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Free Speech and Solidarity with Gaza Democracy at Risk

Free Speech and Solidarity with Gaza: Democracy at Risk

The Israeli attack on Rafah that killed 45 Palestinian civilians has ignited global outrage. In France, often hailed as the “Cradle of Human Rights,” the temporary expulsion of a left-wing MP for waving the Palestinian flag in the National Assembly underscores Western hypocrisy regarding freedom of expression and human rights. It exposes authoritarian tendencies that threaten democracy, even within grassroots organizations and trade unions.

By Alain Marshal

On May 27th, Gaza bore witness to yet another tragedy as a barrage of Israeli missiles incinerated 45 Palestinian civilians in their sleep in Rafah. These individuals had sought refuge there at the urging of the occupying army, with thousands sheltering in a makeshift camp in what Israel had designated a “secure area”. The stark images of charred bodies and decapitated infants, circulating widely on social media, sparked profound public outrage, serving as a macabre reminder of the false claims made on October 7th regarding babies beheaded by Hamas. These claims were shamelessly echoed by mainstream and alternative media outlets, all the way up to President Joe Biden. This outcry was compounded by the recent ruling of the International Court of Justice, which demanded an immediate cessation of Israel’s deadly offensive against Rafah and called for the arrest of Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and his War Minister Yoav Gallant for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The brazen disregard – if not outright defiance – demonstrated by the escalation of attacks on this last bastion, home to over a million Gazans plunged into poverty and despair, constitutes a direct challenge to international humanitarian law and to the global community by a rogue, terrorist state emboldened by its supremacist fanaticism and sense of impunity.

The next day, within the hallowed halls of the French National Assembly, Sébastien Delogu, a left-wing MP from Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s LFI party, defiantly waved the Palestinian flag during a parliamentary session to protest Israeli atrocities. This symbolic act aimed to spotlight the tragic plight of the Palestinian people, who are victims of ethnic cleansing perpetrated by the Israeli military, with unwavering support from the West, including France. Yet, this display of international solidarity elicited fierce condemnation from members of the ruling coalition, resulting in the harshest punishment meted out to Delogu: a 15-day suspension with a two-month reduction in half of his parliamentary allowance, citing the prohibition of foreign flags within the Assembly. Ironically, Assembly President Yaël Braun-Pivet, seemingly appalled by Delogu’s action, had herself adorned a pin featuring the French and Israeli flags on October 10th, 2023 to express her “unconditional support” for Israel. Furthermore, a member of Emmanuel Macron’s party making a Nazi salute on July 12th was merely rebuked with a simple call to order, with no mention in the parliamentary session’s records.

This event starkly illustrates the abject subservience of European capitals and exposes the staggering hypocrisy of leaders in the ‘civilized world’. Their lofty discourse on human rights stands in abject contrast to their double standards in interpreting international conflicts, with vehement Russophobia in the wake of the Ukraine war juxtaposed against exacerbated philo-Zionism since October 7th. Comments from Karim Khan, prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, are particularly telling: he reported that a senior Western leader fervently admonished him over the arrest warrant against Israeli officials, asserting that “This court is designed for Africa and thugs like Putin”, unashamedly embodying the most abhorrent double standard.

Exclusions and repression: an alarming trend

The disproportionate punishment meted out for this act of solidarity and compassion serves as a poignant indicator of the state of freedom of expression in France and the pro-Israel West at large. Free speech is a fundamental tenet of any democracy worthy of the name. By censuring and excluding this MP for both his gesture and the message it conveyed, the French National Assembly has affirmed that, even after 8 months since the first live broadcast of genocide in history, the curtailment of fundamental rights, experienced in the West since October 7th, remains prevalent. Whether through initial bans on demonstrations in support of Palestine (as witnessed in particular in France and Germany), the numerous charges of “apology for terrorism” levied by French authorities against supporters of the Palestinian cause, from ordinary citizens to prominent LFI MPs like Mathilde Panot and Rima Hassan, to the brutal crackdown on student protests at universities, where they willingly jeopardize their freedom and future careers in response to the imperative call of duty from their conscience. Defending the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination and resistance against occupation has become grounds for prosecution, imprisonment, and even excommunication and dismissal. Unfortunately, it’s not solely public authorities who institute such abusive measures. This trend, which has been escalating for several years, shows no signs of abating.

