THE AUSTRALIAN: Targeted chocolatier Max Brenner ‘a man of peace’ by Cameron Stewart 13Aug11 August 13, 2011

The Australian:  “Targeted chocolatier Max Brenner ‘a man of peace’ ” by Cameron Stewart, 13 August 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”.

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