Saturday, April 28, 2012

Australian Activism Goes on Trial

"Our response to BDS forms part of a coordinated national strategy... endorsed by counterparts abroad and Israel's Foreign Ministry." Vic Alhadeff, CEO NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, BDS explained, The Australian Jewish News, 29/7/11*

News of the arrest and coming trial of  19 Australian BDS activists has been predictably largely absent from the slumbering/self-censoring/censored entity known as the Australian corporate media. Here's the latest (25/4) information about this concerted, unprecedented and ominous assault against peaceful and legitimate dissent from the website, Palestine solidarity on trial:

"On 1 May 19 Melbourne activists will be put on trial for their political activity. In a precedent-setting case, these pro-Palestine activists will be fighting a variety of charges designed to criminalise dissent in Baillieu's Victoria and intimidate supporters of Palestine in Australia.

"On 1 July 2011, Victoria Police attacked a peaceful demonstration in Melbourne's CBD. In one of the largest political arrests in a decade, 19 activists were detained during a Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS) action against the Max Brenner store. The chocolateria is owned by Israeli conglomerate the Strauss Group, a company that provides 'care rations' for the Israeli military, including the Golani and Givati brigades. These were 2 of the key Israeli military brigades involved in Israel's brutal assault on Gaza in December 2008/January 2009 that killed more than 1300 Palestinians. In more recent times, the Golani brigade has been noted for its brutal enforcement of Israeli colonisation of Palestinian Hebron in the West Bank.

"After a series of peaceful demonstrations against Max Brenner, the 1 July action was kettled by police before activists were individually targeted in an unprovoked attack by the riot squad. The police used pressure point tactics on some of the demonstrators; others reported bruising and rough treatment. One woman had her shoulder dislocated.

"Damian Ridgwell, one of the arrested protesters told Electronic Intifada about his experience: I was dragged behind police lines. 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'.

"The majority of those arrested were charged with trespass in a public place (yes, that is apparently a crime) and besetting (an archaic law that means 'to surround a building'); a small number were also charged with behaving in a 'riotous manner'.

"After attending another protest, 4 of these 19 protesters were again arrested (for breaking their bail conditions) in dawn raids on their homes. These anti-democratic conditions stipulated that activists may not return within 50 metres of Max Brenner stores in the Melbourne CBD. Three were released from jail on a bail of $2,000 each. One of the more prominent campaigners, Vashti Kenway, was made to pay a $10,000 bail or face prison. All up the activists are facing fines of around $30,000.


"The fines, and the aggressive manner of the Victorian government's pursuit of the activists, reveal a further series of intersecting agendas.

"The first is the hostility of the Australian establishment towards those who support Palestine. To get anywhere in mainstream Australian politics requires a display of unwavering support for Israel. It is bipartisan policy to back the apartheid state. Because Israel is a key link in the US chain of command across the Middle East the Australian ruling class is a champion of the Israeli state. It is significant that, with the exception of a few individuals, the overwhelming consensus in parliament is to offer a hand of friendship to Israel. This commitment is what accounts for the hysteria in the establishment press (particularly The Australian) after Marrickville Council attempted to boycott particular Israel-owned goods and services last year. The liberal press is hardly any better with Melbourne's Age recently jumping on the bandwagon with a slanderous piece attacking not only the German poet Gunter Grass for his mild critique of Israel's brutality - but also the Max Brenner protesters for their supposed 'hostility to Jews'. No mention of Israel's war crimes, or of the thousands of Jewish critics across the world who back Palestinian demands for freedom and justice.

"The case against the Max Brenner 19 also highlights the behind the scenes collusion between the Victorian government, the police, the shopping centre management (of QV and Melbourne Central) and the Australian Zionist establishment. Vic Alhadeff, CEO of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, outlined their anti-BDS strategy, stating that it includes 'but is not limited to, engagement with civil society and politicians, patronage of boycotted outlets, cooperation with police, shop owners and centre management and exposure of the motives behind the BDS movement'. The strategy should be one which seeks to 'speak softly' but to also carry 'a suggestion of a big stick'.

"Furthermore, during a bail variation hearing at the Victorian Magistrate's Court on 27 July 2011, Victoria Police confirmed that the decision to arrest the protesters had been made before the demonstration. This decision was made after meeting with Zionist organisations, the Victorian government, shopping centre managements and the management of Max Brenner.

"This kind of collusion reflects increasing attempts to criminalise BDS and pro-Palestine solidarity activism internationally. Currently in the US, France and Greece, hundreds of pro-Palestine activists are facing criminal charges for non-violently standing up for Palestinian human rights.

"The response to these demonstrations also reflects a broader social phenomenon: the growing militarisation of the police force. New highly-trained units have been established, such as the Special Operations Group (SOG) and the Critical Incident Response Team. These forces are trained in increasingly hostile forms of crowd control such as kettling. Such tactics have been utilised against other protests such as Occupy Melbourne. There are squads whose sole purpose is to 'monitor' and 'infiltrate' activist groups. One senior sergeant's court testimony suggested that police infiltrators had been sent to pro-Palestine solidarity meetings in order to monitor the activity of BDS activists.

"These intersecting interests have found targets in the Max Brenner 19 and will be on display during the 3-week trial."

For a backgrounder on the issues and players in this matter, please read my posts:

How Sweet It Is (12/7/09), on Max Brenner
BDS Update (11/7/11), on last year's arrests
Criminalising BDS (9/8/11), on Zionist lawfare against BDS
We Need to Talk About Ted (10/8/11), on the company Victorian Premier, Ted Baillieu, keeps
Wielding Zionism's Big Stick in the Senate (15/9/11), on the Zionist lobby's strategy to counter BDS
Ted Bailleu's Mr Unforgettable (4/12/11), on Ted's chief of staff, Michael Kapel

[*This disclosure of endorsement by counterparts abroad and Israel's foreign ministry is quoted in full in my post Wielding Zionism's Big Stick in the Senate. Please tell me it doesn't come under the heading of  'acts of foreign interference', one of the security threats ASIO is supposed to be protecting Australians from. In the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Act 1979, the term 'acts of foreign interference' is defined as "activities relating to Australia that are carried on by or on behalf of, are directed or subsidised by or are undertaken in collaboration with, a foreign power, being activities that : (a) are clandestine or deceptive and: (i) are carried on for intelligence purposes; (ii) are carried on for the purpose of affecting political or governmental processes; (iii) are otherwise detrimental to the interests of Australia; or (b) involve a threat to any person."]

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