AUSTRALIA: Israeli boycotts – ACCC called in 8Aug11 August 8, 2011

The Australian -  8 August 2011

ANTI-Israel activists face investigation for alleged secondary boycotts under landmark attempts by the Baillieu government to curb the global campaign to target companies and businesses linked to the Jewish nation.

The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission has been asked to investigate anti-Israeli campaigners who have joined the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions group to determine if they should be prosecuted for threatening stores with Israeli ownership or connections.

The ACCC has been asked to consider injunctive relief and damages after 19 people were arrested following an ugly clash between police and protesters outside the Max Brenner store in Melbourne’s CBD on July 1.

The protesters allegedly blocked potential customers from entering the store as part of an “orchestrated campaign” to impose what the government believes is a secondary boycott on the chocolate and coffee store.

A similar action is being planned against a Max Brenner store in Brisbane on August 27.

Victorian Consumer Affairs Minister Michael O’Brien said the protesters had deliberately pinpointed businesses with Israeli ownership and who they believed traded with the Israeli government.

Mr O’Brien singled out the Maritime Union Of Australia, Geelong Trades Hall Council, the Green Left Weekly magazine, Australians for Palestine and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

Victoria Police used anti-riot tactics to make the arrests and to open up the area outside the Melbourne store amid shouts of “shame”, “free, free Palestine” and “this is a police state”. Several amateur videos of the altercation have been posted online.

Mr O’Brien told The Australian it was unacceptable to single out any businesses but that it was especially concerning given the 20th-century history behind attacks on Jewish businesses.

“I am concerned that the persons and organisations who caused these disturbances may have engaged in secondary boycotts for the purpose of causing substantial loss or damage to Max Brenner’s business,” he said.

“I am hopeful that I will receive a swift response from the ACCC in relation to the matters that I have raised.”

Mr O’Brien, a former barrister who specialised in trade practices law, has written to ACCC chairman Rod Sims citing potential breaches of section 45D of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010.

He has also suggested the ACCC consider pecuniary penalties against organisations that participated in the boycott.

The controversy follows the bitter debate that enveloped inner-western Sydney’s Marrickville Council, which was forced in April to vote down plans to join the BDS campaign.

The Greens-dominated council voted against joining the blockade because of the multi-million-dollar cost to ratepayers.

Greens senator Lee Rhiannon also has been linked to the global BDS campaign.

Mr O’Brien said he had not spoken to the owners of Max Brenner, which is a chain of chocolate shops in Australia, Israel, the US and Asia.

The government believes section 45D of the act is relevant because it is an offence to engage in conduct – with the help of another person or people – that hinders or prevents customers buying products from a business.

The Victorian government has named the five groups as potentially being in breach of the act in the belief the groups had either organised, supported the BDS campaign or taken part in the July 1 action. Those claims are yet to be tested.

The Max Brenner shops have allegedly been targeted by the BDS movement for supplying to the Israeli defence forces.

Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd recently met with Victorian federal Labor MP Michael Danby at the same Max Brenner store as the BDS protest. “I don’t think in 21st-century Australia there is a place for the attempted boycott of a Jewish business,” Mr Rudd said at the time. “I thought we had learned that from history.”

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