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Israeli ship’s U-turn back to Oakland thwarts protesters

by dan pine

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For four days this week, protesters prevented an Israeli-operated cargo ship from unloading at the Port of Oakland after a number of longshoremen agreed not to cross the protest line at the terminal. But after seemingly departing for Southern California, the ship quickly turned around and redocked at the port.

Shipping vessel Piraeus blocked by protesters  photo/creative commons
Shipping vessel Piraeus blocked by protesters photo/creative commons
More than two dozen longshoremen worked overnight to unload the ship, despite the presence of protesters.

The anti-Israel demonstrations began Aug. 16 when the Block the Boat Coalition, organized by the S.F.-based Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC), drew several hundred marchers to the port, ostensibly to protest Israel’s incursion into Gaza.

Their goal was to prevent the unloading of the Piraeus, a vessel operated by Zim Integrated Shipping Services, Israel’s largest shipping company.

Instead of docking as scheduled that day, the ship remained at sea as protesters waving Palestinian flags marched to the Oakland International Container Terminal. Port authorities estimated the crowd at 500.

The ship docked in Oakland the next evening. When 200 protesters returned, longshoremen chose not to work and the ship’s cargo remained unloaded. The stalemate continued through Aug. 19, with a few dozen protesters present. The ship departed that afternoon, only to return that evening.

Port of Oakland communications manager Robert Bernardo told J., “While we fully support free-speech rights, at the [port] our goal is to ensure the flow of commerce. We are a transportation agency, so we have to make sure these goods are delivered on time.”

Two protesters at the port  photo/facebook
Two protesters at the port photo/facebook
Bernardo said the Port of Oakland does not employ or supervise the union workers, nor does it manage the terminals. Thus the port has no authority to order workers to unload a ship. He also noted that the Piraeus carries goods from around the world and made several stops before arriving in Oakland.

Protesters initially claimed victory, with an AROC statement reading in part, “Workers honored our picket and stood on the side of justice,” suggesting that union members sympathized with the protesters.  

However, an Aug. 18 press release issued by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union attributed workers’ initial refusal to unload the ship to “volatility associated with a large demonstration and significant police presence.”

It further stated that the ILWU takes no position on the issue associated with the demonstration “but in cases when unsafe circumstances arise … the union must protect the safety of its members in the workplace.”

News reports and pro-Palestinian blogs indicated that some longshoremen from ILWU Locals 34 and 10 did side with the protesters. Dockworker Clarence Thomas, who joined the Aug. 16 march, told the Contra Costa Times that he compares actions in Gaza to the recent unrest in Ferguson, Mo.

Anti-Israel protesters have had some success stopping Zim ships from unloading in Oakland twice before, in 2010 and 2012.

Anticipating problems this time with Block the Boat, whose campaign declares that “Palestine will be free from the river to the sea,” Rabbi Doug Kahn, director of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council, said his organization wrote to the ILWU on Aug. 4, asking that union members not support protesters because it would create “a divisive situation, bringing the conflict directly to ILWU [Local] 10.”

Kahn received a reply from Local 10 president Melvin Mackay stating he would “take it into consideration.” In the wake of actions at the port this week, JCRC issued a statement condemning the protest as an “overt expression of extremism … with the potential to cause severe financial repercussions for the people of Oakland.”

Protest at Port of Oakland delayed unloading of Israeli-operated ship.  photo/kpix
Protest at Port of Oakland delayed unloading of Israeli-operated ship. photo/kpix
Demonstrators attempted to block a Zim vessel in Long Beach on Aug. 13 but failed to stop workers from unloading the ship. Nevertheless, Block the Boat has called for similar protests in Tacoma and Vancouver, with the aim of shutting down Israeli shipping to the West Coast.

Jewish community leaders and the S.F.-based consul general of Israel expressed outrage over the protests.

“This is a form of political terrorism,” said Consul General Andy David. “[They] have a goal and don’t care how many innocent people they hurt. It hurts people trying to do commerce.”

Bernardo backed up those comments, noting that tens of thousands of jobs depend on the free flow of goods at the Port of Oakland.

“We generate 73,000 jobs for the whole region and 827,000 jobs across the country,” he said. “Terminal operators, truckers, longshoremen, rail jobs, warehousing jobs and the people at retail, who put these goods on shelves. It really affects everyone, at tremendous cost to all of us.”

Protesters have criticized Zim as an Israeli government entity, but the consul general said the company was privatized and restructured some time ago. According to its website, Zim is 32 percent owned by the Israel Corp.; the other 68 percent is owned by various financial institutions and ship owners.

“[Protesters] are causing damage to other international players who have holdings in this company,” David said, adding that “more than 50 percent” of the company is Israeli-owned. “It’s a disproportionate action, causing a lot of damage to innocent bystanders: damage to the port, to the companies that operate at the port, and to people who are not getting [goods].”

David said Israel supporters should take comfort from the backing he has personally received. “Everybody else, from the governor’s office on down, is so strongly against [the protest], which shows me that support for Israel is strong. [The protest] is not the full picture. This is an exception.”

