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By Jeff Sparrow: 9 September 2011  

This article was first published on the ABC’s Drum website

As Michael Brull noted here a few weeks ago, the anti-Max Brenner protesters have been widely denounced as Nazis.

Paul Howes, Michael Danby, Andrew Bolt, Gerard Henderson: have all joined in a very public campaign that draws a line between the Brenner protests and Fascist anti-semitism.

It’s certainly true that, throughout Australia, fascists are increasingly taking an interest in the Max Brenner rallies. But here’s the thing: they’re not supporting the protests.

They’re supporting the stores.

The newest face of what’s euphemistically-called the ‘nationalist community’ is an outfit called the Australian Protectionist Party. The APP was formed by Mark Wilson, a former organiser of the fascist British National Party, who emigrated to Australia in the 1980s. One of the APP’s most active members is Nicholas Hunter-Folkes. He was formerly the administrator of a charming Facebook group called ‘F**k off, we’re full’. More recently, however, he launched a new Facebook event entitled ‘Protest Against the Mad Marxists’: essentially, a counter-rally in support of the Sydney Max Brenner shop.

“The hardline left, radical Muslim and student groups have been campaigning for the closure of any business with links to Israel,” he explains, “[…] The left totally ignore the aggression and agenda of the Islamists in the Middle East and also in Australia.”

Another prominent APP leader is Darrin Hodges, a long-time racist activist. Joe Hildebrand once identified Hodges as the semi-anonymous poster on the Nazi Stormfront site explaining that: “I’m more interested in the purer form of fascism… and while I don’t subscribe to the whole ‘worship Hitler’ thing, his comments on multiculturalism and politics in general are still just as relevant today as they were 70-odd years ago.”

Not so long ago, Hodges distinguished himself on the ABC’s Q&A show complaining about Camden being invaded by Muslims.

On Stormfront, the poster identified by Hildebrand as Hodges argued that Hitler’s writings “still have much relevance …” Now, Hodges too, has created a Facebook event urging protests in support of Max Brenner counter protests.

Hodges’s page is in the name of the Australian Defence League. The ADL is another far-right grouplet that, like the APP, draws its inspiration from Britain. Over there, the English Defence League, a group with well-documented fascist connections, has become notorious for sending shaven-headed boot boys into areas with large Muslim populations, while, a few days ago, photos leaked of EDL members posing, military-style, with all kinds of weapons.

In Melbourne, the ADL has tried holding EDL-style marches but fortunately without much success.

Now, it has also made support for Max Brenner a priority.

The blogger calling himself ‘Slack Bastard’, an indefatigable chronicler of the antics of fascist grouplets, notes that other supporters of the Brenner counter-rallies include the Australian Patriots Defence Movement and members of the Southern Cross Soldiers.

Why does any of this matter? Australia’s fascists are tiny and ineffective. Yes, they have sent people to the Brenner rallies in Brisbane and Sydney but they’re incapable of mobilising serious numbers.

Yet their proclamations of support for the chocolatier represents a broader realignment of the far-right, one that’s taking place all over the world.

Take the British National Party, the parent group inspiring the Australian Protectionist Party.

Its head, Nick Griffin, is a long-time fascist, who calls the Holocaust “the hoax of the century” and has named two of the pigs on his farm ‘Anne and Frank’. Yet the BNP under his leadership has positioned itself as one of Israel’s staunchest supporters.

As Ruth Smeed of the Board of Deputies of British Jews says: “The BNP website is now one of the most Zionist on the web – it goes further than any of the mainstream parties in its support of Israel.”

Why? Griffin explains that the real opportunity for his party comes from attacking Muslims. “We should,” he says, “be positioning ourselves to take advantage for our own political ends of the growing wave of public hostility to Islam currently being whipped up by the mass media.”

Hence, in 2009, Griffin could boast that the BNP was the only political party to unequivocally support Israel’s war “against the terrorists” in Gaza.

For the same reason, the EDL now boasts of its ‘Jewish Division’ and marches carrying Israeli flags.

On the European continent, where the far right is a serious force, the fascists have made similar calculations.

In France, for instance, the Front National has gone through a generational change, with Jean-Marie Le Pen making way for his daughter, Marine Le Pen. He was an old-school anti-Semite and Holocaust denier; she tells the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that her organisation has “always been Zionistic”, as she orients her group to a wave of French Islamophobia.

There are plenty of other examples. It’s been widely noted, for instance, that, in his manifesto, Anders Behring Breivik called for support for Israel against Islam.

