Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions: no more boycotting free speech!

The European Court of Human Rights ruled on 11 June 2020 that actions in the context of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns fall within the scope of legitimate freedom of expression which must be protected under the European Convention on Human Rights.

The judgement found that criminal conviction of French BDS activists violated their right of freedom of expression. It confirms that European citizens have the right to call for boycotts of products imported from Israel, as long as they do not turn into a call for violence, hatred or intolerance.

The judgment rejects that promoting boycotts of Israeli products is as such antisemitic, stressing “incitement to differential treatment is not necessarily the same as incitement to discrimination.” On the contrary, the Court has recognised that these events concern subjects of public interest related to respect for public international law by the State of Israel and the human rights situation in the Occupied Palestine Territory. The Court noted that there is little scope for restrictions on questions of public interest, as the Convention affords them the highest level of protection.

“The Court has set a landmark precedent that can be directly invoked in judicial proceedings throughout all the 47 member states of the Council of Europe. European governments and institutions must from now on ensure adequate respect for freedom of expression and free speech in the context of political and human rights debates on Israel/Palestine” said Wadih Al-Asmar, President of EuroMed Rights.