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Just made aware of this newly proposed bill at the French senate, proposes punishment to who insults Israel

Translation to item 3:

Insult committed against the State of Israel, by one of the means set out in the same article 23, is punishable by two years of imprisonment and a fine of 75,000 euros.

I think this is the mentioned article 23 Translation

Those who, either by speeches, cries or threats uttered in public places or meetings, or by writings, printed matter, drawings, engravings, paintings, emblems, images or any other medium of writing, speech or images sold or distributed, put on sale or exhibited in public places or meetings, either by placards or posters exposed to public view, or by any means of communication public by electronic means, will have directly provoked the author or authors to commit said action, if the provocation was followed by effect.

Does this violate or go against the principles of human rights of free speech in either UDHR or ECHR?

I am worried that such law might be used to silence voices of pro Palestine and critics of Israel's actions that many call human rights violations and war crimes.

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    What exactly is "Insult committed against the State of Israel, by one of the means set out in the same article 23" supposed to mean?
    – Joe W
    Nov 5, 2023 at 22:29
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    @JoeW: rather unclear. Article 23 is here legifrance.gouv.fr/loda/id/LEGITEXT000006070722 but it just lists the press and various other venues like posters, electronic means etc. So the provision seems quite broad unless in French jurisprudence "l'injure" has a narrower meaning than in the vernacular. Nov 5, 2023 at 22:31
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    It would help if you could quote the international human right of free speech you are talking about. Nov 6, 2023 at 0:47
  • FYI: "should" questions almost always get closed. However, this Q is reasonably easy to turn into an "is?" question. (Even if the answer is complicated.) See e.g. politics.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/4654/… Nov 6, 2023 at 8:00
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    I find it rather odd that no one has mentioned how clearly incoherent that translation is (which appears to be just Google Translate). I'm no expert in French, but I'm rather confident that this is a better translation (also, you can link to the specific Article rather than to the entire statute: legifrance.gouv.fr/loda/article_lc/LEGIARTI000006419708): "Those who, either by [list of methods], directly provoke someone to commit an action that qualifies as a crime will be punished as an accomplice, if the action was directly caused by the provocation." Nov 7, 2023 at 3:03

7 Answers 7

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By "International Human Right", I shall assume you are referring to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). It is worth quoting the relevant clauses:

  1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This Article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.

  2. The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.

This is pretty clear. Countries may regulate the freedom of expression by law. In the EU, laws outlawing "Hate Speech" are common and not considered to contravene these clauses, as they are necessary for the functioning of a democratic state, the prevention of crime and the protection of morals.

Now, one can debate whether Israel requires special protection in Law. One can argue that criticism of another country should be protected as such regulation isn't necessary for the functioning of a democratic state. Or you can argue that criticism of Israel has become a way to indirect hate against the Jewish people, and the special nature of the conflict in the Levant makes it necessary for such legislation to exist. This is a matter which a court considering such legislation would have to weigh up.

But the general principle remains that it is not obvious that such a law would contravene the ECHR. But only a court case could confirm or deny that.

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    Interestingly however that insult is different from defamation in French law service-public.fr/particuliers/vosdroits/F32077 It's also considered different from hate speech ("provocation à la haine"). Nov 5, 2023 at 22:36
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    You mean article 19. The UDHR is non-binding and establishes there is no legal framework to enforce it. It offers no "protection" it is only a declaration of rights. So it is pretty much pointless to answer the question in terms of UDHR. The UDHR Article 19 protects nothing.
    – James K
    Nov 5, 2023 at 22:52
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    Also, article 30. Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein. Incitation to violence would seem to line up nicely with 30's intent. Nov 5, 2023 at 23:00
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    @Mocas: The UDHR is aspirational, vague, and highly subjective. The same can also be said of many constitutions, but the difference is that constitutions are used, so we know how their civil rights are implemented in practice. With UDHR, we just have words on a page, and your guess is as good as ours as to what those words mean.
    – Kevin
    Nov 6, 2023 at 23:44
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    @Acccumulation that's certainly arguable, but the US still has many restrictions to free speech. For example, threats or calls to violence are not acceptable, and I would consider that sort of restriction to fall under "necessary for the functioning of a democratic state"
    – PC Luddite
    Nov 7, 2023 at 5:29
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You should clarify that you mean by "human rights of free speech". It most certainly does not include freedom to incite violence, or freedom to call to wipe out an entire state (even the one with the policies of which you disagree). The spirit of the proposed law is pretty obvious, provided the appropriate context. The full translation of the text is below. It obviously aims to put limits on promoting hatred or violence against Israel (including the Jews that reside there).

