The Boycott Israel 19

Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions

On Friday 1 July, 19 pro-Palestinian activists, including me, were arrested in Melbourne’s CBD for opposing Max Brenner, a chocolate store that sends care packages to some of the most brutal sections of the Israeli army. The arrests show just how far defenders of Israel will go to silence dissent. Furthermore, police intimidating and violently attacking a protest in Melbourne sets a dangerous precedent for anyone wanting to demonstrate in Victoria.

That Friday, we marched into Melbourne Central where Black Pearl (formerly Jericho) once sold cosmetic products made from sea salts stolen from the occupied Dead Sea. It was our campaign of targeting Israeli-owned businesses that forced the store to move out of the shopping centre.

From there we moved across to QV to protest outside of Max Brenner. Owned by the Strauss Group, the company sends care packages of chocolate and other goods to show their support for the Golani and the Givati brigades, known for their involvement in the war on Gaza in 2009. The Golani Brigade was also at the head of a massacre in the Jenin refugee camp near the city of the same name in 2002.

The police, in overalls and leather gloves, sent squads into the crowd and arrested protesters. They mostly targeted those holding megaphones or those seen to be leading the demonstration. Charges range from trespass and besetting, to ‘behaving in a riotous manner’ – despite the fact that it was the police that were ‘besetting’ the store, blocking all entrances with more officers than protesters, whilst we linked arms in a completely non-violent protest. The violence came from the police who grabbed protesters in headlocks, with one arrestee losing consciousness for a time.

Following the protest, we were subjected to outrageous allegations in the media including that the protest was anti-Semitic and comparing us to the Nazis and Black shirts during the 30s. These ridiculous claims are nothing but an attempt to cover for the actions of the racist Israeli state, which maintains the subjugation of the Palestinians through a variety of apartheid laws toward both Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, as well as Arabs in Israel proper. This includes the ‘apartheid wall’ that stretches into Palestinian territories in the West Bank. In particular, the blockade of Gaza means many essential items the population need to survive are banned, including until mid-2010 many food and household items such as jam, coffee, some spices and paper, whilst getting construction materials in to rebuild Gaza remains a problem. Israel also maintains a series of checkpoints around the West Bank where Palestinians are forced to take hours to travel between sections of their own land, often dying en route to hospitals or giving birth at checkpoints.

My use of the term apartheid, especially when talking about the BDS movement is deliberate. It links the campaign back to the struggle against apartheid South Africa, where people around the world boycotted anything to do with the racist state in solidarity with blacks fighting to be considered equal in a country to which they were indigenous, much like the Palestinians.

The BDS movement, though taken up by people around the world concerned with the attacks on Palestinians and the abuse of human rights in general, has been called for from within Palestine. Palestinians are asking for our solidarity, for us to help them in isolating a state that strips them of rights and dignity on a daily basis.

Taking a stand in Australia is important, where relatively speaking, we have more rights. But Friday night shows these rights aren’t permanent and need to be defended.

Israel has just passed a law outlawing calls for boycott in Israel, and with the attacks on the flotilla, it is clear Israel is putting pressure on its international allies, including Australia, to clamp down on criticism. NSW politician Walt Secord, a vocal defender of Israel, asked the NSW police minister last month what he planned to do to crack down upon BDS protests in Sydney:

With the BDS gaining support, the NSW Government and the Police Minister must ensure that companies with an Israeli connection are protected and are not unfairly targeted … BDS is part of a worldwide attempt to isolate Israel, to boycott Israeli products, creativity, programs and culture. It has reached Australia and that is of concern. I vehemently oppose the BDS campaign.

This has taken place alongside the law and order agendas of the two states now under Liberal party rule. Ballieu has been keen to shed his ‘red Ted’ image by announcing new laws that mean more police are out on the streets, especially in the city on Friday and Saturday nights. These unprecedented powers allow police to designate an area and order everyone to move on. The police attempted to do this on Friday night and some were arrested under the bizarre charge of ‘trespass in a public area’.

But people should be concerned about the privatisation of public space and the corresponding limitations on the right to protest in Melbourne. Federation Square is off limits to protesters unless campaign groups hand over thousands of dollars to book it. If you have money, you can buy or lease space – which is then barred to anyone wanting to voice criticism of whatever you do.

These new laws have ramifications for other campaigns. If the police can get away with shutting down pro-Palestinian protests and arresting activists, where else can they? Protests for refugee rights outside detention centres have been subject to large intimidating police presences in the last few months, including with dogs. In May, they charged a march outside Maribyrnong Detention Centre with horses just for marching on the road, arresting one protester.

It is essential that everyone that supports the right to protest bands together to defend the ‘Boycott Israel 19’ by signing the defence statement, that has already been signed by prominent Jewish critics of Israel, Norman Finkelstein and Antony Loewenstein. But most importantly, we need to make the next BDS protest bigger than the last one. We cannot let the police succeed in intimidating people from taking a stand in support of the Palestinians. By supporting the ‘Boycott Israel 19’, we can help to make sure the police can’t intimidate any other campaign or threaten our right to protest.

Benjamin Solah

Benjamin Solah is a writer, socialist, spoken word artist and blogger who lives in Melbourne, Australia where he is studying Creative Writing at RMIT. He spreads his words and outrage at the injustices of capitalism through pages, screens, microphones and megaphones. He is the editor of and his writing has appeared on Crikey, the Overland blog and The Emerging Writer.

More by Benjamin Solah ›

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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  1. If you are fighting for 2 nations for to people you may have some sort of success, otherwise the boycott has no chance of achieving anything.

    1. If the boycott has no chance of achieving anything, why the passing of laws in Israel against it and the concern from local politicians?