“So let us fight together with Israel,” he wrote, “with our Zionist brothers against all anti-Zionists, against all cultural Marxists/multiculturalists.”

What’s more, the Israeli Right seems increasingly willing to reciprocate. Der Spiegel has documented a growing trend where leaders of the Islamophobic far-Right, even those with anti-Semitic backgrounds, have been embraced by senior representatives of the Likud and Yisrael Beitenu parties.

What does all this mean for Australia?

In part, it goes to the extraordinary hypocrisy in our politics. Those Greens who, in Marrickville and elsewhere, supported a non-violent boycott directed at Israeli policies were been widely condemned as bigots. Yet, over the last days, we’ve learned that Cory Bernardi has invited to Australia Geert Wilders, a man whom Bernardi calls “charming, charismatic and politically astute”. Now, the anti-Max Brenner protesters have explained again and again and again that their campaign relates not to Brenner’s ethnicity or religious identification but to his store’s political support for the Golani and Givati brigades of the IDF.

By contrast, Wilders denounces Islam as a group, making sweeping statements about how all Muslims behave and think, in the traditional manner of racist demagogues.

Will Bernardi, as Wilders’s facilitator, now be subjected to the kind of sustained vilification that was directed at the Marrickville councillors?

But there’s another point. Obviously, the rise of an Islamophobic fascism is bad news for Muslims. But what does it mean for Jews?

Yes, many of the leaders of the new far right might support Israel. But that doesn’t mean they like Jews.

Here’s Nick Griffin again: “Adopting an ‘Islamophobic’ position that appeals to large numbers of ordinary people – including un-nudged journalists – is going to produce on average much better media coverage than siding with Iran and banging on about ‘Jewish power’, which is guaranteed to raise hackles of virtually every single journalist in the Western world.”

In other words, he still believes in ‘Jewish power’ (indeed, he wrote a whole book about how Jews controlled the media). He just thinks that, for tactical purposes, it’s best not to bang on about it right now.

The right in Israel might have its own reasons for welcoming fundamentalist Christian Zionists and German racial populists and the rest of the crackpot crew who have decided that they can surf the Islamophobic wave into respectability. But it’s a hop, skip and a jump from the tropes of the new Islamophobic bigotry to those of old-style anti-Semitism, and what’s good for Israel might very well have disastrous consequences elsewhere.

Jeff Sparrow is the editor of Overland literary journal and the author of Killing: Misadventures in Violence. On Twitter, he is @Jeff_Sparrow.

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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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 By Vacy Vlazna:  Sun 21 Aug 2011    First published on Indymedia.

ON Saturday 20th August, about 100 protestors crowded the King St footpath as they marched from the Newtown community centre passing inquisitive customers and shopkeepers while pressing Boycott Max Brenner leaflets into their hands for the four or five hundred metres to confront the Max Brenner shop while chanting with full force, “Max Brenner you can’t hide, you support genocide.”
Ten or so well-behaved but nervous police formed a last line of defence between the marchers and the shopfront, getting more and more uneasy the longer and louder the protesters took the footpath hostage. Inside was a counter-protest of pro-Israeli occupation customers wearing ‘I love Max Brenner’ t-shirts.

 
Bewildered passers-by had no idea of what it was all about and that’s what made it a significant march: the first public sally in a Sydney main street with a single focus of the BDS message against Israel’s illegal occupation and apartheid policies for which Max Brenner is fast becoming a symbol.

 
The Max Brenner chain, owned by the Israeli Strauss Group, is ripe for boycott for its direct support of the elite IOF Golani and Givati brigades that have been implicated in war crimes during the 2009/10 Operation Cast Lead in Gaza and in Israel’s illegal war against Lebanon in 2006.

 
The Golani brigade also participated in operations in Nablus and Jenin in 2002.

 
“Amnesty International reported that there was “clear evidence” that the IDF committed war crimes against Palestinian civilians, including unlawful killings and torture, in Jenin and Nablus. The report also accused Israel of blocking medical care, using people as human shields and bulldozing houses with residents inside, as well as beating prisoners, which resulted in one death, and preventing ambulances and aid organizations from reaching the areas of combat even after the fighting had reportedly been stopped. ” The Battle of Jenin, Wikipedia

 
In 2004, a Givati officer, Captain R, emptied his entire magazine into the body of a 13 year old Palestinian child, Iman Darweesh Al Hams and was typically forthwith acquitted of all charges, promoted to the rank of major and compensated generously for his time spent in jail. The Strauss Groups’s pride in supporting the Golani and Givati brigades is reprehensible in light of their systematic defilement of the Israeli military code of conduct, Ru’ah Tzahal.

