The criminal division of the Court of Cassation, France's highest appeals court, issued a decision last October, affirming that the call to boycott Israeli goods is a misdemeanor in France and punishable as such. A small group of activists of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, who in 2010 had chanted slogans, handed out leaflets, and worn T-shirts at a supermarket near Mulhouse, calling for a boycott of Israeli goods, had been brought to trial for "provoking discrimination" against the producers and suppliers of goods (considered as a "group of people") by reason of their belonging to the Israeli nation. The activists were cleared at the first trial, but in November 2013, they were found guilty upon appeal by the Colmar Appeals Court, and were sentenced to pay 12000 euros in damages to the plaintiffs, as well as stiff legal fees. In rejecting their appeal of this sentence, the Court of Cassation affirmed that in calling upon consumers not to buy Israeli goods, the activists were indeed guilty of a misdemeanor — a call to national discrimination — and that the Colmar Appeals Court sentence was thus legally justified.
By the decision of October 20, 2015, France becomes the only country in the world — alongside Israel — to penalise civic appeals not to buy Israeli goods. In all the major democratic countries, the Israeli government's repeated demands to penalise boycott calls have been rejected, in the name of freedom of expression, of the need for a democratic debate (which may include controversial aspects) on international questions, and of respect for political associations. Whether one is for or against BDS as a way of bringing about a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on international law, no one outside France denies the peaceful character of the movement and its right to act and to develop, notably by boycott calls, including the call to boycott Israeli goods.
In this spirit, a group of French intellectuals and activists has recently announced their intention to defy the Court of Cassation, and the policy of the past two French governments, by calling explicitly for a boycott of Israeli goods. In doing so they know they risk prosecution for an act that elsewhere is considered protected freedom of speech. A translation of the new boycott statement is copied below. Whether or not you agree with the tactics of BDS, we ask you to support freedom of speech in France by signing our petition.
We, the undersigned, many of us with long connections to France, are shocked to learn that the French Court of Cassation issued a ruling last October that qualifies the call to boycott Israeli goods as a crime under French law. While we do not all necessarily agree with the call to boycott Israeli goods, we do recognize that the call to boycott a state or an institution for its unjust practices is universally considered a legitimate form of peaceful non-violent protest. It is unacceptable for France, a country that makes a point of claiming freedom of speech as one of its guiding principles, to criminalize a fundamental right of political expression. We call upon the French government to display consistency in its defense of freedom of speech and to cease its persecution of non-violent protestors.