Pro-Palestinian demonstrators based in California are celebrating news that Israeli shipping company, Zim Integrated Shipping Services, will no longer use its vessels to service the Ports of Los Angeles and Oakland.
Zim’s Container Service Pacific (ZCP) route between Asia and North and Central America had previously called at the west coast ports, but they no longer appear on its schedule.
The removal of services follows months of picketing against Zim vessels by hundreds of protestors at ports across the US, in conjunction with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against perceived injustices levelled by Israel to Palestinians.
Known as the Block The Boat (BTB) movement, the pickets appear to have been most successful on the West Coast, with a Zim vessel being delayed for several days at the port of Oakland in September and entirely skipping a scheduled call to move onwards to Russia last month.
Lara Kiswani, executive director of the Arab Resource and Organising Centre (AROC), one of the organisations running the BTB coalition, said: “The fact that the Zim vessel can no longer come to Oakland or Long Beach is one of the biggest wins for Palestinian solidarity in the Bay Area in recent history. We see our victory as a huge success for the BDS movement against Israel.”
She continued: “When the BTB coalition formed in August, our goal was to stop the Zim ship from coming to the Port of Oakland as a show of solidarity with the Palestinian people, and to make a material impact on the state of Israel. Zim realized it was too costly and too difficult to continue docking its ships in our town given the strength of our community organising and mobilising.”
Zim, the tenth largest cargo shipping company in the world, became a target for activists following Israel’s highly controversial Operation Protective Edge this summer, with 2,200 people dying in the conflict.
The shipping line was founded by the Israeli government in 1968 but after privatisation and a recent restructuring, 68% of shares are owned by creditors and bondholders, while the remaining 32% belongs to Kenon Holdings, a spin-off of holding company, Israel Corporation.
Demonstrators have argued that the Israeli government’s ‘golden share’, which gives it a veto over Zim’s decisions and allows its ships to be controlled in times of war, makes the shipping line a legitimate target for protest.
Robert Bernardo, communications manager at the Port of Oakland, claimed the loss of port calls by Zim vessels would hurt the local economy and dock workers in particular. Speaking to CM after one of the picketing incidents, he said: “We power approximately 73,000 jobs in the northern California region. So it’s vital for us to keep the flow of commerce moving so that local jobs are protected.”
He added: “So when dock workers do not work, they lose shifts which result in lost wages for themselves and their families. From dock workers to truckers to people who rely upon the cargo arriving on time and everyone in between, the Port of Oakland supplies an entire supply chain of jobs. That is why what happened is unfortunate.”
Kiswani disputed the claims, saying: “We don’t believe Oakland should be profiting from apartheid. If they’re going to lose profit from apartheid, that’s a loss that is worth losing. We are also continuing our commitment to worker solidarity and do not intend to negatively impact International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) rank and file by regularly disrupting business at the port and targeting other shipping lines.”
While Zim vessels will not service Oakland or Los Angeles, there appear to be no changes to existing schedules at other ports in the US. Furthermore, multiple Zim services which use vessels belonging to other shipping lines will continue to call at Oakland and Los Angeles. Kiswani’s indicated that it is unlikely these vessels will be picketed.
BTB demonstrations at American ports are likely to continue with recent events organised at Tampa Bay, Seattle and Tacoma.