Proposed law to complete the penal framework sanctioning anti-Zionism

Single item

Article 25 of the law of July 29, 1881 on freedom of the press is thus reinstated: “

Art. 25 . – Those who contest, by one of the means set out in article 23, the existence of the State of Israel will be punished with one year of imprisonment and a fine of 45,000 euros.

“Insult committed against the State of Israel, by one of the means set out in the same article 23, is punishable by two years of imprisonment and a fine of 75,000 euros.

“Those who, by the same means, directly provoke hatred or violence against the State of Israel will be punished by five years of imprisonment and a fine of 100,000 euros. »

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By means of clarification of what "insult" means in French law:

  • It's not the same as hate speech (provocation à la haine) or as defamation.

  • An example given (there) is calling someone a "pest".

So the notion seems to roughly correspond to the English law notion of fighting words, exemplified in the latter [case law] by insults like "a "damned racketeer" and "a damned fascist".

Clearly, there are limits to free speech on this even in the US (typically taken as one of the most liberal in this regard), although possibly the French notion of insult is broader... especially since (thanks to Obie 2.0 for pointing this out) US courts have subsequently narrowed the notion considerably.

The EU has criticized the criminalization of insults in other countries (like Armenia), although in that case it referred to "insulting government officials and public figures". At least in those regards, even the French law appears to have been liberalized (in 2013).

OTOH, the notion of hate speech includes quite a close concept:

Insults, ridicule or defamation aimed at specific population groups

So, one could consider this apparently new notion in French law of "insulting a state" as being somewhat closer to traditional hate speech, if a state is taken to be a (quasi-)group. Whether the new/expanded notion will survive the French legislative and judicial reviews remains to be seen.

But for ECHR-level case law, there's this amazingly confusing one...

in Mukhin v. Russia, 2021, the Court had doubts that the objection under Article 17 had been raised properly. This case concerned the conviction of a newspaper editor for publishing a text by a third party, which called for the “destruction” of the current political regime. Relying on Article 17, the Government argued that, apart from impinging upon public order, the impugned text and other materials had been aimed at insulting the multi-ethnic people of Russia and inciting ethnic discord. The Court observed, however, that the racist and antisemitic rant, which that text indeed contained, had not formed the basis for justifying the applicant’s criminal conviction. Generally, the Government’s submissions did not mention any factual or legal matters specifically pertaining to his criminal prosecution. In any event, the objection was dismissed as it was not immediately clear that the applicant’s editorial choices had sought to employ his right to freedom of expression for ends clearly contrary to the values of the Convention (§§ 83-84 and 129). Eventually, his conviction was found to lack sufficient justification and thus to be in breach of Article 10 of the Convention.

So, yeah, Russia charged someone who wrote an anti-Semitic rant with "insulting the multi-ethnic people of Russia", but the latter charge was found without basis in fact by the ECHR.

Also, the only case listed on "Denigrating national identity" in another brief is

Dink v. Turkey

14 September 2010

Firat (Hrank) Dink, a Turkish journalist of Armenian origin, was publication director and editor-in-chief of a bilingual Turkish-Armenian weekly newspaper published in Istanbul. Following the publication in this newspaper of eight articles in which he expressed his views on the identity of Turkish citizens of Armenian origin, he was found guilty in 2006 of “denigrating Turkish identity”. In 2007 he was killed by three bullets to the head as he left the offices of the newspaper. The applicants, his relatives, complained in particular of the guilty verdict against him which, they claimed, had made him a target for extreme nationalist groups.

