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The ECHR ruling: a victory that puts us more clearly than ever on the side of the Law

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that the French Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) Campaign is a legitimate form of protest


It took 10 years for justice to end political maneuveringand confirm the essential character of freedom of expression in democratic society. That includes the freedom to criticize the policies of a country by means of calls for boycotts. In this case, Israeli policies – by means of boycotts of Israeli products.

The beginnings of the BDS campaign in France

Following the Palestinian appeal of July 2005, BDS actions began in France in 2007.  Legal proceedings were launched by the AFPS and the PLO against French companies Alstom and Veolia for participating in the construction of the Jerusalem tramway. Actions calling for a boycott of products remained limited in number until 2009. There were only a small number of actions in 2009. Only one legal prosecution was made against these actions. On February 10, 2010, an activist was convicted following the complaint of a Carrefour store “for minor damage.” This complaint was reclassified by the prosecutor as an “incitement to racial, national and religious discrimination.” This was intended to transform this militant act into an ‘anti-Semitic offense’. [1]

The French government’s counteroffensive

With remarkable speed, only two days after this conviction, the Ministry of Justice sent a memo to the public prosecutors. This firmly urged prosecution against actions calling for a boycott of Israeli products on the basis of Article 24 paragraph 8 of the 1881 press law.

The Minister of Justice, Madame Alliot-Marie, announced the circulation of this memo at the CRIF dinner in Bordeaux on February 19. She said “I do not accept that people, non-profit leaders, politicians, or ordinary citizens, call for boycotts of products on the grounds that they are kosher or that they come from Israel.So began the amalgam.

On May 12, 2012, the day of the transfer of powers following the presidential election, the then Minister of Justice, Mr. Mercier, added a layer to the affair. He sent a new memo, reminding prosecutors of Article 225-2 of the Penal Code, penalizing “offenses of discrimination consisting of impeding the normal exercise of an economic activity.”

These two memos were the source of the legal proceedings initiated by several prosecutors. Most often they responded to complaints from associations supporting Israeli policies [2]. They were against activists who had taken part in actions calling for boycotts, generally in front of stores selling Israeli products and products from Israeli settlements.

Nine legal proceedings took place between 2010 and 2015: five of them led to the acquittal of the activists, and four to their conviction. The judgment of the Pontoise TGI in December 2013, examples the rationale of the acquittals: “This call to boycott is, in reality, a passive criticism of the policy of a state, criticism falling within the free play of political debate which is at the very heart of the notion of democratic society. Thus, since the right to express oneself freely on political matters is an essential freedom in a democratic society, this call for a boycott falls within the normal framework of this freedom.

On the other hand, the Court of Appeal of Colmar (2013) developed a reasoning reflecting the misuse of the 1881 law as “recommended” by the two memos to condemn defendants. The appellate court considered that calling for a boycott constituted discrimination against people, since Israeli products are manufactured by Israeli producers, who are groups of people who belong to a nation…

The appeal filed against the ruling of the Colmar Court of Appeal was rejected by the Cour de Cassation in October 2015.

The insidious ban and illegality of calls to boycott in public discourse

Despite the two memos, reflecting the political will of the government(s) to repress BDS, actions developed continuously over the following years [3] in multiple forms. These included: calls for a boycott of Israeli settlement products; calls for a boycott of Israeli products; calls for a boycott of certain public events promoted by the Israeli government; questioning French companies participating in the colonization; demand for sanctions against Israeli policies (including the suspension of the EU-Israel agreement with regard to the violation of its second article). Parallel to these developments, the two memos, the few judgments condemning activists, and (especially) the ruling of the Cour de Cassation in October 2015 – introduced the prohibition, or illegality of  boycott calls – into the public discourse.

The day after the Cour de Cassation decision, Le Monde reported November 2015: “doubt is no longer possible: the simple call to boycott Israeli products is totally illegal in France. And severely punished. Two rulings by the Court of Cassation […] make France one of the few countries in the world, and the only democracy, where the call for a boycott by an association or civic movement to critique the policy of a third party state is prohibited.”

