The BDS and Victoria Police

Republished with permission from Electronic Intifada and Kim Bullimore.

Max Brenner protest

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 criminalise 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, organised 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 centres 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 emphasises 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 centres – the protest marched into both the Melbourne Central and Queen Victoria centres, 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 organisations, the Victorian government, shopping centre 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-organised 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 centre 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 centres were ‘public places’ and that neither centre 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 criminalise the actions against the Israeli companies was because they had been well-organised, 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 criminalise 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 criminalise 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 criminalise 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 centre (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 metres of Max Brenner in both centres. However, Stary said he was still ‘anxious about the criminalisation 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 criminalisation 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-organiser 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

A defence fund has been started to help support the activists involved in this BDS action. Read more at Defend the Boycott Israel 19.


  1. Great article, thanks Kim.

    I wonder how the police justify the much higher bail imposed on the BDS spokesperson as anything other than a blatantly political act?

  2. A press release from Women for Palestine.


    16 August 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

    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.


    1.Human Rights and Community Organisations condemn attempts to silence BDS Movement

    2. Israeli boycotts: ACCC Called In at http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/israeli-boycottsaccc-

  3. I attended one such demo. It was an absolute disgrace and consisted of attempts to harass customers, abusive language to elder customers. The hoodlum element just want an excuse to behave appallingly (London riots come to mind) and the more extreme elements of the movement want to effectively damage Brenner’s trade because they don’t agree with his views.

    They seemed like a bunch of misinformed lefites intent on damaging anyone who disagrees with their politics. Repressive is how I would describe the BDF – much like the people the regime are supporting.

    • Sheilah which demo did you attend. None of the demos here have reported violence, a fact which even the police had to acknowledge in court. If you are a Zionist and supporter of Israel’s ethnic cleansing state it openly instead iof usinglies to slander the peaceful protest. There were elderly people walking with canes among the protestors. Children were playing around at the protest after the arrets.
      What regime are the BDS supporters supporting George Bush’s, or Netanyahu’s or Abbas’s ? Comments such as these would be more credible if the did not display such abysmal ignorance of truth.

  4. Sheilah-

    \It was an absolute disgrace and consisted of attempts to harass customers, abusive language to elder customers\

    I have been to all of them and that has never happened. protesters have never even spoken to customers.

    \The hoodlum element just want an excuse to behave appallingly\

    There were no hoodlums there. Please elaborate on what constitutes \appalling behaviour\

    \and the more extreme elements of the movement want to effectively damage Brenner’s trade because they don’t agree with his views.\

    No not his views, they disagree with where his product goes…that is to state sanctioned murderers and rapists.

    \They seemed like a bunch of misinformed lefites intent on damaging anyone who disagrees with their politics.\

    Most people disagree with socialist politics. What evidence do you have to support your claim that they want to destroy most people.

    \Repressive is how I would describe the BDF\

    Who are they repressing?

    Final question, you never actually attended a protest did you?

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