 
Addressing the protest was Vashti Kenway, a slip of a student with a heavyweight commitment to Palestinian human and political rights. Vashti was one of the 19 peaceful protestors arrested on 1st July outside a Max Brenner shop in Melbourne. For her feisty civil disobedience of the ban by the court to go within 50 metres of a Max Brenner shop, she was slapped with a $10,000 fine for which she announced money was pouring in from around the world. Sylvia Hale and Vivienne Porszolt, who recently returned to Australia after being held in Israeli detention for the fly-tilla action and subsequently pioneering a critical legal precedent for travel to the West Bank and Gaza, also led the march.
The protests against Max Brenner have intensified since the Victorian arrests and with the anger against the threat to Australian civil liberties with the call by the Victorian government and echoed by Senator Boswell in the Federal government for the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission to examine the legality of boycotting Max Brenner which would allow the fascism that is infesting Israel with its widely condemned Boycott Bill to infect Australia.

 
The non-violent Australian BDS movement has poked a Zionist hornet’s nest of vicious and vitriolic media assaults, misrepresentations, and character assassinations. Boycotters have been smeared in mainstream media (mainly the Murdoch press) with absurd anti-Semitism slurs and histrionic comparisons to Nazis for targeting ‘Jewish’ businesses when the BDS movement specifically boycotts Israeli profiteers of the occupation. Since the campaign to overturn Marrickville Council’s support for BDS in late 2010, Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon has bravely withstood a despicable character assassination. Victorian Labor backbencher, Bronwyn Halfpenny is the latest target.

 
Some politicians, including the Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu, Daniel Andrews, Michael Danby and journalists, such as Gerard Henderson and Jana Wendt are shown up as morally-limp puppets dangling on Zionist Lobby strings. Even Aboriginal Warren Mundine joined union leader Paul Howes et al in a photo-op sipping Brenner chocolate when much of Indigenous repression and land grabs under the Australian government Intervention reflects the Israeli abuse of Palestinian rights.
As Bishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela support BDS against Israel, it is clear what side of the moral fence Rudd, Wendt, Henderson, Danby, Mundine, Howes and other Zionophiles stand on.

 
Dr Vacy Vlazna is coordinator of Justice for Palestine Matters. www.palestinematters.com
Thanks to Brian Davies for suggestions and sharing the march

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This article was first published on Palestine Chronicle  on 26 August 2011

 

By Samah Sabawi

The Murdoch press in its zeal to attack the Palestinian Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) campaign has misrepresented facts and even ran an entire article quoting a fictional character that simply does not exist.  The invention of Max Brenner the Jewish chocolatier demonstrated the lack of integrity and journalistic ethics employed within the Murdoch press’s campaign against the pro-Palestinian advocacy groups who have called for a boycott of the Israeli owned Max Brenner chocolate franchise.  
 
Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, senior reporter Cameron Stewart (The Australian:  August 20, 2011) still referred to the protests against the Max Brenner franchise as “marching on a Jewish-owned chocolate shop” and repeated the claim that BDS aim to “harm a legal Jewish business”.  This deliberate misrepresentation of the corporate Israeli franchise directly link to the military and of the BDS protests is part of a larger campaign by The Australian that is carefully orchestrated to play on Jewish stereotypes and to shamelessly manipulate the emotions of the Jewish community creating an atmosphere of fear, mistrust and hostility.
 
Most astounding was the article’s reference to Max Brenner as “the man whose real name is Oded Brenner”.  This is very revealing of the journalistic spin used to distract and misinform readers about these legitimate protests.  Putting the spotlight on the man behind the name behind the cooperation is a cheap tactic, a diversion meant to humanize a corporate entity for the purposes of adding to the demonization of the protestors.  But wait, there is more! 
 
The Australian pursuit of the Max Brenner story has indeed gone too far.  The same reporter Cameron Stewart (August 13, 2011) tried to further humanize the franchise by running an article entitled “Targeted chocolatier Max Brenner ‘a man of peace’”. In this article Stewart wrote “it seems Max Brenner, the company’s founder, is perplexed and dismayed at finding himself as an unwitting symbol of the Palestinian-Israel conflict.”  But, the missing truth from this heart wrenching story of a Jewish chocolatier trying to survive in the big anti-Semitic world is that the man doesn’t exist. 
 
