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.


  1. Hi Patrick,

    Thanks for the shout-out/linking.

    While I fully support your right of reply, I am saddened by your unfair reference to us as "pro-Israel schoolfriends of an organiser".

    Putting aside any personal feelings, we attended the rally independently, allowing the interviewees to speak freely about the event. Their/your statements are presented relatively unedited (except as I said, for timing/condensing purposes).

    We questioned the BDS group's motivations for picketing the chocolate shop, and our conclusions perhaps didn't land in support of your efforts, but our cynicism should not necessarily render us "pro-Israel". This notion that "anyone who criticises us is against us" only damages your movement's efforts.

    Furthermore, yes, we did attend High School with one of the organisers, but she did not attend this event, and her involvement didn't have any baring on our attendance/resulting video.

    I ask your readers to watch our video, and decide for themselves. I stand by the work we did.

    Thanks again,
    Jeremy Moses.

    1. Hi Jeremy, cheers for the response.

      Perhaps it's unfair to describe you as pro-Israel, and of course I wasn't suggesting your connection to an organiser influenced making this video. You do, after all, present the voices of three student activists for Palestine in their own words. However, the fact is that making a satirical video of this vein, which basically seems to find humour in mocking BDS, is going to be taken up by shamelessly pro-Israel voices like the Australian in exactly the way it was. Of course the Oz will try and find any way to delegitimise our movement, but nonetheless the way you've presented this story is ultimately negative, and that ultimately gives a free kick to our opponents.

      I look forward to seeing some more nuanced attempts at satire in the future!


  2. Hi Patrick,

    Thanks for the reply.

    All I can say is rather than fearing satire/negative press and the ensuing publicity, perhaps you should be proud your opinions reached a national audience - and instead of sticking to script to avoid any "attacks gaining traction", you should welcome scrutiny and respond in good faith. If your cause is righteous, it can only strengthen your character/efforts - even amongst adversity.

    I value the fleeting candid moments you gave us. If ever you wish to continue in this vein, I'd be glad to shoot a follow-up to further tell your side of the story.

    Kind regards,