In its wake the Paris Council vowed to “condemn the boycott of Israel and calls to participate in this boycott that are relayed at gatherings in Parisian public spacein February 2016.

A demonstration on the same day to protest against this was authorized by the Paris Police Prefecture, but included a clause that “[in accordance with the decisions of the Cour de Cassation] it is forbidden […] to call for a boycott of Israeli products. Anyone infringing this prohibition will be called into question.”

In October 2016, the Île-de-France Regional Council adopted an amendment “excluding all funding to organizations calling for a boycott of Israel.” A few months later it established a “Regional Charter of the Values of the Republic and Secularism” in March 2017, to exclude associations from regional aid if they “participated in the BDS movement, since these calls constitute a criminal offence.

This questioning of the legitimacy of calls to boycott was further reinforced. Very serious and recurring statements were made by the President of the Republic and other political figures starting in mid-2017, amalgamating anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, to target the Palestinian solidarity movement.

Let us recall the discordant voice of the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Federica Mogherini.  In response to a parliamentary question on this subject, she stated September 2016 thatthe EU stands firmly for the protection of freedom of expression and freedom of association, consistent with the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, which is applicable to the territory of the EU Member States, including BDS actions carried out on that territory. Freedom of expression, as emphasized by the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), also applies to information and ideas that ‘offend, shock or disturb the State or any sector of the population’.

Unfortunately, this statement remained isolated. Successive Ministers of Justice under the Hollande presidency rejected requests to withdraw the memos.

The judgment of the ECHR seals the situation with a denial of previous rulings

The rejection of an appeal by the Cour de Cassation in October 2015 – in a very dry ruling (despite doubts expressed by rapporteur) – led 11 of the 12 convicted activists to file a petition with the ECHR in March 2016.

The ruling issued at the end  by the ECHR on June 11, 2020 concluded that France had violated Article 10 of the Convention. The ruling was unanimous among the seven judges who composed the Chamber, one of whom was French.

In its well-reasoned judgment, the ECHR emphasized that the judges in Colmar and the Cour de Cassation had limited themselves to considering that there was discrimination against the producers of the products on the basis of their origin in order to condemn the activists; but that they had not taken into account the resulting restriction on freedom of expression which was not “necessary in a democratic society.” The ECHR based its decision on the basis of the boycott action, the motivations of the activists and the circumstances of the action (see text below).

We quote three excerpts from the judgment:

“… it is clearly in order to provoke or stimulate debate among the consumers of the supermarkets that the claimants carried out the actions of calling for a boycott which led to the proceedings which they denounce before the Court.

“The Court observes that the applicants were not convicted of making racist or anti-Semitic statements, or of calling for hatred or violence. Nor were they convicted of violence or of causing damage during the events of September 26, 2009 and May 22, 2010. It is also clear from the file that there was no violence or damage. The supermarket in which the applicants carried out their actions did not, moreover, bring a civil action before the domestic courts.

Indeed, on the one hand, the actions and remarks of which the applicants were accused concerned a subject of general interest, that of respect for public international law by the State of Israel and the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, and were part of a contemporary debate that is open in France as well as in the entire international community. On the other hand, these actions and comments emanated from political and militant expression.”

The judgment concludes more broadly on the nature of political speech:

“Political discourse is controversial and often virulent. It is nonetheless in the public interest, unless it degenerates into a call for violence, hatred, or intolerance. That is where the line is drawn.

It should be remembered that the judgment enjoins the French State to pay financial compensation (material damage, non-material harm, costs, and expenses) within three months of the final judgment. [4]

The case is clear today: The call to boycott is a citizen’s right, which cannot be called into question, as long as “it does not degenerate into a call for violence, hatred, or intolerance.

What’s next? [5]

We have always said during ten years of moral, political, and judicial pressure that “No, the call to boycott is not illegal”. We continued to practice this through our various campaigns.

We now have clear, formal confirmation from the highest jurisdiction that this is the case.

