaimed Land of Liberté — doing that makes you a criminal. As The
Forward reported, the court “cited the French republic’s law on Freedom of the
Press, which prescribes imprisonment or a fine of up to $50,000 for parties
that ‘provoke discrimination, hatred or violence toward a person or group of
people on grounds of their origin, their belonging or their not belonging to an
ethnic group, a nation, a race or a certain religion.’” Because BDS is
inherently “discriminatory,” said the court, it is a crime to advocate it.

Successful picket of Ahava shop in Covent Garden

The French court ruling is part of a worldwide trend. As more and more people around
the world recognize the criminal and brutal nature of the Israeli government,
its loyalists have been increasingly trying literally to criminalize activism
against the Israeli occupation. For that reason, “pro-Israel” activists this
week celebratedthis French assault on basic free speech rights.

Pascal Markowicz, chief lawyer of the CRIF umbrella organization of French
Jewish communities, published this celebratory decree (emphasis in original):
“BDS is ILLEGAL in France.” Statements advocating a boycott or sanctions, he
added, “are completely illegal. If [BDS activists] say their freedom of
expression has been violated, now France’s highest legal instance ruled

Joel Rubinfeld, co-chair of the European Jewish Parliament and president of the
Belgian League Against Anti-Semitism, told Haaretz last February that he wanted
other countries to follow the French model of criminalizing
anti-Israeli-occupation activism. After a French lower court convicted the BDS
activists, Rubinfeld gushed: “The French government and judiciary’s
determination in fighting discrimination, and the Lellouche law especially, are
exemplary for Belgium and other nations where discriminatory BDS is happening.”

As Haaretz detailed in that February article, the “Lellouche law” held up by
Rubinfeld is “named for the Jewish parliamentarian [in France] who introduced
it in 2003,” and “the law is among the world’s most potent legislative tools to
fight the growing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, or BDS, and has catapulted
France to the forefront of efforts to counter the movement through legal
means.” Prior to this latest criminal case, there have been “approximately 20
anti-Israel activists who have been convicted under France’s so-called
Lellouche law.”

The odious campaign to outlaw activism against the Israeli occupation extends
well beyond France. In May, CBC reported that Canadian officials threatened to
prosecute BDS activists there under “hate speech” laws, and after those
officials denied doing so, we obtained and published the emails proving they
did just that. The February Haaretz article described this troubling event in
the U.K.: “In 2007, the British University and College Union said it would drop
plans to boycott Israeli institutions after legal advisers said doing so would
violate anti-discrimination laws.”
In 2013, New York City officials joined an
(ultimately failed) Alan Dershowitz-led campaign to threaten the funding of
Brooklyn College for the crime of hosting pro-BDS speakers.

Indeed, an outstanding Washington Post op-ed this week by a former IDF soldier,
Assaf Gavron, documents how such attacks on Israel critics now extend to
Israeli citizens themselves. Gavron describes how “the internal discussion in
Israel is more militant, threatening and intolerant than it has ever been,”
those few dissenters who attempt to contradict it — to ask questions, to
protest, to represent a different color from this artificial consensus — are
ridiculed and patronized at best, threatened, vilified and physically attacked
at worst.”

Israel defenders love to equate “criticism of Israel” with “anti-Semitism” and
then sanctimoniously deny that anyone does that. But criminalizing BDS advocacy
— threatening people with large fines and prison terms for protesting the polices
of the Israel government — is as clear of a case as it gets. As Haaretz put it,
The dragnet has also swept up BDS protesters whose actions have targeted
Israel, not Jews.”

Ponder how pernicious this is. It is perfectly legal to advocate sanctions against
Iran, or Russia, or Sudan, or virtually any other country. Indeed, sanctions
and boycotts against those countries are not only frequently advocated in the
West but are official policy. But it is illegal — criminal — to advocate
boycotts and sanctions against one country: Israel. It requires sky-high levels
of authoritarianism, even fascism, to abuse the criminal law to outlaw advocacy
of policies and activism when it involves one country, and one country only. In
response to the celebrations over this ruling from one popular-on-Twitter
Israeli extremist, Avi Mayer, I repeatedly asked this question but never
received an answer:

@AviMayer You believe the law should allow a person to advocate
boycott/sanctions for Iran & Russia, but make it illegal for Israel?

— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) October 26, 2015

@AviMayer Why can’t you answer what I asked? Should it be legal to advocate
boycott/sanctions for Iran & Russia but not Israel?

— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) October 26, 2015

@AviMayer 1) Should it be legal for me to advocate a boycott or sanctions on
Israel? 2) Legal to do so for Iran and/or Russia? Answer that.

— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) October 26, 2015

It should go without saying that one’s opinions on the desirability or validity
of BDS as a policy are totally irrelevant to this discussion. It’s self-evident
that a belief in “free speech” compels one to defend with equal vigor the right
to express views with which one agrees and those with which one vehemently
disagrees. The issue here, obviously, is not whether BDS is a persuasive policy
but whether people should be criminalized for advocating it. As extremist and
oppressive as it is, the criminalization of BDS activism is increasing in
multiple places around the world.

Where are all the newfound free speech activists who insisted after the Charlie
Hebdo murders that a defense of free expression was so vital to all that is
good and just in the Western world? Why isn’t the #JeSuisBDS hashtag trending
in defense of these activists who have been persecuted — prosecuted — by France
for their political views? The answer is clear: Many who reveled in wrapping
themselves in the “free speech” banner earlier this year — beginning with
France itself and extending throughout the West — have no genuine belief in
that right. That’s why these countries not only stand silent in the face of
such a fundamental assault on free speech, but aggressively perpetrate those

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Tony Greenstein

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