When it comes to political parties, the most notable example isn’t French but British: Jeremy Corbyn, former leader of the British Labour Party, was suspended and ousted for voicing his support for Palestinian rights. Corbyn, renowned for his dedication to human rights, frequently condemned the injustices endured by Palestinians, drawing sharp criticism and baseless accusations of antisemitism. His case epitomizes how dissenting voices can be silenced in democracies that boast of respecting freedom of speech. Incidentally, it’s the same country of the Habeas Corpus Act that is subjecting whistleblower Julian Assange to what Nils Melzer, the UN rapporteur on torture who visited him in Belmarsh prison, described as “a slow execution”.

Support for Palestine can also come at the cost of journalists’ jobs: Marc Lamont Hill, a US academic and political commentator, was fired from CNN in 2018 after delivering a speech at the UN advocating for a free Palestine “From the river to the sea”. His dismissal was widely denounced as an assault on his freedom of speech and his support for the Palestinian cause. Today, using this expression can lead to a Twitter ban, as recently announced by Elon Musk, the self-proclaimed champion of free speech who has been unable to resist the pro-Israeli juggernaut. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering he had hinted at censorship from the outset, with his Orwellian distinction between “freedom of speech” and “freedom of reach”, effectively meaning shadowbanning of dissenting accounts instead of outright termination.

In France, the only country to have criminalized the boycott of Israeli products, journalists, artists, and intellectuals are not spared either. Long before October 7th, in 2018, singer Mennel Ibtissem was forced to quit the TV show “The Voice” after her old social media posts criticizing Israeli policy resurfaced. She was accused of antisemitism, despite merely expressing her support for Palestinian rights. More recently, in November 2023, TV5 Monde journalist Mohamed Kaci was reprimanded by his superiors for simply doing his job: on November 15th, while interviewing Israeli army spokesperson Olivier Rafowicz, who invoked the law of retaliation (“an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”) against Gazans, the journalist caught him off guard by asking, “So you behave like Hamas, is that what you’re telling us?”, a question that infuriated the army representative and led the presenter to abruptly end the interview. Last but not least, satirist Guillaume Meurice from France Inter, the main French public radio, has been suspended by Radio France pending likely termination of his contract, after repeating derogatory remarks about Benjamin Netanyahu: “There are things we can say. For example, if I say ‘Netanyahu is a kind of Nazi but without a foreskin’, it’s okay. The prosecutor said ‘It’s okay’,” referring to the recent dismissal of an antisemitism complaint against him for using those very words.

All these cases underscore that freedom of speech is under significant threat in the West: the more egregious Israeli crimes become, the less acceptable it is to denounce them. The so-called “Free World” is increasingly intolerant of freedoms.

Solidarity Until the End? The CGT Case

Even union activists have not escaped this crackdown. The CGT (General Confederation of Labor), France’s largest trade union, which saw over a thousand of its activists facing legal action following the movement against pension reform, provides three particularly telling examples.

The first concerns Jean-Paul Delescaut, Secretary General of the CGT Departmental Union (UD) of the North, who has been charged with “apology for terrorism” and “inciting hatred”. A one-page leaflet titled “The end of the occupation is the key to peace in Palestine,” published on October 10th, 2023, on the UD website, stated:

“The CGT Departmental Union of the North wholeheartedly supports the Palestinian people in their struggle against the colonial state of Israel.

The hegemonic ambitions of the State of Israel, which blatantly disregards international resolutions, violates the law, and receives backing from US and EU imperialism along with their armed wing NATO, steadfastly obstruct any peaceful resolution. […]

In Palestine, under occupation for 75 years, a fascist government, openly displaying racism, enforces a policy reminiscent of concentration-camps like apartheid, denying Palestinians their basic rights.

The atrocities of this illegal occupation have reached a breaking point. Since Saturday, they have faced the repercussions they have incited.

In France and the ‘Western world’ at large, totalitarian media propaganda shamelessly portrays the effects as causes, labeling the occupied as terrorists and the occupiers as victims. This reprehensible propaganda aims to silence dissenting voices.

Our internationalist principles of solidarity between peoples and opposition to colonialism compel us to take a stand against apartheid, demand Israel’s compliance with UN resolutions, an end to the occupation, and the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination.

