Boycotting Israel: Enter the Dockers

This is a guest post by Ben Cohen of Z Word

Globes, the Israeli business daily, reports that the Histadrut trade union intends to ask the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) for assistance with the planned boycott of Israeli ships by dockers in South Africa. “The union in South Africa is against anything connected to Israel, and in the past even objected to a cooperation agreement we signed with the Palestinian transport workers union,” the paper quotes Transport Workers Union chairman Avi Edri as saying.

The ITF seems to take an even-handed approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. During the Gaza conflict, ITF General Secretary David Cockcroft was clear on his blog that a “longer term peace agreement to protect civilians in both Gaza and Israel from military attack” is necessary, in welcome contrast to those myriad labor and left activists who disregarded the plight of Israeli civilians in the south.

The ITF also has a laudable record of bringing Israeli and Palestinian workers together. Back in August 2007, it fostered the cooperation agreement (the one referred to by Avi Edri above) between Israeli and Palestinian transport unions. Randall Howard, the President of the ITF, announced: “This joint declaration is, in my view, a remarkable achievement and a dramatic leap forward in defending and advancing the interests of Palestinian and Israeli transport workers.”

Randall Howard is also the General-Secretary of the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU ). Eighteen months after trumpeting the importance of Israeli and Palestinian unionists working together in his capacity as ITF President, Howard is sounding a very different tune while wearing his SATAWU hat: “If it’s an Israeli product, we’re going to boycott it, plain and simple.”

That remark was made in relation to the South African dockers plan to boycott ships carrying Israeli produce by refusing to unload them. Now, I’m not going to speculate as to why Randall Howard has changed his view so radically. Nor am I going to speculate as to whether the ITF is willing or able to mediate a resolution. I do note that non-union laborers unloaded a ship from Israel which docked in Durban today, which leads me to two conclusions: firstly, that this boycott will have virtually no economic impact upon Israel and will be difficult to enforce; secondly, that the futile gesture politics which underpin the boycott could now trigger a wholly unnecessary conflict between unionized and non-unionized workers. Pay? Conditions? Pensions? Social Services? Rising unemployment? Forget about all that – let’s get militant about Israel.

Meanwhile, only a few weeks after the Deputy Foreign Minister, Fatima Hajaig, delivered a Hitlerian speech about Jewish financial control of America, the Cosatu trade union federation, the Palestine Solidarity Committee and former minister Ronnie “As-a-Jew/Not-in-my-Name” Kasrils are planning a demonstration on Friday outside the offices of a Jewish institution in Johannesburg: to be precise, the Zionist Federation. If Hajaig joins them, I wonder whether she’ll mix up the terms “Jew” and “Zionist” again. To be fair, if she does, it won’t be her fault. Everyone’s getting confused.