The Socialist Alliance released the statement below on August 10.
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Our right to demonstrate in support Palestinian human rights must be protected.
Millions of people across the Middle East have been protesting for freedom of speech and freedom to protest, while in Victoria, the Ted Baillieu Coalition government is proceeding to criminalise political protest, particularly protest in support of Palestinian human rights.
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The government is trying to shut down Palestine solidarity protests by:
• The arrest of 19 people for protesting outside chocolate shop Max Brenner in the Queen Victoria shopping centre on July 1 and the imposition of bail conditions preventing them from going within 50 metres of the Max Brenner shops in the Queen Victoria and Melbourne Central shopping centres. Max Brenner is part of the Strauss group of companies, which has strong ties with the Israeli military.
• The re-arrest of four of these people on August 9 for allegedly going within 50 metres of the Max Brenner shop at a later Palestine protest and the imposition of a total of $16,000 in bail surety.
• A request that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) investigate whether groups that support the boycott of Max Brenner are in breach of 45D of the Trade Practices Act — the section that bans secondary boycotts. The consumer affairs minister named the Maritime Union Of Australia, Geelong Trades Hall Council, Green Left Weekly, Australians for Palestine and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign as organisations to be investigated as supporters of the campaign.
The Palestine solidarity protests outside Max Brenner shops are part of an international campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel to draw attention to the ongoing genocidal policies being practiced by the Israeli apartheid regime against Palestinians.
There have been regular protests outside Israeli stores in the Melbourne CBD which profit from the oppression of Palestians and/or which have strong ties to the Israeli state.
The Victorian police have been increasingly repressive with each demonstration. At the July 1 demonstration - where 19 protesters were arrested - more than 100 police attacked the protest wildly before targeting the protest leaders, and then other demonstrators sitting down with linked arms, for arrest. There was no media at that protest.
At the later protest on July 29, the police riot squad was mobilised but there were no arrests, no doubt because there was a big media presence. If the police had behaved as wildly as they had at the earlier demonstration in front of the media, the police would have lost all credibility.
The protests have been smeared by Victorian consumer affairs minister Michael O’Brien and federal foreign affairs minister Kevin Rudd as anti-Jewish.
“Such smears are designed to intimidate and silence Palestine solidarity activists from criticising Israel’s gross violation of international humanitarian law,” said Sue Bolton, one of the arrested protesters and Socialist Alliance state convenor.
“There are many Jewish people, including in Israel, who support the BDS campaign. Max Brenner and other companies have been targeted for protest because of their strong ties to and support for the state of Israel and its violations of the human rights of Palestinians.
“Even the Victoria police were forced to concede in the Magistrate’s Court that there is no evidence of any anti-Jewish comments by the BDS campaign.
“The BDS campaign is part of a long tradition of using consumer boycotts to pursue justice. Such a campaign of boycotts and sanctions was critical to ending the apartheid regime in South Africa, which has inspired people around the world to seek to use similar measures to end Israel’s apartheid-like policies towards Palestinians.”
Bolton added that “consumer boycotts have been used in countless campaigns — animal rights, protection of native forests, fair trade, and human rights issues in a range of countries. In my 30 years of activism, I have never known a government to threaten a community boycott campaign with secondary boycott action”
Bolton asked: “Why suddenly target the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign protests against Israeli-owned businesses that have strong ties to the state of Israel?”
“The Victorian government is going to extraordinary lengths to silence any criticism of the state of Israel and its human rights abuses. It is attempting to make Palestine solidarity protests illegal with its threat to use secondary boycott legislation and the police in the service of Israel.
“The right to protest is a fundamental human right and needs to be defended. Human rights activists will take our inspiration from the uprisings across the Middle East and North Africa. We will continue supporting the BDS campaign while the Palestinians are stripped of their human rights.
“We call on the ACCC to reject the Victorian government’s request to conduct a political vendetta against organisations supporting the BDS campaign and the Baillieu government should drop all charges against the Palestine Solidarity protesters.
“Our right to demonstrate in support of Palestinian human rights or any other issue must be protected.”