THE Victorian Premier is considering a change in the law after protestors charged in connection with an anti-Israel demonstration outside chocolate retailer Max Brenner last year have had cases against them dismissed.
Eleven of 16 Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) activists, charged and bailed after violent scuffles erupted with police outside the Israeli-owned store in Melbourne’s QV Square, were cleared on Monday when Magistrate Simon Garnett ruled in their favour.
“In my opinion, the owners of QV and therefore QV management … did not have the legal authority to apply conditions on members of the public who wished to enter QV square,” said Garnett.
He said the protestors had entered lawfully for the purpose of “conducting a political demonstration”.
While five protestors remain charged with resisting arrest and assault, all charges of besetting and trespass have been dropped – a move defence lawyer Robert Stary hailed as “a landmark case in the annals of the criminal justice system because what it represents is people have a right to express themselves politically”.
But lawyer and former Jewish Community Council of Victoria president John Searle described the ruling as “curious”.
“Clearly protestors have the right to protest peacefully … but mum, dad and the little kids and whoever else have the right to go to QV … without fear of being harassed, terrified and intimidated,” he said.
In light of Garnett’s ruling, Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu said he had asked the Attorney-General to investigate the possibility of changing the law to take account of businesses being threatened with closure. “The BDS group, in my view, is better titled as bigoted, dangerous and shameful. They have sought to close down businesses, just because they’re associated with the State of Israel.
“I will defend anyone’s right to protest and the right to have free speech, but when a group seeks to close down businesses, I think that’s totally inappropriate.”
Insisting the ruling should not be seen as a green light for BDS protests, Executive Council of Australian Jewry chief executive Peter Wertheim said, “It’s wrong to conclude from these findings that it’s alright for BDS protestors to stop people from going into Max Brenner.”