Stéphane Le Rudulier, along with 16 other senators, submitted a draft law to the French Senate on 31 October titled “Bill Proposal to Complete the Penal Framework Sanctioning Anti-Zionism” (“Proposition de loi pour compléter le cadre pénalsanctionnant l'antisionisme”). The draft law creates three new punishable offences related to anti-Zionism:
1. [For denying] the existence of the State of Israel: one-year imprisonment and a fine of EUR 45,000.
2. [For insulting] the State of Israel: two-years imprisonment and a fine of EUR 75,000.
3. [For] directly provoking hatred or violence against the State of Israel: five-years imprisonment and a fine of EUR 100,000.
It is imperative to differentiate between antisemitism and anti-Zionism; while the former is racial discrimination, the latter is a political stance that one might take, just as someone mightchampion communism or rail against it. As Richard Wagman—the honorary president of the French Jewish Union for Peace—puts it, “Anti-Zionism just like Zionism, anti-communism just like communism: these are political ideologies.”
In this sense, criminalising anti-Zionism is criminalising free speech, which violates France’s international obligations under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which was ratified by the country in 1980.
Article 19 of the ICCPR reads the following:
1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.
2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.
3. The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:
(a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others;
(b) For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals”.
The Human Rights Committee, in its General Comment No. 34,outlines how the Committee views the obligations under Article 19 of the ICCPR, and how States’ obligations will be reviewed:
“This right [to freedom of expression] includes the expression and receipt of communications of every form of idea and opinion capable of transmission to others, subject to the provisions in article 19, paragraph 3, and article 20. It includes political discourse [emphasis added], commentary on one’s own and on public affairs, canvassing, discussion of human rights, journalism, cultural and artistic expression, teaching, and religious discourse. It may also include commercial advertising. The scope of paragraph 2 embraces even expression that may be regarded as deeply offensive [emphasis added], although such expression may be restricted in accordance with the provisions of article 19, paragraph 3 and article 20.”
It should be noted that the restriction on the right to freedom of expression in accordance with articles 19 above, and 20 of the ICCPR should only be to protect privacy rights, national security, public order and health, morals and to prevent the advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred constituting discrimination and violence.
It should be clear that while certain political stances go against the personal political views of the aforementioned Frenchlegislators, they shouldn’t be rushing to criminalise these stances. This is especially imperative given that those withviews that oppose their own are trying to stop a State—one recognised by the United Nations and bound to its Charter—from committing atrocity crimes against civilians. Notably, the atrocity crimes currently being committed include all four crimes instituted by the Rome Statute; especially, also, when this State’s acts are being investigated by the International Criminal Court Public Prosecutor:
1. The crime of genocide;
2. Crimes against humanity;
3. War crimes;
4. The crime of aggression.
Statements by several UN officials and numerous scholars describe the acts committed by Israel against the civilian population in Gaza as atrocity crimes. The UN Secretary General himself said that the “appalling attacks cannot justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people”, as collective punishment falls under “crimes against humanity” within the Rome Statute.
The French Senate should be aware of France’s international obligations to promote and protect the right to freedom of opinion and expression. People must be able to hold and express political opinions, especially when their opinions run counter to the beliefs of those in power, and as long as individuals are notcalling for violence or racial discrimination.
In order to preserve the right of the people to hold and express their opinions, Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor calls on the French Senate and government to uphold their international obligations under the ICCPR and withdraw the draft law sanctioning anti-Zionism.