On Friday, 2 September, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) issued a statement in relation to the Victorian State governments call for an investigation into pro-Palestine solidarity groups involved in or supportive of the Palestinian initiated Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign, on the suspicion that protestors were engaged in “secondary boycotts” against Israeli-owned companies in Australia, such as Max Brenner Chocolate shops.
The call by the Victorian Liberal (conservative) government was a highly political move, which sought to criminalise political protests in support of Palestine by invoking anti-union/anti-freedom of assembly laws. It was the latest step in concerted year long campaign against the BDS movement in Australia which has sought to not only repress the BDS campaign but to also smear it as anti-semitic. As a recent statement issued by the Palestinian BDS National Committee noted the campaign to repress and smear BDS activists in Australia began in earnest late last year after the Marrickville Council in Sydney adopted a pro-BDS motion. The motion was later overturned after a concerted campaign by Zionists and the pro-Zionist Murdoch Press. (for full BNC statement see here)
Since December 2010, pro-Palestine solidarity activists in Melbourne have been conducting a series of peaceful demonstrations and pickets against Israeli companies, Jericho and Max Brenner. Jericho produces cosmetics made from minerals exploited from the Dead Sea. While Jericho profit from the Dead Sea, Palestinians are regularly denied access by Israel’s military checkpoints, exclusion zones and Israeli-only roads.
Max Brenner Chocolate, the other Israeli company subject to BDS protests in Melbourne, is owned by the Strauss Group — one of Israel’s largest food and beverage companies. On its website, the Strauss Group emphasizes its support for the Israeli military, providing care packages, sports and recreational equipment, books and games for soldiers. Strauss boasts support for the Golani and Givati Brigades, which were heavily involved in Israel’s military assault on the Gaza Strip in the Winter of 2008-09, which resulted in the killing of approximately 1,400 Palestinians, the majority civilians, including approximately 350 children. While Strauss has removed information about their support for the Golani and Givati brigades from their English language website, information about the company’s support for both brigades remains on their Hebrew language site.
On July 1, 19 non-violent pro-Palestine/BDS protestors were arrested when the Victorian Police carried out an unprovoked and brutal attack on the peaceful BDS picket outside of Max Brenner Chocolate in the Queen Victoria centre (for more information on this see: here)
Early in August, the Victorian State government singled out Palestine solidarity organisations and called for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to invoke anti-union laws and investigate those involved in the BDS campaign, whether they had been involved in the Max Brenner protests or not, on the suspicion they may have been involved in “secondary boycotts” against Israeli-owned companies in Australia.
2 September 2011
Recent protests by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign were referred to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission by the Hon. Michael O’Brien MP, Victorian Minister for Consumer Affairs on 5 August 2011. The minister requested that the protests be investigated under the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (CCA), which prohibits secondary boycotts. The letter was the subject of a media release issued by the Victorian Government on 8 August 2011.
Protesters picketed the premises of the Max Brenner chain of chocolate shops as part of a campaign to boycott businesses with Israeli ownership and which carry on business with the Government of Israel. Protests have taken place in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane and allegedly prevented potential customers from entering Max Brenner outlets.
After careful assessment, the ACCC considers that this protest activity does not contravene section 45D of the CCA as it does not have the effect or likely effect of causing substantial loss or damage to the Max Brenner shops in question. Relevant factors here are the infrequent nature of the protests, their limited duration, and the difficulty in apportioning any revenue impact to this activity versus other factors.
The ACCC also notes that the relevant state police authorities have a range of directly relevant powers to address the conduct at issue. Victoria Police has already charged a number of individuals with trespass, besetting a premise and riotous behaviour arising out of one of the protests in Melbourne.
Given all of the above the ACCC has decided not to take any further action in relation to this matter at this time. The ACCC will, however, be monitoring any future protests and considering whether they constitute a breach of the CCA.
Section 45D of the CCA prohibits a person in concert with a second person from engaging in conduct:
(a) that hinders or prevents a third person from supplying goods or services to a fourth person or a third person from acquiring goods or services from a fourth person; and
(b) that is engaged in for the purpose, and would have or be likely to have the effect, of causing substantial loss or damage to the business of the fourth person.