November 2019

Dear friends,

The European Legal Support Center (ELSC) has been a very busy place since we shared our first newsletter with you in June.

Systematic documentation and analysis of attempts to suppress and silence advocacy for Palestinian rights is meanwhile well on its way in both the Netherlands and the UK. We are pleased to inform that War on Want has agreed to cooperate with the ELSC and lead this effort in the UK.

We are also glad to share with you an interesting article on the right to boycott written by Dr. Michiel Bot of Tilburg University Law School and published in Transnational Legal Theory (Routledge journals). This piece reflects some of the work of the ELSC in protecting the freedom of speech of  advocates for Palestinian rights.

Moreover, we would like you to be aware of our good news from Germany. In the month of September, we achieved two more victories in court, this time against the City of Bonn which sought to punish associations of Bonn’s Palestinian community because of their affiliation with the BDS movement.

Furthermore, our thoughts are with our colleague Omar Shakir, the Israel/Palestine director for Human Rights Watch who was deported from Israel this week as part of the country's draconian anti-BDS efforts.

Please read below for more detail about these latest cases of successful litigation.

Milestone court decisions in Bonn

On 14 May 2019, the City Council of Bonn had adopted a motion titled “No place for the anti-Semitic BDS movement in Bonn”. Similar to the motion passed by the German federal parliament (Bundestag) in the same month, the Bonn motion calls upon all municipal institutions to deny public facilities and subsidies to groups and activities that promote or inform about BDS.
Based on this motion, the Bonn City Council decided to exclude three associations, namely the German-Palestinian Women’s Association, the Palestinian Community-Germany, and the German-Palestinian Society, from the annual Bonn Culture and Encounter Festival (“Vielfalt! – Bonner Kultur - und Begegnungsfest”) scheduled to take place on 29 September 2019. Represented by the ELSC’s Berlin-based partner, Attorney Ahmed Abed, all three associations sought to reverse this decision by means of separate lawsuits against the city.

On Friday 13 September 2019, the Administrative Court of Cologne (Verwaltungsgericht Köln) issued its decision in the first case. The Court instructed the City of Bonn to admit the German-Palestinian Women’s Association to the Festival, based on legal reasoning and conclusions which are of strategic importance.
Court: banning  based on anti-BDS motions is a breach of the rights to equality and freedom of opinon and expression
With regard to the numerous German motions that declare the BDS movement to be anti-Semitic, the Court of Cologne clarified that,
“The motions of the Bonn City Council, as well as the motions of the parliament of North-Rhine Westphalia (20 September 2018) and the German Bundestag (17 May 2019), do not constitute legislative acts, but are political resolutions or expressions of political will. These motions alone cannot justify, from any legal perspective, the restriction of an existing legal right.”
Accordingly, the Court concluded that the City of Bonn, with its ban on the participation of the German-Palestinian Women’s Association in the Festival, was in breach of the right to equal treatment and the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, which are protected by the German constitution, as well as the rights to freedom of expression and association under articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which Germany has incorporated into its national legislation.
Court: Associations that support BDS must be allowed to participate in festival
On 18 September 2019, the Administrative Court of Cologne issued its decision in the second case, reiterating the above legal findings, and instructing the City of Bonn to also permit participation in the Festival to the Bonn-based Palestinian Community-Germany. In response to these judgements, the City of Bonn lifted its unlawful ban and invited to the Festival all associations it had previously sought to exclude. The City even invited the German-Palestinian  Society, although in that case the Court ruled later on that the association could be excluded because it did not meet the general criteria of regular presence and activity in the Bonn region that is required under the City’s policy for participation in the Festival.
Among the documents submitted to the Cologne Court by the ELSC and Attorney Abed was an expert opinion of the Israeli historian and philosopher Prof. Moshe Zuckermann, which explained that,
“criticism, even harsh criticism, of Israel's policy does not question Israel's right to exist, as stated in the Bonn resolution, but Israel's right to pursue its repressive and human rights violating policy against the Palestinians”
...and that the portrayal of the BDS movement as anti-Semitic is...
“… manipulative and guided by ideological interests. It is primarily the attempt to delegitimize a democratically legitimate political practice, which proves to be deeply dishonest precisely in the perfidious use of the anti-Semitism accusation.”
> Read more about these milestone court decisions in our press release in German, French or English.

Next Steps

Motions that falsely declare the BDS movement as antisemitic were adopted and are being used by numerous German cities  to silence voices for Palestinian human rights.

The ELSC is determined to challenge the legality of these motions by starting new legal actions in the coming months.

Contact us if you or your group have been censored or banned from carrying out  an activity because of these motions.

Let’s continue working together to defend and strengthen solidarity with the Palestinian people in Europe.

What is the ELSC?

The ELSC was established in January 2019 to provide legal assistance and support to organizations, groups and individuals who are facing repression in Europe because they speak out or take peaceful action for freedom and justice for the Palestinian people. Our Center is a joint initiative of the Palestinian civil society network PNGO, European scholars and jurists, and the Dutch NGO The Rights Forum, which also hosts our offices in Amsterdam. The establishment of the ELSC was a necessary step because no other organization is providing urgently needed legal support to defenders of Palestinian rights in Europe.
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