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USyd protesters target Max Brenner Newtown

Sit-in leads to the store’s closure as students demonstrate against Israel’s actions in Gaza, writes Georgia Behrens.

A group of University of Sydney protesters staged a sit-in at Max Brenner Newtown on Friday to protest Israel’s ongoing military action against Palestine in Gaza.

About twenty students from a variety of campus left factions occupied the store for thirty minutes, chanting “Max Brenner, come off it! There’s blood in your hot chocolate!” and “Max Brenner, you can’t hide, you’re supporting genocide!”

Patrons were asked to vacate the premises, and the store’s front doors were locked while the sit-in took place.

Protestor Ridah Hassan said that, while the protestors had no qualms with the staff or patrons of Max Brenner Newtown in particular, they had been hoping to raise awareness of Max Brenner’s links with the Israeli Defence Force.

“We felt compelled to demonstrate in solidarity with the Palestinian people because we are against the atrocities that Israel is committing in Gaza at the moment,” said protestor Ridah Hassan.

“We think it’s crucial for progressive students to actively reject Israel’s war crimes. We want to make it clear that when all the world’s politicians, including our own, say they side with Israel, they don’t speak for us; we stand with Palestine.”

Max Brenner has been the target of the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign owing to its parent company’s sponsorship of the Golani and Givati Brigades in the Israeli Defense Forces. Both brigades have been involved in deadly Israeli military actions against Palestine, and are accused by the campaigners of having perpetrated human rights abuses. The brigades were mutually criticised in a UN report on the invasion of Gaza in 2009.

Literally a screenshot from Max Brenner's Australian website.
Literally a screenshot from Max Brenner’s Australian website.

When asked about protests against his Sydney stores by The Australian in 2009, Max Brenner said: “Everything that has to do with conflict seems stupid … whether it is in Israel or not, anything to do with violence, aggressiveness or appearing at protests or boycotts seems silly … but then again, I am just a chocolate-maker.”

The opening of a Max Brenner outlet on the University of New South Wales’ Kensington campus was met with extensive opposition from pro-Palestinian students groups last year. Students for Justice in Palestine UNSW still maintains a Facebook page calling for UNSW students to boycott the café.

Last year, the USyd SRC passed a resolution supporting BDS.

Both the Max Brenner boycott and BDS campaign in general have been criticised by some mainstream media outlets and politicians in Australia, many of whom believe that boycotting of Jewish-owned businesses and organisations is inherently anti-Semitic.

Education Minister Christopher Pyne re-affirmed the government’s support for Israel at a forum in Jerusalem last week.

“Australia has always been prepared to be in the fight and always on the right side. And that’s how we view the State of Israel – that we are on the right side,” Mr Pyne said.