Africa & Middle East

European Court of Human Rights rules Israel boycotts are freedom of expression

24 January 2021
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In June 2020, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that the arrest and conviction of campaigners, who were arrested in 2009 for distributing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions leaflets, had violated the campaigners’ right to freedom of expression.

The eleven activists with Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) were charged with “incitement to discrimination”, after taking part in a series of protests inside French supermarkets calling for a boycott of Israeli goods and solidarity with the Palestinian struggle. The activists were subsequently given suspended fines of €1000 and €7000 in damages.

BDS is a Palestinian-led movement opposing Israeli apartheid and the ongoing state violence and discrimination inflicted upon Palestinians, including the denial of Palestinian refugees’ right to return to their homes. The movement was launched in 2005 by Palestinian civil society organisations calling for action against Israeli apartheid, joined by unions, refugee networks, women’s organisations, professional associations and popular resistance committees.

BDS is now an international movement and has met with significant opposition, with many European governments attempting to criminalise BDS activists and create an environment hostile to freedom of expression. In 2015, the European Union adopted a position defending the right to call for BDS against Israel to achieve Palestinian rights under international law but the legal debate has continued.

The ECHR ruling came as welcome news for all those fighting in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice and equality, a struggle that has seen activists pitted against European governments and the powerful Zionist lobby.

“This momentous court ruling is a decisive victory for freedom of expression, for human rights defenders, and for the BDS movement for Palestinian freedom, justice and equality,” said Rita Ahmed, an activist with BDS. “At a time when European citizens, inspired by the Black Lives Matter uprising in the US, are challenging the ugly legacy of European colonialism, France, Germany and other EU countries must end their racist repression of human rights defenders campaigning for Palestinian human rights and for an end to Israeli apartheid,”

While the ECHR’s ruling should be celebrated as a major blow against the anti-BDS movement and its state representatives, this is by no means the end of the struggle. It is imperative that workers and youth in all the major imperialist nations continue to fight in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle against Israeli apartheid.

In the face of criminalisation and demonisation, BDS activists must be supported. BDS is one of many ways we can raise awareness of the oppression of Palestine. Activists can bring the struggle for Palestinian rights and freedom to their own workplaces and communities, passing motions at trade union and Labour Party branches, CLPs and students’ unions. Learning from the South African anti-apartheid movement, socialists must seek to generalise the opposition to Israeli apartheid and make our government’s support for the Israeli state untenable.

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