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(Wissam Nassar / Maan Images)

BDS activists in Israel stand with Australian counterparts facing repression

Boycott from Within, a coalition of citizens of Israel, both Palestinian and Jewish, organizing in support of the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) issued a statement today expressing their solidarity with Australian BDS activists facing severe state repression. The full statement is below.

Kim Bullimore reported for The Electronic Intifada on Tuesday that 19 Melbourne activists are facing fines of up to $32,000 for participating in an action in support of the Palestinian call for BDS:

In the largest show of support for the Palestinian-initiated boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign so far in Australia, more than 350 persons marched on 29 July in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle — and in opposition to an attempt by Victorian Police to criminalize Palestine solidarity activism in Melbourne.

A month earlier, on 1 July, a similar, peaceful BDS action involving 120 persons was brutally attacked by the Victorian Police. Nineteen individuals were arrested.

Charged with “trespassing” and “besetting,” those arrested are now facing fines of up to AUD $30,000 (approximately US $32,300). The 1 July action, organized by the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid, had sought to highlight the complicity of two Israeli companies, Jericho and Max Brenner Chocolate, with Israel’s occupation and apartheid policies. The action was the fourth protest against both companies since December 2010.

Role of Israeli government, lobby

Tuesday’s report also described how the Israeli government and Israeli lobby groups have a role in the repression of activists in Australia:

… on 27 July, the Victorian Police confirmed during a bail variation hearing at the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria (local District Court) for some of the activists arrested on 1 July that a decision had been made to arrest the protesters before the demonstration. This decision was made after discussions with Zionist organizations, the Victorian government, shopping center managements and state and national management of Max Brenner.

In April, the Australian Jewish News (AJN) reported that the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) had made representations to the Victorian police. According to the AJN, JCCV president John Searle had “called on the police to stamp down harder on aggressive protesters” (“Police questioned as protests turn violent,” 15 April 2011). Similar calls for a government and police crackdown on BDS protests against Max Brenner in Sydney were made in June by former AJN journalist Walt Secord, who is now a member of the NSW State Parliament (“Police called to action on BDS,” 24 June 2011).

On July 29, the same day as the BDS action against Max Brenner in Melbourne the Australian Jewish News carried a “debate” piece between Vic Alhadeff, the CEO of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, and Ted Lapkin, a former staffer with the key pro-Israeli lobby group in Australia, the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council. The piece reveals that the various calls for police and government crackdown on BDS activism was part of a “nationally coordinated strategy” developed with and backed by the Israeli Foreign Ministry (“BDS: To protest or not to protest?”).

Activists raided

The day that EI published that report, four of the targeted activists were subjected to dawn police raids. According to a media release posted to the website of the Australian Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions Campaign for Palestine on Tuesday:

The activists were arrested for breaching bail conditions imposed following arrests at a previous pro-Palestine protest at Max Brenner. The bail conditions, which prohibit arrestees going within 50 metres of a Max Brenner shop, are themselves a serious curtailment on the right to protest. The arrestees have been told they will be held until September the 5th.

After detaining the four activists in a holding cell for hours, Victorian Police released them from custody around midnight after they were made to pay a combined total of $16,000 in surety, according to an update posted later that day on the Australian campaign’s website. in addition to the bond that they had already posted after the 1 July arrests:

Today the courts and the police went out of their way to try to punish these four activists by any means possible, when none have been convicted of any crime. Indeed, no crime has been committed except to attend pro-Palestine demonstrations. The four activists were denied their right to phone calls when placed in remand, in an attempt to isolate and demoralise them. It was over 7 hours after their arrest that they were allowed to speak to their lawyers.

Once they were brought before a magistrate for a bail hearing, excessively punitive conditions were placed on their liberty for their alleged offenses. The magistrate chose the harshest possible conditions for bail. For the explicit purpose of preventing them from protesting at or even near Max Brenner. Three were made to pay $2,000 in surety each to be granted bail. One was singled out for far harsher conditions on the basis that she has been a public spokesperson at these demonstrations. For the crime of speaking their mind, they were made to pay $2,000 in surety plus another $8,000 the following week. A sum of money that is many times the maximum sentence for her alleged offense.