The Court held that there had been a violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the Convention, finding that there had been no pressing social need to find Fırat Dink guilty of denigrating “Turkishness”. It observed, in particular, that the series of articles taken overall did not incite others to violence, resistance or revolt. The author had been writing in his capacity as a journalist and editor-in-chief of a Turkish-Armenian newspaper, commenting on issues concerning the Armenian minority in the context of his role as a player on the political scene. He had merely been conveying his ideas and opinions on an issue of public concern in a democratic society. In such societies, the debate surrounding historical events of a particularly serious nature should be able to take place freely, and it was an integral part of freedom of expression to seek historical truth. Finally, the impugned articles had not been gratuitously offensive or insulting, and they had not incited others to disrespect or hatred.

So, yeah, it's a little hard to say how "denigrating Israeli identity" would work out in a [ECHR] case, apart from anti-Semitism. A lot would depend on the specifics of the case, I suspect.

There are also two cases in the latter brief concerning "insult of State officials", both of which Spain lost, in 2011 and 2018.

And this inconclusive one on "Incitement to national hatred":

Incitement to national hatred

Hösl-Daum and Others v. Poland

7 October 2014 (decision on the admissibility) The applicants were charged with insulting the Polish nation and inciting national hatred. They alleged a breach of their right to freedom of expression on account of their conviction for putting up posters in the German language describing atrocities committed after the Second World War by the Polish and the Czechs against the Germans.

The Court declared the application inadmissible for non-exhaustion of domestic remedies. It found that, by failing to lodge a constitutional complaint against the impugned provisions of the Criminal Code, the applicants had failed to exhaust the remedy provided for by Polish law.

There is also summary in there of the recent Fragoso Dacosta v. Spain (2023), but the summary appears wrong. So I'll cite one from another source that has [much] more details on that case.

The Fifth Section of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) unanimously ruled that Spain violated the applicant’s rights under Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR). The applicant, who was a trade union representative, shouted offensive words, inter alia towards the national flag during a protest due to unpaid wages. He was criminally convicted, by national courts, for a criminal act of insulting Spain. The ECtHR found that the local courts did not take into account the context of the case, in particular that the impugned statements were related to the labor protest, that the applicant was a trade union representative, and that there was no public disorder, but merely offensive words. Thereby, the interference in the applicant’s freedom of expression was not necessary in a democratic society.

(Interestingly, before this, "the Constitutional Court of Spain, by a majority decision (6:1), [had] decided that the applicant’s freedom of expression was not violated." So that was quite an overturning.)

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    If you read the section titled "post-Chaplinsky," you will see that the "fighting words" doctrine has been narrowed by successive decisions to such an extent as to be virtually dead letter. In any case, the doctrine, along with obscenity, was always rather facially in conflict with the First Amendment right to freedom of expression, so it is unsurprising that it (like the latter) has become marginalized over time.
    – Obie 2.0
    Nov 5, 2023 at 22:51
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    Ah, well, unfortunately for the sake of consistency, one might wonder whether in Mukhin v. Russia in 2021, "anti-Russian" might have outweighed "anti-Semitic and racist" (even though Putin had not invaded most of Ukraine yet). Just like the Azov Brigade got a bit of a pass in some quarters in that regard. Or perhaps it was just pure legalism at work.
    – Obie 2.0
    Nov 5, 2023 at 23:38
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    @JMS - I don't like those anti-BDS laws—I view them as an imposition on freedom of expression as well—but they are very different, and much more narrow than the French laws. Basically, they prohibit the state from making contracts with companies or, sometimes, individuals that support BDS. But they do not make it illegal to do so, or subject anyone to a fine or imprisonment for doing so. They are intended to have a chilling effect on expression, undoubtedly, but that effect is primarily limited to government contractors.
    – Obie 2.0
    Nov 6, 2023 at 16:06
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    By contrast, the proposed French law really does prohibit anyone from expressing particular opinions in public or in writing, not just limit the government from contracting with their organization, and it does specify imprisonment and fines as penalties.
    – Obie 2.0
    Nov 6, 2023 at 16:08
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    @JMS - That does not change the nature of the state anti-BDS laws, which I already mentioned. But it is broader, since it applies to colleges and universities. However, it still is much narrower than the French laws and dependent on the interpretation of a given administration (as an executive order). I think it's uncontroversial to say that Trump is no friend of freedom of expression, though.
    – Obie 2.0
    Nov 6, 2023 at 16:23
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against the State of Israel