Max Brenner, the corporate entity, was founded in 1996 in Ra’anana Israel, by Max Fichtman and Oded Brenner, using a conjunction of their names. Max Fichtmann is no longer associated with the Max Brenner entity.  Oded Brenner remains.  Since 2001, the company has become a part of Strauss Group: a cooperation that supports Israel’s military.  There was never a Jewish chocolatier named Max Brenner yet the Australian senior reporter Cameron Stewart dedicated an entire article about this non-existent ‘man of peace’.
 
It seems The Australian will do what it can to paint the BDS advocates as “radical”  “anti-Semitic” and  “anti-Israeli bullies” while ignoring the reasons behind the boycott call – Israel’s atrocious treatment of the Palestinian people, its land and water theft, its violence and terror against the population it occupies and its system of discrimination which has been likened by leading human rights organizations and advocates to the apartheid system which once plagued South Africa.
 
The campaign for BDS is not “radical” unless in the views of The Australian calling for international law to be respected is a radical notion, but is affective and perhaps this is the greater danger and the reason why the right leaning newspaper The Australian is leading the fight against it.
 
In demanding equality for Palestinians and Jews, BDS poses a great danger for Israel, a state that defines itself along ethnocentric lines and considers all non-Jews, including citizens of the state, a demographic threat. 
 
It is worth mentioning that I had a lovely cup of coffee just yesterday in St. Kilda in an area surrounded by Jewish owned businesses where I enjoyed an environment that was peaceful and pleasant.  The good news is that there is no call to march on Jewish-owned businesses by any group of people.  But also worth knowing is that if indeed Jewish businesses were ever targeted by any group I would not be surprised to find the same human rights advocates who are marching against Israel today standing to defend the Jewish community’s right to live free of racism and intolerance.  These are the values held by the BDS movement:  non- violence, equality, justice for all and zero tolerance for all forms of racism and discrimination.  But you would never know that, if your primary source of information is The Australian newspaper.
 
– Samah Sabawi is a Palestinian writer and is Public Advocate for Australians for Palestine. She contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.

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video by: on Jul 13, 2011

Omar Barghouti is an independent Palestinian political and cultural analyst whose opinion columns have appeared in several publications. He is also a human rights activist involved in civil struggle to end oppression and conflict in Palestine. Barghouti is a founding member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, PACBI.

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This article was first published on New Matilda

25 Aug 2011

By Antony Loewenstein: New Matilda

protest

Equating the BDS movement with Nazism is both offensive and outrageous. So why aren’t members of the Jewish community speaking out on this, asks Antony Loewenstein

Joseph Stalin changed his name and so did New South Wales Federal Greens MP Lee Rhiannon.

Stalin, writes Alan Howe, executive editor and columnist with Rupert Murdoch’s Herald Sun, was “perhaps the 20th century’s greatest murderer”.

Rhiannon backs the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel and, argues Howe, people should know about “the 1930s where violent protests against Jewish traders may end. It was a colourful time of brownshirts, blackshirts and yellow Stars of David”.

In this fashion, Rhiannon is likened to a supporter of fascism and remains “against the only democracy in the Middle East and the one country in which the region’s Arabs are guaranteed safety”.

Welcome to the level of debate in Australia over the Israel/Palestine conflict. The last months have seen a litany of public figures that should know better accusing anybody associated with the BDS movement of embracing Nazism, anti-Semitism and outright Jew-hatred.

It shames the Australian Jewish establishment that no leading voices have challenged this odious and absurd comparison. Instead, they’ve cheered it on, coordinating nationally, with the support of an Israeli government desperate to distract from its own anti-democratic practices.

The Australian Jewish News has editorialised that boycotting Jewish businesses here will remind Jews of similar Nazi tactics in Germany and Austria in the 1930s. How on earth will the paper cover real anti-Semitism when they so casually compare today’s behaviour to Hitler’s Third Reich?

Back in early July, 19 pro-Palestinian activists were arrested and charged for protesting in front of a Max Brenner chocolate shop in Melbourne. Max Brenner was targeted because its parent company Strauss Group supports elements of the IDF accused of war crimes in both the West Bank and Gaza.

This campaign has continued globally for years. For example, a reader of my website in 2009 sent me a copy of a letter they sent to Max Brenner outlining the reasons the company was a legitimate target for boycott.