It is now up to us, to hammer home the truth that “the call for a boycott is a citizen’s right,and that it is LEGAL. We must remind all public authorities, members of parliament, local authorities, companies, and all those who spread “fake news” – by informing them during our public actions with our leaflets, banners, slogans… so that everyone knows that we are on the side of the Law.

In the last nine months, two court decisions – the CJEU ruling on the labeling of settlement products, and the ECHR ruling on the right to call for a boycott – and the UNCHR decision – with the publication of a first list of 112 companies that contribute to the colonization of the occupied Palestinian territory – have confirmed the righteousness of our struggle, our objectives, lines, and means of action, thus clearing the way for the solidarity movement to continue and strengthen its struggle for the Law.



[2] Including BNVCA, Alliance France-Israel, CCFI, Avocats sans frontières, and LICRA

[3] On average between 50 and 100 actions per year between 2010 and 2019

[4] For a total amount of about 100 000€.

[5] Article 73 of the Convention concerning the referral to the Grand Chamber requested by a party says: “Under Article 43 of the Convention, any party may exceptionally, within three months from the date of delivery of the judgment by a Chamber, file with the Registry a request for referral to the Grand Chamber, indicating the serious question concerning the interpretation or application of the Convention or the Protocols thereto, or the serious question of a general nature which, in its opinion, deserves to be considered by the Grand Chamber. 2. A panel of five judges of the Grand Chamber constituted in accordance with article 24 § 5 shall examine the application solely on the basis of the existing file. It shall not accept the application unless it considers that the case raises such a question. The decision to reject the application need not be reasoned. 3. If the panel upholds the request, the Grand Chamber shall give a judgment “.

This article first appeared in French on the Website of the Association France Palestine Solidarité. Translation: FM. Reproduced with permission.

Picture Gallery: Demonstration for Sudan, 30th October 2021, Berlin

Demonstration from the Sudanese Embassy to Joachimsthalerplatz


A Room of One’s Own

Access to housing is central to women’s emancipation. Under capitalism, society punishes women for not having a partner.

When I was 17 I went to study and lived away from home, sharing a flat with three other girls in Salamanca. It was the first time I left my parents’ home and the first time I was sharing with people I didn’t know previously. When I was 22, I migrated to Germany and was living with a family I didn’t know either. At 23, I migrated again, to Ireland this time. I’ve been living on this island for more than seven years and have had to move out at least seven times, always sharing with different people who came in and out. During these years I also lived for a short time in Scotland, once again sharing with strangers. I have lived with many different people from different countries. I’m still in touch with some of them, but most of them, as soon as they moved out and left their keys behind, have disappeared from my life. I’ve also left many keys and disappeared from many other lives.

In less than two months I’m about to be 30. Although when I was younger I thought I would be adventurous and meet as many people as I could, the truth is that right now all I want is to have my own space. My priorities and needs are changing as I’m maturing and that’s fine. But in all these years I have never been able to even consider renting something for myself, as my salary does not allow me to do so. I don’t ask for much: a room, a kitchen, a bathroom, a living room where I can keep my books (if possible on shelves and not piled up in the corners I find in my room or under the bed), my paintings and, if I could, a small balcony to have my breakfast and some plants. That’s it. I’m not even talking about buying a flat for myself, an unattainable project. Sadly, I would not even be considered for a mortgage, neither in Ireland nor in Spain.

Living together as precarious single women

On reflection, the impossibility of accessing my own shelter is related to several factors: housing as a market product and not as a basic fundamental right, the resistance of governments to not to regulate rental prices, the excessively expensive standard of living, and salaries that are not enough to be able to have an independent life, especially for those of us who work in the feminised, and therefore most precarious, sectors.

It is devastating that in our thirties and even forties we have to continue sharing flats with strangers because we cannot afford to rent our own space. Now the media has created a new language to disguise the reality of this precariousness and how the housing market exploits this situation, they call it co-living. When I explain this personal and social concern to my friends and family the answer is always the same: wait until you have a partner, then you can have your own space.

