Brussels: The European Union (EU) acknowledges the right of its citizens to boycott Israel; its top foreign policy official has said.
“The EU stands firm in protecting freedom of expression and freedom of association in line with the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, which is applicable on EU member states’ territory, including concerning BDS [boycott, divestment, and sanctions] actions carried out on this territory,” Federica Mogherini told the European Parliament in answer to a written question recently.
Mogherini noted that the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has affirmed that freedom of expression applies to ideas “that offend, shock or disturb the state or any sector of the population.”
She also reaffirmed that the 28-member bloc “rejects the BDS campaign’s attempts to isolate Israel and is opposed to any boycott of Israel.”
“We welcome the EU’s belated defense of the right of European and other citizens to stand in solidarity with Palestinian rights, including through BDS tactics,” Riya Hassan, Europe campaigns officer for the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC), said in reaction to Mogherini’s statement.
The EU declaration comes after Israel or entities aligned with it have launched secret “black ops” aimed at sabotaging the Palestine solidarity movement.
This sabotage campaign has been linked to threats and harassment targeting human rights lawyers working with the International Criminal Court in The Hague, under investigation by Dutch police, The Electronic Intifada News reproted. Israel has also pressured governments and legislatures to adopt laws and policies aimed at restricting BDS.
Mogherini’s statement may be viewed as a correction to EU policy. Earlier this year Lars Faaborg-Andersen, the EU envoy in Tel Aviv, participated in an anti-BDS conference at which Israeli ministers made explicit threats against Palestinian human rights defenders.
The statements caused such alarm that Amnesty International expressed its fears for the “safety and liberty of Palestinian human rights defender Omar Barghouti, and other boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) activists, following calls alluding to threats, including of physical harm and deprivation of basic rights, made by Israeli ministers.”
Faaborg-Andersen adamantly defended his participation in the anti-BDS conference and dismissed concerns over the Israeli threats.
Making good on those threats, Israel subjected Barghouti, a co-founder of the BDS movement, to a travel ban. Mogherini’s citation of a European Court of Human Rights precedent will send an encouraging message to BDS campaigners in France, who are facing harsh legal repression of their rights.
The EU bureaucracy’s tardy recognition of its citizens’ free speech rights comes after three-member governments; Sweden, Ireland, and the Netherlands, already explicitly recognized the right to boycott Israel.
Hundreds of European trade unions, church groups, and political parties have called on the EU to defend the right to boycott Israel in response to its occupation and violations of Palestinian rights.
While welcoming Mogherini’s statement, the BNC says it still falls far short of where the EU should be.
“Palestinian civil society expects the EU to respect its obligations under international law and its own principles and laws by, at the very least imposing a military embargo on Israel, banning products of companies that do business in Israel’s illegal colonies and suspending the EU-Israel association agreement until Israel fully complies with the human rights clause of the agreement,” Riya Hassan said.