The Victorian Government recently continued to threaten the activists with further legal punishment, imprisonment and fines.

Max Brenner’s parent company Strauss Group is an openly political business that proudly states on its Hebrew website that “We see a mission and need to continue to provide our soldiers with support, to enhance their quality of life and service conditions, and sweeten their special moments”. Some of these soldiers were directly implicated in war crimes allegations during incursions into the West Bank and the invasion of Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009.

In late July, The Australian reported the campaign against the BDS movement in Australia with a story called, “Anti-Jew protest condemned”. Federal Labor MP Michael Danby, journalist Jana Wendt and union head Paul Howes met for a hot chocolate inside a Max Brenner shop in Melbourne, condemned the “violent” protest against the shop and again talked about Nazi Germany. Former Labor Party president Warren Mundine was quoted by journalist Leo Shanahan as saying BDS was not “not anti-Israel but anti-Jewish”.

Howes said the protesters were “mimicking the behaviour of the Nazi thugs” and it was necessary to “nip this in the bud”. Howes said most people who voted for the Greens had no idea how “xenophobic” its policies were. Not one journalist asked him whether he truly believed waving placards outside a shop in Melbourne is akin to the Gestapo arresting and murdering millions of Jews in the gas chambers. And no Jewish leaders took him to task for the comparison.

Last weekend’s article by The Australian’s Cameron Stewart allowed this misperception to perpetuate. Like Shanahan, Stewart quoted Wendt as saying that, “As the daughter of refugees whose lives were critically affected by both fascism and communism, I’m grateful for what Australia has to offer”.

A week later, the Victorian Government announced that it was investigating “anti-Israel activists” — by asking the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) if the BDS-ers were breaking federal law by “threatening” Israeli stores.

The state’s Consumer Affairs Minister Michael O’Brien raised the spectre of 20th century attacks on Jewish businesses and claimed BDS was a threat to democratic order. Bizarrely, he singled out the Maritime Union Of Australia, Geelong Trades Hall Council, the Green Left Weekly magazine, Australians for Palestine and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. For the record, Australians for Palestine had nothing to do with the BDS protest against Max Brenner, though they do back BDS.

The Australian followed up with a story recently headlined, “Targeted chocolatier ‘a man of peace’”. “Max Brenner says he is a man of peace who hates all forms of violence,” the article says. Reporter Cameron Stewart doesn’t mention the serious allegations against the IDF soldiers supported by Max Brenner. (And besides, Max Brenner is the name of the business — not of the company owner. Actually, it’s an amalgam of two names.)

One of the activists interviewed by Stewart, Kim Bullimore, spokesperson for Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid, told me that little of what she said to the journalist ended up in the article.

The Australian editorialised further on the matter last week by arguing “for any student of 20th-century history there is something deeply offensive about targeting a Jewish-owned business”.

And the Jewish establishment said nothing.

BDS is a peaceful, non-violent movement, like that which campaigned against apartheid South Africa. It aims to put pressure on a state that refuses to end its illegal occupation of Palestinian land.

What Australian politicians will not acknowledge is the real face of modern Israel. Calling for BDS inside Israel is now illegal. As an Arab member of parliament recently told the New York Times, a member of the Knesset wanted to sue him for simply calling for a boycott against the illegal settlement of Ariel. This is in “democratic” Israel.

With Israel announcing yet more illegal colonies in the West Bank, the international community has a clear choice: engage in empty rhetoric about “democratic” Israel or find alternative ways to target a state with one of the most unequal class systems in the developed world.

Australian politicians and all public figures should be strongly challenged on comparing BDS to fascist hoodlums, and rejected.

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This article first appeared on ABC Drum.

In the last couple of weeks,  the pro-Zionist Murdoch Press and Zionists supporters of Israel have gone into overdrive trying to smear both the Palestinian initiated BDS campaign ad non-violent protestors involved in the Max Brenner BDS protests in Melbourne.  The Murdoch press have made it clear that they are continuig the campaign against BDS which they started against the Marrickville Council earlier this year.  Michael Brull’s article published on the ABC Drum website, is the first mainstream article to deal with the subject the BDS and Max Brenner protests without hysteria and a pro-Zionist agenda. Brull is a well-known Jewish anti-Zionist writer/commentator.   While Brull is publicly on record as not being a supporter of BDS, he correctly points out that there is a concerted, undemocratic attempt to not only forcibly campaign crush by the Victoria Police and Victorian state to crush the Melbourne BDS protests outside of Max Brenner, but this attempt has bee aided by the Murdoch Press in their relentless promotion/accusations that BDS, the Max Brenner protests and the protests are an equivalence to the Nazis.

