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The Victorian Trades Hall Council (the peak union body in Victoria) Executive passed the following positive motion in support of the BDS campaign as well as condemning the police attacks on protesters. This is a really welcome step forward and we hope that the campaign can continue to garner more support from unions across the country. The motion is written below:

Palestine, the BDS, the ACCC and Police Behavior at Rallies

That VTHC Executive Council reaffirms its long standing policies relating to the Palestine/Israel conflict namely:

  • Its support for the BDS Campaign and Palestinian statehood.
  • Its support for the BDS campaign is aimed at urgent and sincere talks and not the tactics of the past, where while the talks were actually occurring, more settlements were being planned for construction upon Palestinian territory.
  • Council notes that in recent weeks the Israeli Knesset passed the anti-boycott bill making it illegal for Israelis to call for boycotts in response to the ongoing illegal occupation of Palestinian land, mandated to them by the UN. We note the recent spate of rallies, public meetings and debate organised by Israeli citizens in response to a number of issues including the Knesset’s new law, demanding that it be rescinded.
  • Council notes the potential involvement of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) in industrial and political disputes. This would be an aggressive smokescreen aimed at stifling legitimate industrial and political activity by unions and other organisations behind a facade of protecting business interests. Executive Council notes the most recent officials to be threatened with ACCC intervention Kevin Bracken of the MUA and Tim Gooden of Geelong Trades Hall Council, in relation to speeches at a BDS rally. Hence Council directs the Secretary to raise our concerns urgently with the ACTU, and to seek a joint approach to the Federal Government to demand the guarantee that the Trades Practices Act will not be used to interfere in the political discourse.
  • Council notes with concern an increase, in some police regions and around certain political issues, in harsh and violent responses by sections of Victoria Police, in dealing with what are legitimate industrial and political protests over recent months. Council believes the arrest and prosecution of workers demonstrating at Visy Dandenong, and the arrest and prosecution of protesters at a recent BDS Rally in the CBD, indicate a disproportionate escalation of aggressive action by Victoria Police. Council believes that the be completely inconsistent with the principles of Free Speech and the right to peaceful protest.
  • Therefore Council directs the Secretary to formally lodge a protest with the State Minister for Police, seek a meeting with Police Industrial to discuss any shortfall in police training around behavior at rallies, and to have informal discussions with the Police Association on whether a new, harsh policy on industrial and political demonstrations has been introduced since the last State elections in Victoria.

MOVED: Len Cooper
SECONDED: Kevin Bracken

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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. 
 
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ACCC: Recent anti-Israel protests not a secondary boycott

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.

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13 August 2011

We the undersigned call on the Victorian Consumer Affairs Minister Michael O’Brien to withdraw allegations he made singling out several pro-Palestine advocacy groups calling for them to be investigated by the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) for an alleged suspicion that they may be involved in  ‘secondary boycotts’ against Israeli-owned businesses in Australia.

These allegations form an ongoing campaign of intensified attacks on Palestine solidarity organising and freedom of expression in Australia. We understand the current round of attacks to be a direct reaction to a growing international solidarity movement in support of Palestinian human rights, so we take the opportunity to reiterate our support for the Palestinian civil society’s call for boycott divestment and sanctions (BDS) from Israel.

 

The BDS campaign is based on well-founded criticism of the Israeli state for its ongoing violations of international law, violations that include: Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian territories; its settlement-building and construction of an apartheid wall on occupied land; its refusal to respect the right of Palestinian refugees to return; and its ongoing military siege on the Gaza strip.

As in the past when the Australian people participated in the boycott campaign against apartheid South Africa, we affirm our right to participate in the BDS campaign against apartheid Israel in our churches, unions, professional bodies, local councils, parliaments and community groups. This campaign has provided a vital and viable framework and non-violent approach to building an anti-apartheid movement grounded in principles of international solidarity.  People of conscience in Australia, have a proud history of principled international solidarity through BDS campaigns – any legalistic attempts, employing anti-union laws such as the ‘secondary boycotts’ law, will fail to deter social justice groups from vocally advocating the BDS campaign and supporting Palestinian human rights.

It is very disappointing that elected politicians choose to launch investigations into human-rights and solidarity organisations, rather than explain to the public why Israel is not held to account for its violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice against Israel’s Wall and colonial settlements. The active attempts to repress Australian organisations that work to promote Israel’s accountability before international law is beyond reproach.

We stress that the BDS movement is an anti-racist movement that rejects all forms of racism including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. The consumer-boycott campaigns are aimed at institutions and businesses that provide support for ongoing Israeli violations of international law, they do not target any particular religious or ethnic group.

We note that most of the organisations named by the Minister for the investigation did not take part in the protest he refers to against Max Brenner stores in Melbourne.  This is a clear indication that he has not looked closely into the matter, but is purely targeting all pro-Palestine advocacy groups on the basis of their support for BDS.  Although, we may not have all participated in this specific protest, we strongly believe in the basic right to peacefully protest and raise awareness about businesses that have questionable policies and show blatant disregard for basic human rights.

We urge elected officials to remember that their job is to protect rights and freedoms and to represent democratic values, not to waste our hard earned tax dollars on trying to appease a foreign state and those who blindly cheer for it.

Justice for Palestine (JFP-Qld)

Australians for Palestine (AFP)

Women for Palestine (WFP)
Australian Friends of Palestine (AFOPA-SA)

Action for Palestine (SA)

Friends of Palestine (FOP-WA)

Students for Justice for Palestine (UTS)

Students for Palestine (Vic)

Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC-Melbourne)

Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid (CAIA)

Australian Palestinian Professionals Association (APPA)

Australia Palestine Advocacy Network (APAN)

Artists Against Apartheid (AAA)

Coalition for Justice and Peace in Palestine (CJPP-Sydney)

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