  2. I really admire the boycott and stand you are taking.

    The police response to your peaceful protest reminded me of Melbourne’s S11

    Israel is a bit like the Murdoch empire used to be – no-one dare criticise it no matter how appalling its behaviour.

  3. The boycott is about politically isolating the State of Israel to aid the struggle against Apartheid. The campaign shows solidarity for the Palestinians and Israelis and supporters who struggle against Apartheid. The Apartheid Wall, the Siege of Gaza, Systematic oppression based on race. The right of return for millions of displaced Peoples. Equality under the law for all peoples in Historic Palestine.

  4. It is illegal to protest in shopping malls primarily because it is an enclosed space. So the police were only doing their job.

    1. There have been many protests in malls over the years. Malls are not someone’s backyard. They are public spaces that have been turned over to private capital for profit. They are de facto public spaces. Even in “private” land, established social rights – pasage for instance – are recognised.
      You are merely clutching at straws to defend an attack. Even if the protest is “illegal”, the police are permitted to use only minimal force not terrorise and attack.

  5. I’ve seen the videos on youtube, and it seems the police issued several warnings for the protesters to allow patrons access to the cafe before any arrests were made. Any actual violence was by protesters resisting arrest after several warnings. How is that supposed to make me support you?

  6. There is actually no law against protesting on private property actually, and even if there was, it would be a ridiculous law. There is no justification for prohibiting a peaceful protest.

    Realist, you must have been watching videos in some alternate reality because the videos being circulated clearly show we were not even blocking the entrance to the store. The police were in fact blocking the doors, and all entrances around. Warnings or no warnings (and the any attempt make a warning was inaudible) it is not justified to attack the protest.

    1. I don’t know what alternate reality you live in where there are no laws.

      Trespassing is illegal. Protesting on private property is illegal unless the property owners let you. Do you think I could walk into your kitchen and sit there in protest completely passively and that would be ok? Once you resist arrest things will escalate. Unless you clearly are listening to the police in a way that shows them that you are not threatening then expect to be treated roughly.

      I have as friend who got caught up in one of these protest and was trying to get out of the area. He was surrounded by protesters who would make way for him. This breaks another law (false imprisonment), but the police who were avoiding confrontation, told him to push his way out by force. The police were telling a bystander to commit assault instead of trying to make the protesters let this poor guy out. The police have been much more accommodating to the protesters by any objective standard than what is expected of them.

      It seems like these protesters are either out to get arrested or just don’t care about breaking the law.

      If you want to protest to this legitimate issue, then do it legally. It doesn’t take a lawyer to figure out that you can’t protest in private areas without permission and even in public areas with out a permit depending on the exact laws of your location.

      I happen to think that boycotting Max Brenner is just singling out one company for silly reasons.
      If you want to boycott coffee places that do evil things, you should start with Gloria Jeans who really are directly contributing to things that are wrong and evil, rather than Max Brenner than happens to be owned currently by a company that supports their troops as a marketing gimmick just like many companies do in the US and Australia and around the world. While on the matter of Cafes, I would much rather give my patronage to Max Brenner which follows Australian workplace laws and pays taxes than to most other non-chain cafes which often pay their workers at way below the minimum wage in cash and deny them workplace rights.

      If you want to boycott businesses that somehow have ties to the Israeli occupation then you really would be targeting most companies and not just a select few. And if you were targeting those companies because they do business in Israel because of human rights abuses then you would also have to boycott any business that does business with China which occupies Tibet and mistreats other minorities in the Western Provinces. If that still left you with any companies that you do business with, you will probably be eating locally produced organic goods that treat their workers ethically. And good for you, but not everyone is perfect.

  7. Realist, I support The Boycott Israel 19 because I oppose the ongoing oppression and genocide of the Palestinians. Your flimpsy excuses makes me think that you disagree on that point rather than the actions of the protesters.

  8. This was written a few years ago but imo is still relevant: Israeli news reader (and potential candidate in next elections) Yair Lapid answers a British academic that called for a boycott

  9. What a vile article. I had to stop reading. Fucking racist scaremongering about violent Palestinians yet it’s ok if the IDF shoot Palestinians trying to return in protest. That’s the whole basis of the Israeli state, this supremacist idea that a Jewish life is worth more than an Arab one.

  10. I am assuming that you are talking about Palestinians trying to cross the border with Syria.

    One of the most guarded borders in the world between two countries still at war (there is no peace deal, just a cease fire), hundreds (what was the exact number? hundreds? thousands? not sure). The did not stop when asked to, they did not stop when the soldiers fired in the air in warning, they started cutting the wire fence…

    It is not a protest its plain lunacy.

  11. TZVI you are probably unaware of the situation or wilfully blind. The site is a shopping area and a throughfare. It is a public space not a backyard. And Fatcory workers protest at factory sites – private property.

  12. What did you accomplish? Nothing! You have only tarnished your ’cause’ (and I use that term loosely) in the eyes of the public. Trial by media, and rightly so. You are disorganised and obviously not well informed. Of course the police are going to arrest a large group of people (violent or non-violent), whose only intention is to discredit free enterprise and free association, and who intimidate the general public. And by the way, I say this as an Australian, with no ties to either palestinian or Israeli ideals. Shame on you!

  13. Sheilah: Max Brenner is not a “person’s business” it is owned by the Strauss Group – one of Israel’s largest food/beverage companies (which also happens to support the murderous IDF). Also, if you bothered to watch the videos you will see that no protesters were abusing customers, merely exercising their right to protest in a public place. I guess you have a problem with democracy and defend the indefensible policies of an apartheid state.

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