Saturday, August 13, 2011

An interview with The Australian newspaper on BDS and the Max Brenner Protests ... OR ... What The Australian doesn't tell its readers...

On Thursday, I received a text from Cameron Stewart, a reporter from The Australian, wanting to interview me in relation to the BDS protests in Melbourne focusing on the chocolate store, Max Brenner.

Max Brenner is owned by the Israeli company, Strauss, one of Israel's biggest food and beverage companies. According to Strauss' website, the company runs a number of community programs, including one which supports the Golani and Givati brigades of the Israeli military, by supplying soldiers in those brigades with games, sporting equipment, spending money and books [NB: this information has since been removed from Strauss' english language site but remains on their Hebrew language site - here].

What is not mentioned by Strauss is that these two brigades were heavily involved in Israel's 22 day assault on the Gaza Strip in 2008/2009 known as Operation Cast Lead, a brutal military assault which resulted in more than 1300 Palestinians killed, the majority of whom were civilians, including 350 children.

The Melbourne BDS protests highlighting Brenner's complicity with Israeli's occupation and apartheid policies have been taking place since December 2010.

After receiving the text, I did a 10 minute interview with Stewart and was informed that an article would be appearing in Saturday's paper. Well, the article was published in The Australian on Saturday but given the pro-Zionist bent of the paper it was unsurprising to discover that the majority of what I had told Stewart in the interview was not included.

As you can see from Stewart's article below, only the barest of information is included about why pro-Palestine/BDS activists were actually in fact protesting at Max Brenner, despite the fact, I had explained this in detail to Stewart - including the connection between Max Brenner/Strauss and the Israeli military.

In addition, while Stewart notes in the article that "the protests have been condemned by both sides of Victorian politics", he deliberately declined to include my response to his question about this, in which I noted that it was very telling that both sides of politics had condemned the protest but they had nothing to say about Israel's human rights abuses or Israel's killing of more than 1300 people in Operation Cast Lead, or the fact that Israel was continuing to build more illegal settlement or the fact that Israel was in breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention and rulings made by the International Court of Justice.

Please find below the article as written by Stewart and published in The Australian.

I have also included after the article an outline paraphasing of what I told Stewart in the 10 minute interview I did with him, so you can see what exactly what he chose to leave out.

in solidarity,

Targeted chocolatier Max Brenner 'a man of peace'

by Cameron Stewart: The Australian: August 13, 2011

MAX Brenner says he is a man of peace who hates all forms of violence. So how has this chocolate maker become the target of anti-Israeli protesters in Australia who accuse him of being complicit with the Israeli military?

It's a claim which has outraged many who see the campaign against the 24-store Max Brenner chocolate chain in this country as an ugly echo of the anti-Semitism of 1930s Germany when Jewish businesses were targeted.

Anti-Israeli activists counter that the current global campaign of protests against international Israeli retail chains like Max Brenner are a legitimate means of highlighting what they say is the deeply flawed human rights record of Israel and its military.

But the activists are under growing pressure to abandon their campaign since 19 people were arrested following violent clashes with police outside the Max Brenner store in Melbourne's CBD on July 1.

The protests have been condemned by both sides of Victorian politics.

This week, the Baillieu government asked the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission to examine whether the protesters could be prosecuted for alleged secondary boycotts.

"We remember the precedent of the 1930s,' says Jewish federal MP Michael Danby. "My father came from Germany and (at) any sign of this kind of behaviour, we have to draw a line in the sand."

Kim Bullimore, a spokesperson for the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid, vows that the campaign against Max Brenner will continue, with more protests planned in Brisbane on August 27 and Melbourne on September 9.

But it seems Max Brenner, the company's founder, is perplexed and dismayed at finding himself as an unwitting symbol of the Palestinian-Israel conflict.

A Max Brenner spokesman said Mr Brenner, who lives in New York, was on leave and was unavailable for interview. But when asked in July 2009 about protests against his Sydney stores, Mr Brenner said he was no more than a chocolate-maker.

"Everything that has to do with conflict seems stupid (to me),' he said. "Whether it is in Israel or not, anything to do with violence, aggressiveness or appearing at protests or boycotts seems silly (to me). But then again, I am just a chocolate-maker."

The link between the 43-year-old Mr Brenner and the Israeli military is accidental and indirect, notwithstanding the fact that Mr Brenner, like other Israeli-born men, had to complete mandatory military service as a young man.

