Monday, July 20, 2009

Israel Wins One In International Human Rights Court: Boycott Illegal (Updated)

According to the Council of Europe's European Court of Human Rights

1. It is illegal and a case of discrimination to boycott Israeli products,
2. The very act of making it illegal to call for a boycott of Israeli goods in no way constitute a violation of one's freedom of expression.

A major victory for Israel:
On Thursday the court ruled by a vote of 6-1 that the French court did not violate the freedom of expression of the Communist mayor of the small French town of Seclin, Jean-Claude Fernand Willem, who in October 2002 announced at a town hall meeting that he intended to call on the municipality to boycott Israeli products.

Jews in the region filed a complaint with the public prosecutor, who decided to prosecute Willem for "provoking discrimination on national, racial and religious grounds." Willem was first acquitted by the Lille Criminal Court, but that decision was overturned on appeal in September 2003 and he was fined €1,000.

His appeal to a higher French court was unsuccessful, and as a result he petitioned the European Court of Human rights in March 2005, saying his call for a boycott of Israeli products was part of a legitimate political debate, and that his freedom of expression had been violated.

The court, made up of judges from Denmark, France, Germany, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Macedonia and the Czech Republic ruled that interference with the former mayor's freedom of expression was needed to protect the rights of Israeli producers. [emphasis added]
The idea that the rights of Israeli producers trumps an individual's freedom of expression seems to be a major breakthrough--the kind of decision that you are unlikely to find in the US, for example, though the way the court explained its reasoning made the conclusion obvious:
According to a statement issued by the court on Thursday, the court held the view that Willem was not convicted for his political opinions, "but for inciting the commission of a discriminatory, and therefore punishable, act. The Court further noted that, under French law, the applicant was not entitled to take the place of the governmental authorities by declaring an embargo on products from a foreign country, and moreover that the penalty imposed on him had been relatively moderate. [emphasis added]
Maybe this court could start addressing other 'discriminatory' acts--you know, like terrorism?

UPDATE: Harry's Place notes another case where this ruling would be applicable, in Scotland, and a commenter points out that a similar instance of boycotting occurred in Norway--though it is not clear what, if any, legal action was taken in response.

Crossposted on Soccer Dad

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