Free speech trial reveals close ties between police & Max Brenner

Palestine solidarity protest, Melbourne, July 1 2011. Photo:

It would not come as a surprise to many activists, but a little of the close relationship between police and commercial interests has been revealed in the trial of 16 activists charged for taking part in a Palestine solidarity protest outside the Max Brenner chocolate shop in QV shopping centre in Melbourne’s CBD. The trial began on May 1 and is scheduled to last for two weeks.

Max Brenner was the focus of the protest because it is owned by Israeli conglomerate the Strauss Group, a company that provides “care rations” for the Israeli military, including the Golani and the Givati brigades.

Golani and Givati were two 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. More recently, the Golani brigade has been noted for its brutal enforcement of Israeli colonisation of Palestinian Hebron in the West Bank.

The charges relate to a protest that took place on July 1 last year as part of the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against apartheid Israel.

While 19 protesters were arrested at the protest, three were given infringement notices, leaving 16 facing charges of besetting a premises and trespass in a public space.

Witnesses from QV centre management revealed that there had been several meetings between QV centre management, Melbourne Central shopping centre management and the police in the lead up to the July protest.

The two shopping centre management teams worked closely with police to determine tactics for the protest.

It was also revealed that 160 police had been mobilised for the protest, with QV retailers prevented from entering the loading dock where the police set up their operations early on the afternoon of July 1.

One hundred and sixty police was an extraordinary number for a protest that numbered no more than 150 at its height.

Another interesting fact uncovered at the trial is that members of the Communal Security Group, a plain-clothes security group set up by Zionists, was present at the rally with the full knowledge of the police.

According to witnesses, the police, together with the Max Brenner management, wrote a notice and an announcement to be read out to the protesters. It said: “You are demonstrating disapproval of the political or social interests of a retail tenant of this shopping centre. Accordingly you are breaching an express condition of entry to this property not to perform this type of protest activity.”

The choice of words and the fact that the police and a commercial interest cooperated in writing this notice indicates the closeness between police and a private business.

It also indicates the priorities of the police, who sought to guarantee the social and political views of a private business at the expense of silencing others’ views.

Many people are also surprised by the charge of “trespass in a public place”. Most people would assume that it is impossible to “trespass” in a public space, because public space is there for all to use.

This is an important issue as more and more of our public spaces are being privatised. For example, Federation Square in Melbourne’s CBD was built as a privately-owned square by the former Kennett government in the 1990s. Federation Square security guards heavy anyone who tries to protest or set up stalls in the square.

The corporation that owns Southern Cross Station in Melbourne’s CBD claims to own the footpath outside the station and has banned the distribution of leaflets there.

Anyone “disobeying” this directive is heavied by the security guards before the police are called to move “offenders” along.

The charges against the Melbourne activists follow other attempts in several countries to criminalise Palestine solidarity activity.

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