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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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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. 
 
****

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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Friends of Palestine WA organised a speakout in support of the “free speech and a free Palestine” on Friday 12 August. The next major action for Palestinian human rights in Perth is the rally and “rogues tour” on September 17 beginning in the Murray Street Mall at 1pm.

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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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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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Originally posted on Electronic Intifada

By Kim Bullimore: 9 August 2011

Australian solidarity activists are facing intense police repression. (Erik Anderson/Flickr)

 

In the largest show of support for the Palestinian-initiated boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign so far in Australia, more than 350 persons marched on 29 July in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle — and in opposition to an attempt by Victorian Police to criminalize Palestine solidarity activism in Melbourne.

A month earlier, on 1 July, a similar, peaceful BDS action involving 120 persons was brutally attacked by the Victorian Police. Nineteen individuals were arrested.

Charged with “trespassing” and “besetting,” those arrested are now facing fines of up to AUD $30,000 (approximately US $32,300). The 1 July action, organized by the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid, had sought to highlight the complicity of two Israeli companies, Jericho and Max Brenner Chocolate, with Israel’s occupation and apartheid policies. The action was the fourth protest against both companies since December 2010.

Jericho, located in Melbourne Central Shopping Centre and other shopping centers around the city, produces cosmetics made from minerals exploited from the Dead Sea. While Jericho and other Israeli companies — such as Ahava, also a target of BDS campaigns — 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.

BDS repression coordinated with Israeli government

Trade union and community representatives spoke at the rally on 29 July before the crowd marched through the city. In spite of repeated threats of mass arrests by Victoria Police — and the deployment of police horses in one of the shopping centers — the protest marched into both the Melbourne Central and Queen Victoria centers, staging peaceful sit-ins in front of the Max Brenner stores located within.

Two day earlier, on 27 July, the Victorian police confirmed during a bail variation hearing at the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria (local District Court) for some of the activists arrested on 1 July that a decision had been made to arrest the protesters before the demonstration. This decision was made after discussions with Zionist organizations, the Victorian government, shopping center managements and state and national management of Max Brenner.

In April, the Australian Jewish News (AJN) reported that the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) had made representations to the Victorian police. According to the AJN, JCCV president John Searle had “called on the police to stamp down harder on aggressive protesters” (“Police questioned as protests turn violent,” 15 April 2011). Similar calls for a government and police crackdown on BDS protests against Max Brenner in Sydney were made in June by former AJN journalist Walt Secord, who is now a member of the NSW State Parliament (“Police called to action on BDS,” 24 June 2011).

On July 29, the same day as the BDS action against Max Brenner in Melbourne the Australian Jewish News carried a “debate” piece between Vic Alhadeff, the CEO of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, and Ted Lapkin, a former staffer with the key pro-Israeli lobby group in Australia, the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council. The piece reveals that the various calls for police and government crackdown on BDS activism was part of a “nationally coordinated strategy” developed with and backed by the Israeli Foreign Ministry (“BDS: To protest or not to protest?”).

Arguing against any Zionist-organized BDS “counter” protest, Alhadeff writes: “It is important for the community to be aware that our response to BDS forms part of [a] coordinated national strategy. Furthermore, this strategy is endorsed by counterparts abroad and Israel’s Foreign Ministry.”

Alhadeff outlined this coordinated national strategy in response to BDS, stating that it “included, but is not limited to, engagement with civil society and politicians, patronage of boycotted outlets, cooperation with police, shop owners and center managers and exposure of the motives behind the BDS movement.” According to Alhadeff, Zionist policy in response to BDS should be one which seeks to “speak softly” but to also carry “a suggestion of a big stick.”

Activism leadership targeted

During cross-examination by Robert Stary, the lawyer representing the activists, Michael Beattie, an operational support inspector with the the Victorian Police, conceded that both Melbourne Central and Queen Victoria shopping centers were “public places” and that neither center prior to 1 July had sought any civil injunctions to prevent entry to the public places inside.

The cross-examination by Stary also revealed that the main reason that police had decided to criminalize the actions against the Israeli companies was because they had been well-organized, coordinated and effective.

Victorian Police acknowledged that the demonstrations had been peaceful, that solidarity activists hadn’t damaged property and there was no record of police or any member of the public being injured.

According to the testimony given by Inspector Beattie, the police had specifically sought to target the leadership of the protests, in particular those activists the police perceived as “operating a command and control function,” in order to diminish the possibility of well-coordinated demonstrations — and to ensure “no protesters go to property and disrupt targeted business or additional businesses.”

