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France and BDS

The illegality of the BDS movement in France has been confirmed by a recent ruling.

A global campaign to boycott Israeli products has been judged to be illegal and antisemitic by France’s Supreme Court.

The ruling by the Cour de Cassation was welcomed by Jewish groups, but denounced as an attack on free speech by pro-Palestinian activists.

Lawyers said that France was the only democratic country to have outlawed Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), a worldwide movement that is also active in the UK, which urges consumers to avoid Israeli goods. Its aim is to pressurise Israel into ending the “occupation and colonisation of all Arab lands occupied in June 1967”

BDS activists seem to have been targeted in two slightly different ways.

In France, several dozen promoters of a boycott against Israel — including through the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment Movement, or BDS —- have been convicted of inciting hate or discrimination. In addition to the law on the press, some activists have been convicted based on the Lellouche law, passed in 2003, which extends anti-racism laws to the targeting of specific nations for discriminatory treatment.

I’ve found it hard to pin down exactly what the Lellouche law proscribes. In the UK it is illegal to discriminate against someone on the basis of nationality (not just race), a factor behind the conviction of two students for abusing a fellow student’s Israeli flag.  BDS clearly does operate in a way which could be said to disadvantage those of one particular nationality, and there are many reasons why people have identified its goals or methods as antisemitic – Sharansky’s 3 Ds test is a useful starting point in such discussions.  But is the Lellouche law a good solution? It would also, presumably, have made a boycott of apartheid South Africa illegal.

The relationship between BDS and antisemitism is complex – people may support at least some element of BDS who would be horrified by say Holocaust denial.  Probably most Harry’s Place readers will think there is a strong antisemitic component to BDS even if they don’t think all its proponents have actively malign intentions.

But in this country – though not in France – even Holocaust denial is not illegal.  BDS may be associated with hate speech or unlawful discrimination against individuals – that needs to be dealt with. But I find the idea of completely outlawing BDS activism unwelcome – it’s one of many things I’m opposed to but don’t seek to ban.