The 11 activists from the BDS group 'Collectif Palestine 68' were convicted of "incitement to economic discrimination" after they staged a protest outside a French supermarket that was selling Israeli products.
In a statement, the ECHR said, "A boycott is primarily a means of expressing a protest. Therefore, a call for a boycott, which is aimed at communicating protest opinions while calling for specific protest actions, is in principle covered by the protection set out in Article 10 of the Convention." For the activists themselves this was no doubt a huge relief after such a lengthy and uncertain process.
It is also a huge win for the BDS movement amidst the relentless efforts to criminalise it and bully its activists. These efforts not only come from allies of the Israeli regime, but also from the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs, which has devoted millions of dollars towards countering the efforts of BDS and demonising the movement and its supporters.
"This momentous court ruling is a decisive victory for freedom of expression, for human rights defenders, and for the BDS movement for Palestinian freedom, justice and equality," the movement said.
"It confirms a 2016 European Union position defending the right to call for BDS against Israel to achieve Palestinian rights under international law. This is a major legal blow to Israel's apartheid regime and its anti-BDS lawfare."
BDS was established in 2005 when hundreds of Palestinian civil society organizations came together and put out a call for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against the State of Israel. The call noted that all attempts at international intervention and negotiations had failed to force Israel to comply with international law and to recognise the Palestinian right to self-determination.
The call took inspiration from the boycott movement against South African apartheid and recognised the historical precedence of international solidarity against such regimes.
It became known as the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) and centred around three demands. Firstly, ending the occupation and colonisation of the lands occupied in 1967 (including the Golan Heights); secondly, the recognition of the fundamental rights of the Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and thirdly the right of return of Palestinian refugees as stipulated by UN Resolution 194.
In these three demands, the BDS Movement managed to unite the majority of Palestinians without following a particular party platform. Indeed, its foundation in civil society has helped the movement remain both grassroots and non-partisan.
Whilst the BDS Movement also emphasises the need for sanctions and divestment, the boycott aspect (economic, cultural and academic) has received a lot of focus because this is the tactic which has been successfully implemented the most.
Boycott is an age-old tactic of civil disobedience and is deeply embedded in the long history of Palestinian popular resistance, including during the First Intifada when Palestinians sought to economically resist the Israeli regime.