Kahn said the JCRC had been working with elected officials to exert pressure on the union to back away from informal support of the protesters. That will likely be taken up again should protesters return to the port the next time a Zim ship passes through the Golden Gate.

“This is a wake-up call,” he said. “The banner under which this is organized, ‘Zionism is not welcome here,’ should be an affront across the board to members of the Jewish community and beyond.”


Posted by Bacon
08/22/2014  at  07:56 AM
Zim ship sabotaged in Oakland

Why weren’t the “protesters” arrested? What were the police doing? It is like Ferguson except that the victims are not African-Americans but Israel. If the protesters are all Arabs, why can’t they be deported?

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Posted by paul
08/22/2014  at  02:18 PM
I agree with you 100%.

I agree with you 100%. All of them are Hamas.

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Posted by JimVegas
08/24/2014  at  12:32 PM
This picket wasn't terrorism, or treason or even extreme. C'mon!

I’m Jewish and I participated in the pickets that caused some workers to turn away rather than help unload the Zim Pireaus cargo in Oakland. Palestinian and especially Gazan commercial interests are so restricted, disallowed and destroyed by Israel that it seems reasonable and measured to take a stand against free Israeli trade by employing such a tried and true tactic as creating a picket line and encouraging workers not to cross it OUT OF SOLIDARITY, in this case with Palestinian workers and their families, especially those in Gaza.

The picket was hardly “extreme” as Doug Kahn said, and even less “political terrorism” or any other kind of terrorism as Israeli Consul General David was quoted as saying of this meaningful demonstration. They do a disservice to the meanings of those words to use them so widely.

No one was arrested because workers were allowed to cross if they wanted to. I was gratified and impressed that so many chose not to. It was a passionate but nonviolent picket line.

I reluctantly accept some chants of “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” just as J’s two-state-supporting readership has to associate with those who call to move all Arabs out of “Judea and Samaria” or everything west of the Jordan River. We all need to speak and act now with more consideration to how we will coexist in the long term. Elimination of one side or the other isn’t necessary or inevitable.

Anticipating some of the various ways that opinions like mine are not given due credence, let me state that I have a strong positive sense of my Jewish identity, been to Israel several times and the West Bank a couple. I have a sister and family who live on a kibbutz. I haven’t forgotten my familial and our collective losses from the Nazis and other anti-Semitic attackers.

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Posted by DavidR
08/27/2014  at  10:05 AM
Shame on you, JimVegas. Hamas

Shame on you, JimVegas. Hamas has no other motive than the destruction of Israel (which they have clearly and unequivocally stated). The protests are driven by anti-semitism, pure and simple. People like you are driven by misplaced sympathy, denial, and no sense of history or justice. It is not “free speech” that is being protected at the Port, it is hate speech. The protesters should be arrested. If Cuba started lobbing missiles at Florida, you think the USA should respond? If someone started throwing molotov cocktails at your house, would you respond? No one can watch children being killed and keep a dry eye, but it Hamas who puts their lives in jeopardy, and ultimately bears responsibility for their deaths. Stop the rockets, acknowledge Israel’s right to exist, and then we have a starting point for negotiations. Israeli’s don’t want war, and they didn’t start it.

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Posted by paul
08/27/2014  at  11:31 AM
Jim,What would you do

What would you do if the rockets from Hamas, would fly over your house? Would you tolerate them? You and your friends from so-called Jewish Voice for peace, support Hamas and their racist agenda called, from-the-river-to-the-sea. Do you know what it’s mean? It’s mean, full destruction of the State of Israel and kill the Jews. Hamas want all the Jews to gather in Jerusalem so, they don’t have to search for us in globe to kill us.

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Posted by Michael Harris
08/27/2014  at  02:14 PM
Big difference, Jim

Jim—J’s readership chooses to read a newspaper in which different points of view—even yours—get expressed. That’s far different than active participation in a hate rally held by those with absolutely NO interest in coexistence.  If you are part of the crowd in which the organizers are chanting “From the River to the Sea, Palestine Will Be Free” then your presence indicates support. You were free to leave.

In 2003-2004, before and at the start of the Iraq war, many Israel supporters who opposed the war realized that they could no longer stand and march with those who also insisted on promoting the jihad against Israel. They took a moral and principled stance. You don’t get to stand with the haters and then say “well, I didn’t agree with everything.” Especially when “river to the sea” is the central organizing principle for the sponsoring groups.

You made a choice that supporting these hate groups. Own it.

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Posted by JimVegas
08/28/2014  at  10:38 AM
I don't support or knowingly

I don’t support or knowingly associate with Hamas at all, but many large Jewish organizations and much of J’s readership eagerly support Likud despite Likud’s charter that has many of the violence-inciting, genocidal problems that Hamas’ has. By your logic (Michael Harris), anyone who supports any Palestinian presence whatsoever west of the Jordan River shouldn’t associate with Likud or remain at demonstrations that call for the murder of Jewish peaceniks or the expulsion of Palestinian Israelis. The whole planet needs us all to be slower to such rash “guilt-by-association” condemnations.

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