SYDNEY, Australia (JTA) – Charges were dismissed against 11 pro-Palestinian protesters in Australia, while five others must wait to find out if they will be penalized for their part in a clash with police.
In dismissing the charges of trespassing and besetting, Magistrate Simon Garnett of the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court said Monday that “It cannot be said that it was the actions of the protesters that caused any obstruction, hindering or impediment to members of the public.”
Multiple charges were brought against the 16 protesters, including a Melbourne Jew, following a protest last July outside Max Brenner, a franchise of the Israeli-owned chain of chocolate shops. Three policemen were injured in the protest, which was part of the global boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign.
The protesters claimed that Max Brenner’s parent company, the Strauss Group, engaged in “ongoing ethnic cleansing” by providing food packages to the Israel Defense Forces.
Rob Stary, a lawyer for some of the defendants, was quoted in reports as saying following the dismissals, “This is not Syria or Iraq or Egypt where there is a repression of people. This is Australia, where we should be able to engage in robust debate in these important issues.”
Vashti Kenway, one of the protesters, wrote on a blog Monday that “We have beaten back their attempts to criminalize dissent and their attempts to silence a public pro-Palestine voice in Australia.”
But Peter Wertheim, executive director of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, described it as “disturbing” that the charges of trespassing were dismissed.
“It seems counter-intuitive to suggest that someone has the right to remain on your property, or property you are responsible for controlling, when you order them to leave, merely because they say they are expressing their political views,” he said.