The (ongoing) unpublicized impact of a successful BDS action
If Israel’s largest shipping firm Zim Integrated Shipping Services, self-described as being “one of the largest, leading carriers in the global container shipping industry,” thought troubles were over for them and their cargo, they soon figured out how wrong they were. Last month Al-Akhbar English reported on the steadfast Palestine solidarity activists of Block the Boat, who prevented the Israeli-owned Zim Piraeus from unloading its cargo. The investigative report highlighted the necessary work of the Block the Boat Coalition, whose members were spurred into action by shock over Israel’s latest crimes against the people of Palestine and the ongoing occupation, as well as the call by the Palestinian General Federation Trade Union (PGFTU), which asked for workers around the world to refuse to handle Israeli goods. The report detailed the results of the pickets, including the severe toll that the protests had on Zim and companies that shipped with them.
For four days, from August 16th to August 19th, protests organized by the Block The Boat Coalition and autonomous activists made history at the port of Oakland by preventing the Zim Piraeus from unloading most of its cargo.Kumars Salehi, a PhD student at the University of California, Berkeley, and a member of Students for Justice in Palestine, attended the historic four day action during which activists were told by a dockworker that “every twelve hours [they] delayed the Piraeus cost the company $50,000.” The myth of the unscathed Israeli shipping line was quickly dispelled.
Motivated by the success of the Block The Boat Coalition and others in August, a group calling itself the Stop Zim Action Committee began organizing to picket the arrival of the Zim Shanghai, a container ship registered in Hong Kong, on Saturday, September 27th. On that Saturday morning, there was an announcement made in the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) dispatch hall which was meant to inspire workers to refuse jobs on the Zim Shanghai. Due in part to this announcement, it was reported that all but one longshoremen refused to take a job on the Zim ship, showing that rank and file were overwhelmingly on the side of the protesters. Statements made by ILWU Local 10 member Clarence Thomas at a recent panel discussion in Oakland indicate that the months of outreach to ILWU Local 10 rank-and-file by Block The Boat coalition participants were instrumental in motivating the longshoremen to stand down. Independent journalist Charlotte Silver, writing for The Electronic Intifada, notes that “the ILWU Local 10 has been out of contract since July, which means workers will notget paid if they do not work a shift, regardless whether there is a picket line or a health and safety concern.” One of the protesters, @violentfanon, who wishes to only be identified by his twitter username for privacy concerns, discussed the importance of the ILWU response with Al-Akhbar English, stating that “it wasn’t that the workers refused to cross the picket line for health and safety reasons, as they usually claim, they didn’t even take the dispatch tickets.”
Dispatch logs from San Francisco Bar Pilots, who are responsible for navigating the Zim Shanghai through the Bay and docking at the port, were provided to Al-Akhbar English and show that planned movements of the Zim Shanghai changed repeatedly, likely to interfere with the protest organizing. @violentfanon discussed what happened with Al-Akhbar English:
“The arrival time and destination of the ship were changed multiple times in an attempt to foil protestors, but these attempts were unsuccessful. The protesters had multiple ways of tracking the ship, including with inside information from sympathetic port employees, valuable relationships cultivated through months of outreach by participants in the Block The Boat coalition.”
Supporters of Israel are reluctantly taking notice of a pattern of response by activists to Zim shipping, whose imports include ammunition and who is tied to the production of white phosphorous, used by Israel against the people of Gaza in the war of 2008-2009. A recent J-Weekly editorial goes as far as to say about BDS that “this is a pattern that must be stopped,” calling it “sheer madness.” A letter to Oakland Police Chief Sean Whent about Block The Boat authored by the Zionist Organization of America protested what they called “a serious and recurring problem in Oakland,” which the Oakland police department “should be addressing.” Such reactions show just how absolutely terrified Israel’s supporters are of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, especially in light of its back-to-back gains – from Block the Boat and the passage of university resolutions to the American Studies Association voting to endorse the boycott of Israeli academic institutions. BDS has gone from being dismissed as an unexceptional paper tiger to being characterized as a well-organized and particularly dangerous movement that ‘must be stopped.’
Block the Boat Coalition activists who organized the successful pickets of the Zim Piraeus are planning another action on October 25th to picket the Zim Beijing cargo ship, with hopes to draw in close to a thousand protesters in a strong showing similar to August.
Lara Kiswani, executive director of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC), had this to say:
“As we build for October 25th, we are in coordination with Block the Boat organizers holding solidarity actions in Vancouver, Seattle, Los Angeles, Tampa, New Orleans, and New York. Collectively we see this as a long term campaign to disrupt Israel’s flow of capital throughout North America. Our strategy is make it as inconvenient as possible for any port to do business with Zim and encourage the workers to help facilitate that process. And by centralizing the leadership of those most impacted by Israeli Apartheid, the Block the Boat Coalition is building a multi-racial, cross-sector grassroots movement advancing worker community solidarity and putting BDS into action.”
According to @violentfanon, Zim has already removed all Zim ship arrivals from their online schedule at Oakland and LA ports following October 25th, done shortly after the announcement was made about the date for the October 25 action. “These protests in Oakland are demonstrating to Israel that, at a minimum, they will pay the price of economic isolation for their repeated violations of international law and human rights. A strong showing on October 25th could mean an end to all Zim arrivals at the Port of Oakland.
Roqayah Chamseddine is a Sydney based Lebanese-American journalist and commentator. She tweets @roqchams and writes ‘Letters From the Underground.‘