Once all four were granted bail on these conditions, they were further punished by deliberately delaying their release. Friends of the detainees have been made to wait over 5 hours to pay the surety for their release. Despite people being present at 5pm to pay for their release, it was 9:30pm before a single detainee was let out. At the time of writing this report only 2 had been released. It appears that in the eyes of the courts, protesting in solidarity with the Palestinians struggle for freedom is a heinous crime, while Max Brenner’s support for genocide and occupation is not.

The Electronic Intifada will continue to cover this precedent-setting case — which has been described by some as the biggest civil liberties case in Australia in years.

Solidarity activists threatened in US, Israel

Meanwhile, solidarity activists in the US and Israel are also facing repression for their work challenging Israeli apartheid and occupation and those who fund and profit from it.

Here in the US, two dozen activists, including myself, have been subjected to a secret grand jury investigation that is centered around organizing in direct solidarity with the people of Palestine.

And in Israel, the Knesset or parliament issued a law last month which “prohibits boycott of business, universities and social and cultural institutions based in Israel and the illegal settlements, and imposes heavy financial sanctions against civil society organizations and businesses that participate in boycotts.”

In their statement of support of the Australian activists on the line, Boycott from Within says that the anti-boycott legislation is “The latest attempt by the Israeli government to silence its own citizens … [and] in addition to other explicitly racist laws, is yet another indication of the need for this Palestinian-led nonviolent global movement, in order to insure the rights of all people in this region.”

The full statement follows:

Following anti-Democratic Arrests and Intimidation Attempts: Israeli Citizens in Solidarity with Australian BDS Activists!

We, Israeli citizens, members of Boycott! Supporting the Palestinian BDS Call from Within, would like to express our solidarity with the numerous Australians who are involved in the burgeoning BDS campaign in Australia.

Witnessing first-hand the brutality of our government against the Palestinian people, we have joined the July 2005 Palestinian call for a comprehensive boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against the state of Israel and its institutions. Such means should be applied as long as Israel continues to flout international law and UN resolutions and refuses to acknowledge the Palestinian people’s universally recognized human rights: The rights of Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories, the rights of Israel’s Palestinian citizens, and the rights of Palestinians who were expelled from their homes during the Nakba (the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine).

As Israeli citizens, we are angered by the outrageous attempts to exploit the horrors committed by the Nazi regime, through a comparison of the Palestinian led BDS campaign to the 1933 Nazi boycott campaign, in order to try and silence the Palestinian non-violent popular struggle for freedom and justice. The deplorable and racist Nazi boycott campaign targeted all Jews, without exception, and only for being Jewish. The Australian BDS campaign does NOT target Jewish businesses, as argued by demagogues in Australia! The lesson from the Jewish holocaust should be, in our view, the need to oppose all forms of discrimination and violence committed against different ethnic groups in the name of nationalist or supremacist ideologies. The state of Israel has failed to learn that lesson.

To reiterate, we are concerned that some politicians in Australia have accused the activists involved in BDS of being anti-Semitic. We reject those accusations. The BDS campaign is a legitimate form of non-violent political action, whereby people and organizations are required not to participate in or support violations of international law. We take a clear stand against all forms of racism, including antisemitism and Islamophobia. Not only does the BDS campaign oppose anti-Semitism, it is also a responsible call that targets only complicit institutions rather than individuals. BDS is neither anti-Jewish nor anti-Israeli, since it does not oppose all that is Israeli because it is Israeli: the campaign simply insists that Israel abide by its obligations under international law. Furthermore, by attempting to lump together all Jews around the world as a monolithic block that is expected to support its criminal policies, the state of Israel is denying the fact that many Jews, including in Israel, oppose the occupation and apartheid policies inflicted on the Palestinian people.

The current debate within Israeli society shows us that the boycott campaign is extremely effective. The latest attempt by the Israeli government to silence its own citizens, the new anti-boycott legislation, in addition to other explicitly racist laws, is yet another indication of the need for this Palestinian-led non-violent global movement, in order to insure the rights of all people in this region.

The recent Australian BDS actions have been a great inspiration. We are encouraged to know that as far-away as Down Under there are individuals and groups active in the BDS campaign, promoting the Palestinian people’s unassailable rights. The BDS movement needs your help and support. We call upon all Australians to join and support the struggle for freedom and equality in Palestine.

With the deepest gratitude and all our support,

Boycott! Supporting the Palestinian BDS Call from Within