According to Inspector Beattie, “the protesters had their own way” for too long and a “decision [was] made to draw a line in the sand and make arrests.” Another police officer, Senior Sargent Andrew Falconer, also gave testimony at the court hearing and acknowledged that police infiltrators had been sent to pro-Palestine solidarity meetings in order to monitor the activity of BDS activists.

In a statement issued after their arrests, the nineteen activists noted that “the attack on the peaceful BDS action in Melbourne highlights increasing attempts to criminalize BDS and Palestine solidarity activism internationally. Currently in the US, France and Greece, hundreds of pro-Palestine activists are facing criminal charges for nonviolently standing up for Palestinian human rights” (“Support the Boycott Israel 19 Defence Campaign”).

James Crafti, one of the activists arrested, told The Electronic Intifada that “the attempt by Israel and governments around the world to criminalize pro-Palestinian and BDS activism ignores the fact that the real criminal activity is being carried out by the Israeli state.”

“Since its founding in 1948, Israel has sought to ethnically cleanse the indigenous Palestinian people through war, occupation and apartheid practices. Israel regularly engages in collective punishment, arbitrary arrests, extra-judicial assassinations and the demolition of Palestinian homes and civil infrastructure, all of which are illegal under international law,” he added.

Crafti noted that while the Victorian and Australian governments sought to criminalize support for Palestine self-determination, they refused to hold Israel accountable for its human rights abuses, war crimes and apartheid policies.

All of the arrested activists who spoke to The Electronic Intifada said the police attack on the protest also highlighted the increasing repression of civil liberties and freedom of speech by the Victorian (conservative) Baillieu government.

One Palestine solidarity activist, Sue Bolton, who has been charged with “besetting” (obstructing or hindering the right to enter, use or leave a premise), asserted that the police reaction to the action on 1 July was “over the top.”

“There were massive numbers of police, well over a hundred, not counting those behind the scenes in the loading docks,” she said.

According to Bolton, the Queen Victoria Centre loading docks had been cleared of delivery trucks, allowing the police to set up a processing unit and bring in prison transport trucks to be used as holding cells for those arrested.

Bolton described how police had sought to “kettle” the demonstration by corralling protesters and physically pushing them into a smaller and smaller area. According to Bolton, this resulted in a number of protesters being injured and crushed when the police had surrounded and violently pushed protesters from all sides.

Similar tactics have been used by police forces in Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Finland and Denmark. The use of kettling by police in the UK against student protesters in November 2010 has led to legal challenges and the calling for a ban on the use of the tactic in the British High Court and the European Court of Human Rights.

Damian Ridgwell, another Palestine solidarity protester arrested on 1 July, told The Electronic Intifada that he had been standing away from the peaceful picket, speaking on a megaphone when three policemen grabbed him.

“I was dragged behind police lines,” Ridgwell said. “Once they grabbed me and started dragging me, I went limp and dropped to the ground … As I was being carried through the corridors of the loading dock, I lost consciousness because one of the police had me in a choke hold. I am not sure how long I was out, probably a few minutes. I woke up on the loading dock floor and heard the police saying I was ‘out.’”

Ridgwell, who was charged with trespassing, said “while it is outrageous we were arrested for peacefully demonstrating, our arrests have to be seen in the context of the Australia government’s support for Israel and its continued theft of Palestinian land … it’s important we don’t let the police intimidate protests like this. It is important to keep going with the protests and to keep supporting BDS.”

Australian government’s support of Israeli apartheid

Successive Australian governments, including the current Gillard government, have long supported Israel’s colonial and apartheid policies.

Current Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard signaled her uncritical support for Israel when she was still deputy Prime Minster of Australia. During the early days of Israel’s bombing of Gaza in the winter of 2008-09, she blamed Palestinians for Israel’s all-out assault, saying that Hamas must “renounce violence” and that Israel had the “right to defend itself.”

During a visit to Israel In 2009, Gillard was thanked by Israeli government minister Isaac Herzog for standing “almost alone on the world stage in support of Israel’s right to defend itself” (“Israel to Gillard: thanks for standing by us,” The Age, 24 June 2009).

The arrested activists noted that in June, the Baillieu government had established a new 42-member riot squad — and the attack on the 1 July protest was the first time it had been used in any significant way.