***

The campaign agaist the Max Brenner protestors

by Michael Brull: ABC Drum

On July 1, a small group of activists protested Max Brenner in Melbourne. Here in Sydney, similar protests have taken place over the last few years, and have seemingly passed without incident. The reasons for the protest were explained by one of its participants, Benjamin Solah. He explained that “the company sends care packages of chocolate and other goods to show their support for the Golani and the Givati brigades”. One protester’s sign less plausibly explained, “MAX BRENNER PROUDLY SUPPORTS THE DISPLACEMENT, TORTURE AND GENOCIDE OF PALESTINIANS”.

Max Brenner, for his part, has described himself as a “man of peace”. In a typically non-probing Australian article, he explained: ‘Everything that has to do with conflict seems stupid (to [him]),’ he said. ‘Whether it is in Israel or not, anything to do with violence, aggressiveness or appearing at protests or boycotts seems silly (to me). But then again, I am just a chocolate-maker.’

This would presumably have stretched the credulity of any journalist who had interviewed him. Obviously, if Mr Brenner sends chocolate to his favourite Israeli army brigades, he is not quite as apolitical as he portrays himself. He does not, after all, send chocolate packages to fighters in Hamas, or Hezbollah. Or if he were entirely disinterested in the conflict, perhaps instead of sending chocolate to soldiers, he would try to send it to Gaza (which the Israeli government wouldn’t allow, on account of the blockade for purely security reasons).

As for the aims of the protest, they are perhaps not entirely clear. A website in support of the protesters says its aim is “to draw attention to the ongoing genocide committed by the Apartheid regime in Israel against Palestinians”. For those who are not part of the small Leninist groups that seem to comprise the core of these protests, it is not clear how picketing a chocolate store will demonstrate to the public that genocide is occurring in Palestine. Even Australians for Palestine – the largest such group in Melbourne – did not get involved in these protests. Presumably, they too did not think Max Brenner was the best choice of target to raise consciousness of suffering (let alone an alleged “genocide”) in Palestine.

Suppose, for example, that the protests were successful. Max Brenner suffered crippling financial losses because of the protests. They respond by no longer giving out chocolate to Israeli soldiers. Does anyone think that that would improve life for the Palestinians? That this is the infrastructure of the occupation? That when Israeli soldiers don’t get Max Brenner’s (mediocre) chocolate products, they’ll stop humiliating Palestinians at checkpoints in the West Bank?

I don’t think it would be that difficult to find a more appropriate target for protests. For example, at the University of New South Wales, there is an alleged Australian Human Rights Centre. Amazingly, last year it had a talk called “The Fight Against Terror”. One of the speakers was Colonel Sharon Afek, Deputy Military Advocate General for the Israel Defence Forces, who apparently “held the positions of legal advisor for Judea and Samaria (the West Bank), Military Advocate General for the Israeli Air Force and, Head of the International Law branch of the IDF”. Considering the Israeli army’s open contempt for international law, this should have been considered a scandal for an alleged human rights centre. When I have been asked about the centre, I have pointed out this fact and urged people to steer clear of it.

People protest things all the time in Australia. Obviously, most protests do not inspire most Australians: most protests are very small, for fringe causes that many Australians have only the vaguest idea about. Yet these protests have been treated differently from the many other unpopular protests in Australia: they have faced harsh repression.

There are three videos of the July protest. In this one, at about 2:30, you can see a woman asking the police to settle down, saying the protesters are non-violent. The police then rush into the crowd of placid protesters to drag away a woman. There does not appear to be any cause for the arrest: she is plainly not harming or threatening anyone.

Here, you can see a video of the protesters chanting “This is not a police state/We have the right to demonstrate”. At 0:49, the police swoop on another person they have plainly singled out for arrest: again, with no apparent cause. At about 3:07, the police advance on the protesters, and one police officer says brusquely “Move” and violently shoves a woman in a hijab.

The third video appears to be the first in order. It shows the arrival of the police in the midst of the protest. The police do not appear particularly interested in negotiations. When they arrive, the protesters boo them. The police seem to be pushing protesters within 30 seconds. At 1:50, they appear to grab a protester who was walking away from them, back into the crowd. Around 3:30, we see the incident from the first video again from a different angle: a woman saying they are non-violent, asking police to settle down, then the police rush in to grab someone.