In 2001, the Max Brenner chain became part of the much larger Strauss Group, Israel's second-largest food and beverage company. But Strauss also provides food and care packages to Israeli soldiers. This, in the eyes of anti-Israeli activists, justifies a boycott.

Ms Bullimore, the co-ordinator of the protest campaign in Australia, denies that activists are simply targeting an innocent chocolate-maker.

"We are trying to highlight Israel's human rights abuses,' she told The Weekend Australian.

In a statement last night, the general delegation of Palestine to Australia said it was aware of the recent incident at the Max Brenner shop in Melbourne but that it did not dictate positions or actions to such civil society initiatives "either within Palestine or in other countries".


Kim's notes on interview with Cameron Stewart:

Stewart (the reporter) wanted to know when was our next action. I told them Sept 9. He wanted to know if we would be picketing Max Brenner. I told him our upcoming action would once again be a non-violent peaceful rally which would highlight Israel’s human rights abuses and that we would be continuing to highlight Max Brenner and Strauss’ complicity with Israeli apartheid and occupation.[ Strauss is Max Brenner's parent company. Strauss gives direct support to the Israeli military by providing care packages, spending money, games, books and sporting equipment to Israel's Golani and Givati Brigades, two of the key military brigades which were active on the ground in Operation Cast Lead in 2008/2009, which resulted in the killing of more than 1300 Palestinians, including 350 children].

Stewart asked if other companies had been protested against as part of the BDS campaign in Austrlaia – I pointed out that protests had been held against Israeli owned companies, Seacret and Jericho. Both companies sell Dead Sea products and while Israeli companies profit from exploiting the Dead Sea, Palestinians living under occupation and living around the area of the Dead Sea are regularly prevented access to not only their lands but also the Dead Sea because of Israel’s occupation and apartheid policies.

Stewart wanted to know if there were other actions happening around the country, I pointed out that there were solidarity actions being organised in several states with those arrested and that there would also be a protest in Brisbane later this month. And I also pointed out that there had been protests in Sydney outside of MB.

He asked me what I thought of Ted Lapkin (former AIJAC staffter) saying that it was hypocritical for us to protest at Max Brenner, when we oppose the blockade of Gaza! I pointed out while we are holding a non-violent peaceful demonstration which lasts for an hour or so, once a month to highlight the complicity of MB/Strauss (via their support for the Israeli military) in Israel’s human rights abuses, as well as occupation and apartheid policies, the Israeli state has been conducting a 4 long year blockade of Gaza, which ensured that medical equipment, building equipment, foods supplies etc can not get in to Gaza. To try and compare the two is hypocritical and outrageous.

Stewart also asked what I thought about the fact that both sides of politics have come out and condemned the protests. I said I thought it was quite telling that both sides of politics felt the need to condemn our legitimate non-violent civil resistance (and that boycotts had long been a legitimate form of civil dissent in liberal democratic society), but did not have a word to say about Israel’s ongoing human rights abuses, Israel’s continued building of illegal settlements in violation of International law or that the fact Israel killed more than 1300 people during Operation Cast Lead, the majority of whom were civilian, including 350 children.

He also asked about the ACCC being called in. Again, I pointed out that it was appalling that politicians are trying to set up investigations into a legitimate non-violent civil resistance movment but fail to say a word about Israel’s human rights abuses, occupation and apartheid policies or that it was in violation of the 4th Geneva convention and rulings by the International Court of Justice.

I pointed out that non-violent civil resistance has long been a legitimate and acceptable part of liberal democratic practice. That it has been used by Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jnr, as well as many others. I pointed out that the campaign was a Palestinan initiative and that was supported by Palestinian civil society.

When I raised the issue of MB/Strauss’ connect to the Israeli military, he asked me (to paraphase) “well what about the fact that there are many companies in the US who have supported the US military”. I pointed out that there has been in fact boycotts and protests around companies involved in the wars in Iraq and that non-violent civil resistance is a legitimate form of dissent.

He asked how we knew that Strauss supported the Israeli military. I pointed out that they had had the information up on their english language website but have since taken it down but it remains on their Hebrew site and this had been translated for us by Israeli activists involved in the boycott campaign. I also offered to send him a copy of the statement issued by the Israeli BDS activists in support of Australian BDS activists and he declined to have me send it to him, instead saying he could find it on the web.

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