Saturday, 25 May 2013


While getting media calls about protests for Palestine or ASIO harassment is a great opportunity for exposure of radical politics, this has been an exhausting year and I've been simply unable to function effectively at anything I find important. At the moment I'm taking a break from activism and getting my life in order. I'm updating this blog with various things I've written about and haven't posted (mostly to do with USYD, Tunisia and Palestine) but right now my head is somewhere else.

This might not be the most opportune time, but still - 9000 PAGEVIEWS, w00t!

Friday, 24 May 2013

Why Boycott Max Brenner

Alternative title: Why Michael Danby thinks I'm a bit of a dill.

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”.

The representative of the movement quoted was yours truly: the quote was from a video made by pro-Israel schoolfriends of an organiser at the November 20 rally in Parramatta, whose questions I tried to answer in such a way that their attacks on our motives would gain no traction. Clearly I failed...

This is my response to the beat up, which had continued in the pages of AJN and the Australian almost daily since then. It was originally published in Green Left Weekly; it was first 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 one 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 is as odious 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 over Christmas, 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 the firm Veolia for its operations in the occupied territories has nothing to do with the religion or race of its bosses.

It is about raising awareness of the Israeli government's crimes in Palestine, and targeting companies involved in those crimes like Strauss (or their local franchises and operations, which also includes two brands of dips, Copperpot and Red Rock Deli).

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.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

How Long?

Today it was announced that the Ford plant in Geelong is set to close.

I visited the city in January for the Socialist Alliance national conference and found it beautiful and familiar, like a somewhat less hilly version of my home town (with a very successful football team in the wrong code...). The similarity doesn't end there: similar tales of the slow death of heavy industry, job losses without adequate transition plans for the workers, youth unemployment, social alienation...

All I can think about today is: how long for Wollongong? How many more times will I be able to drive home and look for the orange glow of the steelworks on the southern horizon?

ASIO Harassment

Originally published by Green Left Weekly

On Tuesday the 16th of April, I received a knock on the door from two members of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, better known as ASIO.

The two told me they would like to have a conversation. When I asked what they wanted to speak about, they told me they were doing their job - protecting national security – and had a few questions about my involvement in activism in Sydney.

Apparently the latest threat to national security is “political violence” in the activist community. As a Palestine solidarity activist involved in organising the Sydney rally to commemorate Nakba (the catastrophe, when the state of Israel was created and Palestinians dispossessed) the agents wanted to speak to me about any concerns I might have, or for me to identify any individuals who I was worried might be responsible for acts of political violence.

I replied that the only fears of violence that I had from my involvement in Palestine solidarity activism were from the far right groups and individuals who often organise counter mobilisations – or simply send threatening and intimidatory emails, messages and phone calls in an attempt to stop or derail our protests and other events.

I was also questioned by the employees about the recent rally against police violence at Mardi Gras – which I didn’t attend – and the picket lines at the University of Sydney, where I study, organised by the National Tertiary Education Union. Once again, my answer was that the only violence I have seen in my time as an activist has been initiated by those seeking to silence our right to protest. 
In the case of Sydney University, this comes from members of the “Public Order and Riot” Squad of the NSW Police force, who have been sentin to break up the picket and other protests to defend education and student rights. At the latest picket, they were responsible for breaking one student's leg and another's ribs.

Other people in Sydney and Melbourne involved in campaign groups have also been approached by ASIO and asked not to speak about these visits.

In a context of the “war on terror” overseas — which has involved Australian troops involved in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for the past decade — there is a war on civil liberties at home.

ASIO’s mandate is broad and without scrutiny. The organisation is responsible for providing security assessment for refugees seeking asylum in Australia, with no public oversight. Tamil asylum seeker Ranjini and her two sons are locked up in Sydney’s Villawood Detention Centre because ASIO decided she is a “security risk”.
Security organisations have had their powers expanded and budgets increased by Labor and Coalition governments, and consequently have increased their monitoring of Australians.

As $900 million is being slashed from our universities through an “efficiency dividend”, the new ASIO headquarter building in Canberra is facing yet another costly delay in opening. After being estimated to cost $460 million when construction began under the Howard government, the full price tag is now being estimated at over$631 million dollars – over 2/3 of the university cuts.

Construction has had no parliamentary oversight, and there was no public consultation.

The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Act 1979 (the ASIO Act) even makes it illegal to publish the identity of any officer, agent or employee of the organisation. 

Last year, Green Left Weekly reported on activists involved in pro-Palestine and pro-Tamil solidarity campaigns in Adelaide who had also been visited by South Australian Police working in “security and intelligence”.

These visits are an attempt to intimidate people into ending their involvement in legitimate political organisations. Organising and attending demonstrations is not illegal and people involved in these activities should not be monitored by ASIO.

There is no law that prevents people from speaking publicly about a visit from ASIO. Shining a light on these practices is important to show that we will not be intimidated into exercising our democratic right to protest.

If the powers that be were serious about national security, they might abolish this spy agency - and withdraw our troops from the costly and unjustifiable occupation of Afghanistan - instead of harassing activists who are only exercising their democratic right to protest.