From the videos, it appears that the protesters were not misbehaving when they were arrested. One of the protesters claims that in subsequent trial testimony, the Victorian police acknowledged the following. Firstly, they had targeted protester leadership in making arrests. Secondly, police infiltrators had attended meetings of the protesters to monitor their activities.

Solah alleges that police violence in making arrests caused one arrestee to lose consciousness. Nineteen protesters were arrested, and 13 of them had bail conditions banning them from going within 50 metres of Max Brenner. Presumably, such conditions are to further criminalise protests against Max Brenner. On August 9, four of the 13 were arrested again in morning raids. They had allegedly protested Max Brenner, in defiance of their bail conditions. Three of them had bail set at $2,000. One of them had bail set at $10 000, presumably with the intent of keeping her in jail until her hearing on September 5.

This is part of a broader campaign against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, targeted at Israel. As I’ve noted before, there is an extensive and widening literature of comparing people who advocate BDS to the Nazis. Paul Howes, the Australian Workers Union secretary, said the protesters were “mimicking the behaviour of the Nazi thugs”. Labor MP Michael Danby explained that “We remember the precedence of the 1930s; my father came from Germany, and (at) any sign of this kind of behaviour we have to draw a line in the sand”. Kevin Rudd claimed to learn a similar lesson from history.

Gerard Henderson sought to be circumspect, so he made different point: “the historical parallels. In the mid-1930s, Sir Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists used to go on rampages outside Jewish-owned shops in London’s East End – some were boycotted, others smashed up”.

This atmosphere of pervasive demonisation of the protesters has made possible repression of the protesters that should be considered shocking. The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission has been asked to investigate whether injunctive relief and damages can be inflicted on the protesters. Victorian Consumer Affairs Minister Michael O’Brien “singled out the Maritime Union Of Australia, Geelong Trades Hall Council, the Green Left Weekly magazine, Australians for Palestine and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign” for such measures.

The reason is that such organisations “may have engaged in secondary boycotts for the purpose of causing substantial loss or damage to Max Brenner’s business”.

It is worth considering the significance of this. Firstly, do we think it is reasonable that Australia should become a country where activists are prevented from advocating consumer boycotts that cause substantial loss or damage to what they consider an unethical business? Suppose that this is successful. What about those who engage in secondary boycotts for the purpose of causing substantial loss to Australian coal companies, for the purpose of reducing Australia’s carbon footprint? In this instance, Australians for Palestine expressly did not take part in the protests at Max Brenner. They simply advocate BDS – and the activists at Max Brenner thought that fit into that campaign. Applying similar logic, next time Climate Camp activists decide to lock themselves to a coal station to shut down production, police may arrest intellectuals, like Clive Hamilton and Guy Pearse.Does this sound like the kind of democracy we want to live in?

Indeed, it is striking how untroubled Australian commentators seem by these developments. In Israel, a law was recently passed which provided that anyone who calls for a boycott of Israel, or the settlements, could be sued. This was considered outrageous in Israel, and a black mark on its claim to being democratic. As I noted in July, Meretz called the law “an embarrassment to Israeli democracy and makes people around the world wonder if there is actually a democracy here”. Kadima complained that “you’re sending people to the gulag for their opinions”. The American Jewish paper Forward described this as an “an odious law for the ways in which it chills free speech in Israel”, noting that “democracy’s greatest test is its ability to allow the harshest criticism, whether the flag burners or the boycotters”.

Here in Australia, the Australian Jewish News ran two op eds blasting the law. They both came from board members of a new organisation the New Israel Fund Australia. Its chairman is Robin Margo, who used to be the president of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies. That is, his “”Jewish establishment” credentials are beyond reproach”, as Galus Australis noted. In the AJN, NIFA board member Mandi Katz condemned this “broad reaching law that uses the power of the state to silence dissenting political expression. This is indisputably undemocratic, as will be clear to anyone who values democracy, however strongly opposed they may be to boycotts as a means for political change.” That is, the one in Israel.

The point is plain. One could be a fanatical Zionist, love everything the Israeli government does, and still think people who disagree should not face criminal or financial penalties for believing otherwise. That is kind of the point of liberal democracy. Even people with really unpopular points of view should be allowed to say what they believe. It is sad that what is considered a black mark on Israeli democracy isn’t considered a big deal here. It is comical that the demonisation of boycotters of Israel appears to be more intense in Australia than it even is in Israel. It is a shame that opponents of the Max Brenner protests are not content to simply say: ‘I believe your protests are silly, and believe I can convince the public of this.’ Instead, there is a campaign to forcibly crush the protesters, assisted by the Murdoch media’s relentless promotion of their equivalence to the Nazis.