According to James Crafti, “the Victorian government thinks it can easily get away with attacking a pro-Palestine action because they think they can label us anti-Semitic.” Crafti, who is Jewish, said that the police and those opposed to the BDS actions, however, “underestimate the sympathy towards both Palestine and the [Palestine solidarity] movement in the broader community.”

“The amount of force used by the police and the response of the political elite to our protests, particularly the fact that the Australian Foreign Minister [and former Australian Prime Minister] Kevin Rudd felt the need to go a few days after our protest to Max Brenner as a public relations stunt is a sign of the pro-Israeli forces’ desperation,” he added.

The eleven activists succeeded in changing the original bail conditions preventing them from entering either shopping center (which also host medical clinics and a major train station) until the end of their case, to a lesser restriction of being prohibited from being within fifty meters of Max Brenner in both centers. However, Stary said he was still “anxious about the criminalization of dissent.”

“The police should not be used to protect the interests of an international commercial company,” he said.

Building on the success of 29 July, Melbourne activists will continue to campaign in support of Palestinian rights and oppose the criminalization of Palestine solidarity activism. The next Melbourne BDS action is scheduled for 9 September, the same week those arrested will plead not guilty to the charges against them. The defense campaign in support of the arrested activists has gained wide attention, with well-known public figures such as filmmaker John Pilger, author Norman Finkelstein and radical thinker Noam Chomsky supporting the campaign.

In a media release issued immediately following the success of the 29 July BDS action, Melbourne activists said the Victorian Police “thought that by attacking the BDS demonstration they would put an end to our movement. They were wrong … [we will] not be silenced” (“BDS returns to Max Brenner in spite of police intimidation,” 5 August 2011).

Kim Bullimore has lived and worked in the West Bank of the Occupied Palestinian Territories. She is a member of the Melbourne Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid and a co-organizer of the first national Australian BDS conference, which took place in Melbourne in October 2010. Kim writes regularly on the Palestine-Israel conflict for the Australian newspaper,Direct Action. She has a blog at livefromoccupiedpalestine.blogspot.com.

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Friends of Palestine WA has called a speakout this Friday to support the BDS (boycott, divestment & sanctions against Apartheid Israel) campaigners who were arrested in dawn raids on August 9 in Melbourne. The speakout will also be taking up threats by the Victorian government to use trade practices law against the BDS movement. This has implications for all progressive campaigners and is a major free speech issue.

The speakout will be in the Murray Street Mall outside the Perth Underground Station from 4:30pm on Friday 12 August.

Join the protest for free speech and a free Palestine.

The speakout will also be promoting the Boycott Apartheid Israel rally in Perth on September 17.

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Civil Liberties in Australia?

Posted on August 10, 2011 by fopwa

The BDS (Boycott, Sanctions and Divestments campaign) is an international campaign to put pressure on Israel’s racist, Apartheid policies until it complies with international law and stops violating Palestinian human rights through the illegal occupation of Palestinian land.

The BDS campaign is modeled on the successful campaign which culminated in the dismantling of South African Apartheid. Australians, in the tradition of non-violence, were active in that campaign.

BDS targets businesses that contribute to, or profit from, Israel’s violent military occupation of Palestinian land in the West Bank and Gaza.

Some BDS targets are Israeli owned, such as Max Brenner and Seacret Cosmetics (which mines the Dead Sea within occupied Palestine). Some BDS targets are international, such as Caterpillar (who produce special equipment to destroy Palestinian homes and agriculture) and Veolia transport and waste management (who are building railways on stolen Palestinian land, for exclusive Israeli use).

On July 5, at a BDS protest outside a Max Brenner shop in Melbourne, 19 peace activists were arrested. They thought consumers should be aware that this corporation directly funds Israeli military units which stand accused of War Crimes against Palestinian civilians.

On August 8, during dawn raids, 4 of these activists were re-arrested, accused of violating bail conditions by attending another protest.

Meanwhile the Victorian Government is trying to use anti-union “secondary boycott” laws to silence dissent against Israel’s appalling record.

Friends of Palestine WA stands in solidarity with the BDS campaigners who were arrested in Melbourne.

Why are Australian politicians shielding Israel, and criticising human rights activists?

Why do Palestinian human rights get ignored, while Australian military trade with Israel continues?

Why shouldn’t consumers know what corporations do with their profits?

Protest, consumer information and boycotts are integral to a democratic society!

For more information on BDS see www.bdsmovement.net.

 

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