But my question is, why does society punish us for not having a partner? A relationship should not be the glue you need to keep your life stable and secure. A relationship should be two people (or more in the case of polyamorous relationships), financially independent, who decide in their freedom to create a path together and share their life. But there can be no freedom and independence without the material conditions for this, which is why capitalist society forces us into relationships for the sake of our economic survival, especially for the most precarious workers. Many abusive relationships occur precisely for this reason: women, even if we work, are generally in more precarious financial situations than our male partners (in heterosexual relationships) and because of that abused women cannot leave the family home as they do not have economic independence. In 2021 we are still not fully emancipated.

Many authors have already written about this concept of singleness, female emancipation, and capitalism- from Flora Tristan to Rosa Luxemburg to Alexandra Kollontai to name a few historical examples. In her book Autobiography of a Sexually Emancipated Woman, first published in 1926, the Russian Communist revolutionary Kollontai argued that we must invent another way of relating to each other and change the sex-affective dynamics that we repeat almost unquestioningly under capitalism. More recently, in Why women have better sex under socialism? (2018) anthropologist Kristen Ghodsee outlines why “unregulated capitalism is bad for women and if we adopt some of the ideas of socialism, women’s lives will improve. […] socialism encourages economic independence and improves working conditions, work-life balance and, yes, even sexual relations”. Starting from the fact that capitalism cannot be regulated since it is a system that bases its wealth on the exploitation of labour and natural resources, if we want to have real emancipation of women and all those who do not fit into the heteropatriarchal binary system, we must overcome capitalism.

As long as society continues to live under capitalism, patriarchal, sex-affective relationships will follow an abusive pattern and we precarious single people will continue to be unable to have a space for ourselves. It is not only capitalism that prevents us from economic emancipation, but also from emotional and personal independence. In this patriarchal society, we, single women, are seen as broken, incomplete, demanding, grumpy and many other adjectives basically amounting to “there’s something wrong with you”. In my opinion, the natural state of any person is singleness, having a romantic and healthy relationship would be when we freely (emotionally and economically) decide to form and create it, being just another stage of your life, rather than the “beginning of the rest of your life”. In order to break with the status of capitalism that forces us to have a partner to be able to emancipate ourselves, we need policies on our side that facilitate access to housing, whether you are single or in a relationship, as well as policies that prevent the precariousness of feminised labour sectors.

My life projects do not include having a partner, for me, it’s not a goal to achieve. I would like to keep studying and training in my profession, be able to speak the languages I am passionate about, continue my learning in my political interests, master oil painting techniques, or write a book; these are some of my goals. If I meet someone and we want to have a relationship sharing our life for as long as it takes, welcome, it’s not an idea I resist. But since it’s not a goal in my life, why do I know that I will not be able to afford my own home being single and precarious? My life, as I have already said, is not going to start if I get married: I am already living my life. And as such, I want the right to my own space.

Nerea Fernández Cordero is the speaker of IU Exterior. This article was first published in Spanish in Nueva Revolución. Reproduced with permission.


Saharauische Diaspora in Deutschland (Saharan Diaspora in Germany)

information and support for the cause of the Saharawi people


Western Sahara, considered the last colony in Africa, has been pending decolonization for more than 45 years. A large part of this territory is illegally occupied by Morocco, which commits continuous violations against the Saharawi population, exploits the natural resources of the territory and has built a 2,700 km wall to separate the Saharawi people.

6th November 2021 sees the 46th anniversary of the “Green March” which marks the beginning of the Moroccan invasion of Western Sahara. The Saharauische Diaspora in Deutschland, supported by the LINKE Berlin Internationals and others, is organising a public meeting and a demonstration to commemorate the Event.

On Thursday, 4th November, Nayat Handi, representative of Polisario in Germany and Ubbi Bachar, representative of Polisario for the EU will be addressing a meeting in Karl Liebknecht Haus: Western Sahara: A Forgotten Struggle. Among other things, they will talk about the process of decolonization, the exploitation of natural resources, the role of the European Union The meeting will be moderated by Emma Lehbib from the Deutsche Saharauische Diaspora.