Michael Brull has a featured blog at Independent Australian Jewish Voices, and is involved in Stop The Intervention Collective Sydney (STICS).

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BNC Secretariat: August 16, 2011

Occupied Palestine – The Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC), the broadest Palestinian civil society coalition and the Palestinian leadership of the global boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, commends human rights and Palestine solidarity organizations across Australia who signed a unity statement reiterating their support for BDS as the most effective and non-violent campaign to end Israel’s systematic oppression of the Palestinian people [1]. We stand with Australian activists in the face of the organized repression and smear campaign they have been facing for the past year, since the attempts to overturn the Marrickville council BDS motion. As Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation, refugees not allowed to return to our homes and Palestinians living as second class citizens in Israel – we are heartened by the courage of Australian activists and their commitment to building a grassroots movement across Australia in support of Palestinian human rights.

Most recently, the repression campaign has culminated with the Victorian Consumer Affairs Minister Michael O’Brien singling out Palestine solidarity organisations calling for them to be investigated by the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) for suspicion that they may be involved in ‘secondary boycotts’ against Israeli-owned businesses in Australia. An article in The Australian reported that the “Victorian Consumer Affairs Minister Michael O’Brien said the protesters had deliberately pinpointed businesses with Israeli ownership and who they believed traded with the Israeli government” [2]. This is a completely false accusation and a cynical attempt to smear BDS activism in Australia. Nowhere in the world are BDS activities about targeting specifically business with Israeli ownership, based on the nationality of their owner. Businesses and institutions are rather chosen based on their direct contribution to grave human rights abuses and international law violations of the Israeli state and military, or to rebranding campaigns that attempt to whitewash Israel’s crimes.

We admit that it is confounding to Palestinians who lead the BDS movement, that as youth across the Arab world take to the streets and risk
their lives in the fight for basic democratic rights and freedom of expression – in countries that claim to be democratic, such as Australia, politicians are going to great length to curtail freedom of expression and shield the state of Israel from any criticism. The problem lies with staunch supporters of Israel who refuse to admit that universally recognised standards of international law and social justice apply as much to Israel as they do to any other state.

Israel’s long-standing, systematic and deeply consequential violation of international human rights and humanitarian law has come under global scrutiny and criticism like never before. “Apartheid” has, once again, become a household word. Whereas in the 1980s it became synonymous with South Africa, apartheid is now widely recognized as the foundational condition of Israeli policy and practices towards Palestinians.

The Australian people played an important role in the South African anti-apartheid movement, unions implemented the oil embargo, a trade and arms embargo was carried out as well, and the sports boycott actions continue to be remembered internationally with great pride across social movements. We are witnessing today politicians who attempt to criminalize these types of BDS actions, but just as Australians had a right to challenge apartheid then, they have every right to challenge Israel’s system of apartheid, colonialism and occupation as well. The Palestinian-led BDS campaign and supporters internationally will not be deterred by desperate attempts to conflate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism.

The curtailment of freedom of expression and the smear campaigns are unfortunately consistent with the Australian state’s support for Israel. Australian politicians across the spectrum have boasted about the “special relationship” and “bond” with the Israeli state. Inflammatory accusations of anti- Semitism are patently false, intellectually and morally dishonest, and serve to discredit and silence any form of criticism directed against Israel’s war crimes and human rights abuses.

We remind the government of Australia of its obligations under international law to respect basic human rights and end all support of Israel’s war crimes and other serious violations of international law. The Australian government must urgently end its arms trade with Israel and impose sanctions upon it rather than investigate dissident organizations who, in the tradition of principled international solidarity, are taking the moral responsibility to end Israel’s impunity and Australia’s complicity in it.

We will continue to work closely with human rights and solidarity organizations across Australia, despite all silencing attempts, until Israel respects international law and freedom, justice and equality are achieved for the Palestinian people.

Notes
1.Human Rights and Community Organisations condemn attempts to silence BDS Movement
http://www.justiceforpalestinebrisbane.org/node/37
2. Israeli boycotts: ACCC Called In at http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/israeli-boycottsaccc-
called-in/story-fn59niix-1226110465124

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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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