There is nothing great in exactly insulting other states, and some law prohibiting very obvious and blatant insults could be appropriate, but the law should be written in a state neutral way. Now it reads as it is fully OK to insult USA, Russia, Ukraine, Japan, Egypt or whatever. For some reason, just Israel should not be insulted. Those who contest the existence of the State of Israel will be punished. Fine to contest the existence of China.

The problem with these restrictions, if they go too far, is that they may end up covering any honest but negative opinions about the actions of the countries in question.

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  • Hate speech on local Russians is not seen as good, and Baltic states try to suppress them because they do not want riots to start. But there are many disagreements with the views over Russian Federation.
    – Stančikas
    Nov 6, 2023 at 9:52
  • I suppose the reasoning is that there's a specific type of hatred directed at Jews and denying them the right of self-determination. This is not unlike the laws against the Holocaust denial that exist in some countries. I wonder, if any country penalizes Communism/Marxism apology. Nov 7, 2023 at 5:48
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Question:

Does this newly proposed French bill violate or goes against the principles of international human right of free speech?

Short Answer

Yes. The bill conflates anti-Semitism a form of prejudice against the religion, and anti-Zionism criticism of a political idea which advocates for the state. This bill is a sibling to a family of such laws passed around the world over the last decade, to curb criticism of controversial Israeli policies. These laws have been somewhat effective due to their associated draconian penalties and because they are not enforced; therefore rarely challenged in court. If challenged they would likely be thrown out. They are a reaction by some supporters of Israel to what they have identified as one of Israel's greatest existential threats a populist boycott. The Boycott, Divest, and Sanction or BDS movement which Israel has been facing down for a decade. Such suppressive efforts are especially important now as Israel faces new and intense global criticism over their policies in the Gaza campaign, which might mean new support for the BDS movement.

Such a grass roots movement over three decades is what brought down Apartheid in Sough Africa a much larger and financially more successful state.

Answer:

Although freedom of speech is not an absolute right, it is generally restricted for public safety concerns rather than to shield a political organization from public scrutiny. Similar bills have been introduced in various countries over the last decade, including the United States, Canada, Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Spain and United Kingdom.

These bills are tied to the effort by some supporters of Israel to discourage individuals organizing against the state and the creation of boycotts. By limiting public scrutiny they seek to discourage, restrict or outright ban any effort by the public to subject Israel to a boycott in response to controversial actions attributed to them such as this Gaza campaign. One of the greatest existential threats to the state of Israel is an international boycott, like the one which lead to the end of apartheid in South Africa.

Why Israel Fears the Boycott

Israel brands Palestinian-led boycott movement a 'strategic threat'

Netanyahu and Israeli government turn up heat on BDS over its calls for Israel to be boycotted for its occupation of Palestinian territories

The South Africa boycott was not one which grew from a government policy but one organized and popularized by grass roots groups. The boycott made it economically unviable for companies to do business in South Africa for fear of public economic retaliation. It likewise made political support existentially risky for politicians. That is what took down South Africa's Apartheid regime and it's at the foundation of all these laws which make any criticism of Israel a crime with significant fines and even jail time. The tactic has been ongoing for the last decade since such a boycott was first identified as one of Israel's greatest fears and greatest existential threats by Prime Minister Netanyahu.


Links to stories about Israel Leaders reacting to the BDS movement over the years.

Israel uses a number of diplomatic and security tactics to counter the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.

Knesset ministers to consider whether to launch an aggressive public campaign or operate through diplomatic channels.