The CGT Departmental Union of the North mourns all civilian victims but rejects the Macron regime’s disgraceful double standards.”

In particular, it’s the bolded sentence that’s come under scrutiny, despite simply stating a chronological and causal relationship. Although the leaflet was only online for three days before being retracted, Jean-Paul Delescaut received a one-year suspended prison sentence on April 18th from the Lille Criminal Court for promoting terrorism, with the charge of inciting racial hatred being dismissed. He has appealed against this sentence.

The second instance involves Timothée Esprit, the federal secretary of the CGT Federation of Chemical Industries. On Tuesday, May 28, he was called for a meeting preceding his dismissal by the management of his carbon fiber production company, Toray, in southern France. The reason? A picture supporting Palestine posted on Facebook, allegedly featuring members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the Marxist-Leninist resistance group to which Georges Ibrahim Abdallah, Europe’s longest-held political prisoner (jailed in France since 1984), once belonged. It’s an entirely unprecedented rationale that blurs the lines between personal opinions in the private sphere and professional matters. In response, between 200 and 300 people congregated outside the company’s headquarters to show their solidarity. Timothée Esprit, a popular trade unionist in the region, denounced a “politically motivated dismissal” intended to silence his union activism. He isn’t the first Toray trade unionist to face such repression: three CGT activists were dismissed the previous year. Timothée describes a climate of fear fostered by management, hostile to any form of protest.

The third case concerns Salah L., a trade unionist elected to the Board and Executive Committee of the CGT Educ’action of Puy-de-Dôme, a department in central France, and author of this article. This case differs from the others in that it wasn’t public authorities or his employers who targeted him, but his own comrades, who expelled him from the union on April 12, 2024, due to his stance on Palestine. In November, he initiated an internal letter, later made public (see the English version here), criticizing the pro-Israeli bias in several CGT statements and communiqués following October 7th, and asserting the right of a colonized people to armed resistance. To date, this petition published on change.org has been signed by hundreds of CGT members, leaders and sympathizers, as well as by six CGT union syndicates and two Palestine solidarity groups. A new petition has been launched on change.org to bring the matter before the Confederation and demand Salah’s reinstatement (see the English version here). This expulsion demonstrates that even within organizations tasked with defending rights, freedom of speech can be imperiled by the McCarthyist “witch-hunt” against pro-Palestinian voices, which can be wielded to silence dissenting opinions and unwelcome sensitivities.


In his final lecture titled “The Courage of Truth,” Michel Foucault asserted that “Censorship and the suppression of critical speech are the first steps towards an authoritarian state.” This quote underscores the imperative to safeguard the right to express dissenting opinions, particularly when they challenge the dominant narrative and centers of power, and advocate for the rights of the oppressed. The significant threats to our fundamental freedoms posed by the desire—whether institutional, editorial, or within grassroots organizations and trade unions—to impose a uniformity of views on the events of October 7th and the Palestinian cause in general, or any other political, ethical, or societal issue, cannot be overstated.

Rosa Luxemburg, an iconic revolutionary figure, emphasized the importance of freedom of expression within social movements themselves, declaring that “Freedom is always the freedom of those who think differently.” Without this principle, human rights organizations and movements risk stagnation, loss of momentum, or even internal replication of the very mechanisms of oppression they claim to combat, thus becoming entirely discredited.

In the face of the deluge of pro-Israeli media propaganda and legal and social intimidation against pro-Palestinian voices, it is crucial to defend freedom of speech, freedom of reach, and international solidarity in all contexts. Organizations and institutions whose raison d’être is to safeguard human rights, in particular, must steadfastly uphold their commitment to support not only the struggles for self-determination of peoples but also ‘minority’ trends and opinions within their own ranks. Adherence to these principles is essential for maintaining a genuine and dynamic democracy, where every individual can voice their convictions without fear of reprisal.

About BalogunAdesina

International political activist, public commentator, Political scientist and a law abiding citizen of Nigeria. Famous Quote ---> "AngloZionist Empire = Anglo America + Anglo Saxon + the Zionist Israel + All their Pamement Puppets (E.g all the countries in NATO,Saudi Arabia,Japan,Qatar..) +Temporary Puppets (E.g Boko haram, Deash, alQeda,ISIL,IS,...)"

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