On Saturday, 6th November, the actual anniversary, there will be a demonstration to remember the tragic fate of the Saharawi people and, more importantly, to make their voice for freedom and independence heard. This will start at 1pm at Brandenburger Tor and will march to the Reichstag, where there will be music, poems, stories and speeches.

With half of the population living in refugee camps and the other half under Moroccan occupation, the Saharawi people have been struggling for four decades for their right to exist on their legitimate land.

The Saharauische Diaspora in Deutschland links Western Saharans in Germany in their struggle for freedom for Western Sahara, Africa’s last colony. They can be contacted on facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

News from Berlin and Germany, 29th October 2021

Weekly news roundup from Berlin and Germany


Berlin Left Youth Association rejects cooperation with Jusos and Green Youth

The youth associations of the SPD, the Greens and the Left Party are in a huff: the Left Youth has ruled out cooperation with the other two for the time being. Lisa Madsack, state director of the Left Youth, confirmed thaz Bengt Rüstemeier was elected to the eight-member new state speaker’s council. The 22-year-old former Jusos functionary hit the headlines in last February for tweets in which he mused about whether it was possible to “shoot landlord pigs” or “shoot young liberals”. Katina Schubert, state chairperson of the Left Party, criticised this “self-isolation from other youth associations.” Source: rbb

Higher Education Act: HU president resigns in protest

As a protest against the new Higher Education Act, the president of Berlin’s Humboldt University, Sabine Kunst, has resigned from her post. In a statement, she called the Senate’s plan “well-intentioned, but badly done”. Among other things, the amendment to the law would lead to a change in the university’s personnel structures. The number of permanent academic staff will increase significantly over the next few years. “However, our current structures are not geared towards this,” said Kunst. The spokesperson for research policy of the Berlin CDU parliamentary group, Adrian Grasse, called Kunst’s resignation a “deep blow for Berlin as a science location”. Source: rbb

Visa deadline for refugees extended

The Berlin Senat is extending the visa deadline for refugees from Syria and Iraq. Those who have relatives here can come until December 2022. With the decision on the extension, Senator Andreas Geisel (SPD) follows the red-red-green coalition agreement from 2016. But, also, in recent weeks, thousands of people have entered Germany without permission via Belarus and Poland. The Federal Police registered 6,162 cases since the beginning of the year until 21 October, most recently about 500 in two days. Belarusian ruler Alexander Lukashenko is suspected of deliberately encouraging illegal migration in response to EU sanctions imposed in the spring. Source: morgenpost

Successful end to health workers’ strike

Striking employees of the Vivantes subsidiaries have won improvements. The strike is over. For six long weeks, up to 2,000 workers of the municipal hospital corporations were on strike. This follows recent victories by striking nursing staff at Charité and Vivantes hospitals. Their gains have now been applied to the employees of the Vivantes subsidiaries since Tuesday. The Verdi negotiators are keeping quiet about what exactly the agreement consists of, and how close they have come to the goal of equal treatment of the employees of the subsidiaries. Source: taz



Neo-Nazis attack refugees in the Polish border

In Brandenburg, several dozen armed neo-Nazis near Guben apparently followed the call of the fascist party, “Der III. Weg”, for so-called border walks. The action was directed against refugees and migrants. According to the police, who are increasingly patrolling the border area to ward off refugees, about 50 neo-Nazis were apprehended on last Sunday night. Pepper spray, a bayonet, a machete and batons were seized. Investigations are also underway for the use of symbols of anti-constitutional organisations. The suspects have all been ordered to leave the border region around Guben. Some of the people apprehended came from the immediate vicinity, but many had also travelled from other federal states. Source: jW

Man must serve several years in prison after racist attack in Erfurt

After a man kicked a Syrian in an Erfurt tram, a video of the attack went viral. Now the attacker has been sentenced to a long prison term. The act of the 41-year-old German could clearly be classified as racist. The verdict is not yet final. The defence announced that it would appeal. The attacker already confessed to the crime at the beginning of the trial and apologised. The judge accepted this, but stated: “We as representatives of the judiciary are not prepared to treat such acts as trifles.” The attack in April is unfortunately by no means an isolated case in the city. Source: Zeit