Why boycott Max Brenner

A Palestine solidarity protest, Sydney, May 15. Photo: Jaroslaw Gasiorek

The Australian ran an article on May 2 that claimed “the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement has been caught on camera admitting ‘there isn't really any connection’ between Australian Max Brenner chocolate shops and Israel”.

Below is a response by Palestine solidarity campaigner Patrick Harrison, who was quoted in the article. It was submitted to the Australian but not published.


When I visited Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories in 2011 to take part in environmental volunteer projects, apartheid was plain to see.

West Bank Palestinians were restricted in what roads they could travel on to tend to their fields. Activists were arrested when they tried to highlight this injustice by boarding buses in Israeli settlements, echoing the Freedom Rides fighting segregation in the US.

Every Palestinian house had rainwater tanks because the mains would run dry in summer; the Israeli settlements had irrigated lawns that could rival Sydney's north shore.

So when I came home for Christmas and showed my family the photos I took in the West Bank, they could easily see the comparison. For my family, it's close to home — my parents met and married in South Africa under apartheid.

However, calling Israel an "apartheid state" means something much more than just a comparison with South Africa before 1994. The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which came into force in 2002, defines apartheid as "an institutionalised regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups".

This is the crime of which Israel is guilty with laws of citizenship that discriminate against non Jews, dozens of other examples of institutional racism, and legal distinctions between "Israeli Arabs", West Bank residents and East Jerusalemites — of which 80% live in poverty according to a recent report.

This is why I campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel.

The parent company of Max Brenner — a chocolate shop company that has become the focus for the BDS campaign in Australia — is the Strauss Group. It is not merely a financial partner in this apartheid the way many multinationals are. Its support of the Israeli military extends as far as to donate care packages to commandos of the Golani and Givati brigades to "sweeten their special moments".

These brigades are Israel's shock troops; the Givati brigade reached the farthest into Gaza's borders of all units involved in the 2009-10 invasion. The Golani brigade took up station on checkpoints in the Palestinian city of Hebron shortly after I visited the West Bank. Christian Peacemaker Team activists documented a rise in the number of serious human rights violations against the Palestinian people of Hebron at the time.

Max Brenner Australia's relationship to the Strauss group is plain to see, although the company tries to hide it. In an interview in the Australian, the general manager of Max Brenner in Australia, Yael Kaminsky, said Max Brenner Australia "never got involved with the Strauss Group ... we only have the franchise rights in Australia and we report to the office of Max Brenner that is based in New York".

Yet the Strauss Group's annual report last year said Max Brenner International in the US is wholly owned by Strauss USA, itself a wholly owned subsidiary of Strauss Group Ltd.

The report said "the [Strauss] Group operates chocolate bars" in Australia.

Boycotting Max Brenner has nothing to do with the identity of the company's owners, just as the campaign to boycott Veolia for its operations in the occupied territories has nothing to do with the religion or race of its boss. It is about raising awareness of the Israeli government's crimes in Palestine.

If the owners of Max Brenner are as truly independent of ties with Israeli apartheid as they claim, they can easily put an end to protests outside their stores by rebranding their store, handing back the franchise rights, and sending a signal that people of all backgrounds condemn Israel's crimes.