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  • Yes thank you..
    – Mocas
    Nov 6, 2023 at 16:57
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    Although this is a well-researched answer, it seems to overly focus on BDS specifically, and after reading it I am no closer to understanding the answer to OP's actual question.
    – Qwokker
    Nov 6, 2023 at 17:37
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    @Qwokker, The new French law, and American, Canadian, German etc laws, are all related. They are all prophylactics against BDS by some supporters of Israel. They are by definition meant to suppress free speech and discussion which might lead to collective populist action over time.
    – user47010
    Nov 6, 2023 at 18:04
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    The bill conflates anti-Semitism a form of prejudice against the religion, and anti-Zionism criticism of a political idea which advocates for the state. - you confused anti-Judaism (the purely religious hatred) and anti-Semitism, which is more grounded in ethnic and cultural differences, as the example of Nazism shows. Also, the right of national self-determination is encoded in the UN charter - it should apply to Jews and Palestinians just like to any other nation. Nov 7, 2023 at 6:16
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    @RogerV. Your claim that "anti-Zionism is denying the right of national self-determination to Jewish people " won't hold up if expressed as a venn diagram. Your definition of Anti-Zionism is extreme and fails to take into account the existence of multiple different points of view on the very real problems associated with the creation of Israel. Denying that mistakes were made is just foolish, and accusing anyone who claims there are problems of being anti-Semitic is loathsome and disgusting.
    – barbecue
    Nov 8, 2023 at 20:08
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Yes, the proposed french law very probably violates article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights(ECHR). A precedent was set in Baldassi and Others v. France in which France unsuccessfully tried to ban certain forms of pro-Palestinian activism.

On September 26, 2009 and May 22, 2010, activists affiliated with the BDS Movement called for a boycott of goods of Israeli origin in a French supermarket. While the lower court acquitted them, they were convicted for "incitement to discrimination" under section 24 (8) of the Law of 29 July 1881. The Law of 29 July 1881 guarantees the freedom of the press, but also contains some archaic provisions like criminalizing insulting the head of state. That provision was tested in 2008 when a French activist held a placard reading "get lost, you prick" at a public event with President Nicolas Sarkozy. The activist was convicted by a French court but the European Court of Human Rights overturned the verdict, citing article 10 of the ECHR. Likewise, the Court acquitted the applicants in the Baldassi case, stating:

The Court observed that as case-law stood at the relevant time, the applicants should have known that they were likely to be convicted under section 24 (8) of the Law of 29 July 1881 for calling for a boycott of products imported from Israel. ...

The Court has emphasised on many occasions that there is little scope under Article 10 § 2 of the Convention for restrictions on political speech or on debate on matters of public interest. It was in the nature of political speech to be controversial and often virulent. That did not diminish its public interest, provided that it did not cross the line and turn into a call for violence, hatred or intolerance.

Criminal conviction of activists involved in the BDS campaign boycotting products imported from Israel had no relevant and sufficient grounds and violated their freedom of expression

So given how the Court has argued in this and at least half-a-dozen similar cases (unrelated to Palestine), it is difficult to see how this proposed law could pass muster.

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Yes and No.

The law absolutely violates the human right to free speech. And it's designed to do so. It's just that the 'international concept of free speech' isn't the same as 'the right to free speech'. Most of Europe, let alone the rest of the world, does not in fact have a defended right to free speech. Instead, most of Europe's free speech exists by 'default' because the government hasn't yet abridged it in major ways, but the lanes of attack are open for the government to do so. And to do so in complete alignment with international law on the subject.

For perhaps the most prominent examples in Europe are the various bans on holocaust denial or Nazi support. Obviously, doing either of these things is wrong, and I condemn them, but the human right to free speech includes the right to say these and other odious things without fear of government interference. Why? Well one reason is that if the government gets to limit one from saying this, they can limit the one from saying a lot of controversial things, such as supporting Palestine. It will then use these laws to prosecute those who don't hold odious beliefs, but instead have legitimate complaints.

As the current top answer shows, the ECHR doesn't actually much protect free speech. You don't have a right to free speech in Europe (though you have a decently high amount of currently allowed speech), so the proposed law doesn't violate any international agreements/treaties to defend free speech, because those are weak at best.

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