France Crackdown on Boycott Israel Activists Sparks Backlash

How Does Anti-Israel Protest Amount to Hate Speech?

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By Cnaan Liphshiz

Published February 14, 2014.
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(JTA) — When Farida Trichine and 11 of her friends burst into a French supermarket in 2009 and began applying stickers with anti-Israel slogans to vegetables imported from the Jewish state, she expected to be escorted from the store by police.

What she didn’t expect was to be convicted of inciting racial hatred and slapped with a $650 fine.

Three months ago, a court in Colmar convicted the 12 activists under a French law that extended the definition of discrimination beyond the expected parameters of race, religion and sexual orientation to include members of national groups.

What Trichine, who was wearing a “boycott Israel” shirt during the protest, saw as a protected act of political speech was being treated by the authorities like a hate crime.

“It’s surprising that our actions are considered a crime when the real criminals are the colonists, the butchers of Gaza,” Trichine said in a video message in 2011, soon after her legal troubles began.

Trichine, 54, is one of approximately 20 anti-Israel activists who have been convicted under France’s so-called Lellouche law. Named for the Jewish parliamentarian who introduced it in 2003, 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.

“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,” said Joel Rubinfeld, co-chair of the European Jewish Parliament and president of the Belgian League Against Anti-Semitism.

French authorities have acted aggressively in recent weeks to crack down on anti-Israel and anti-Jewish speech, most prominently by banning a tour by the comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala, who has been convicted multiple times of belittling the Holocaust and alleging that a Jewish mafia runs France, among other offenses. But the dragnet has also swept up BDS protesters whose actions have targeted Israel, not Jews.

Pro-Israel activists in neighboring Belgium are pushing for a similar law to Lellouche, hoping it might also put a dent in BDS activities in that country. No other countries have followed France’s lead.

In France, the official crackdown is sparking a backlash from activists who argue that the Lellouche law is too restrictive of free speech.


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