Activists in Perth strike a blow against Israeli shipping company ZIM

4 December 2023
Max Vickery

In his 1896 pamphlet The Jewish State, the founder of modern political Zionism Theodor Herzl made the case for a flag. “We have no flag, and we need one”, he wrote. “I would suggest a white flag, with seven golden stars.”

Herzl’s proposal fell from favour, eventually superseded by the blue and white Israeli flag we know today. However, his seven-star design lives on—inspiring, among other things, the flag and logo of ZIM Integrated Shipping Services. While this may seem trivial, ZIM’s adaptation of Herzl’s design for its logo is one sign of the close historical relationship between the company and the Zionist project.

When it was established in 1945, ZIM was operated by Zionists who had gained their nautical know-how through their involvement in the clandestine immigration of Jewish settlers into British Mandate Palestine.

With the founding of Israel in 1948, ZIM became a state-owned company. It grew rapidly over the next decade, supported by reparation funds from Germany used by the Israeli government to purchase and construct new ships to aid the expansion of the Zionist project. It remained a state-owned company until it was bought by the Israel Corporation in 2004—though the Israeli state retained 51 percent of shares and the veto rights those shares secured.

Today ZIM is an international shipping company, and while Israeli exports and imports only accounted for 9 percent of ZIM’s total cargo in 2021, ZIM handled a whopping 30 percent of Israeli exports and imports.

Though operating “at arm’s length”, there can be no doubt that ZIM remains a creature of the Israeli state. While the company is notoriously secretive about its cargo, multiple independent investigations have found ZIM to be involved in the transport of armaments and military supplies both to and from Israel.

In its company-certified history ZIM proudly advertises its record of providing arms to Zionist militias in the lead-up to the 1948 Nakba (“catastrophe”—the systematic terror campaign that accompanied the establishment of Israel, in which more than 15,000 Palestinians were killed and 750,000 displaced). Seventy-five years later, as Israel was unleashing what many see as a second Nakba in Gaza and the West Bank, ZIM CEO Eli Glickman posted on X that the company’s “first priority will be to allocate the needed resources to aid Israel in this hard and difficult situation”.

ZIM, then, plays a conscious and crucial role in the Israeli war machine—which is why it has become a target of the global boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

On Saturday 2 December, as part of that movement, Palestine solidarity activists in Perth, Western Australia, struck a blow against ZIM. Organised by Unionists for Palestine WA with the assistance of Friends of Palestine WA and the Western Australian section of the Students for Palestine, a community picket was established at the entrance to the Patricks container terminal in North Fremantle. The aim of the picket was to disrupt the unloading and loading of the ZIM ship As Nadia. Despite barely 24 hours notice, hundreds turned out to put themselves on the line for the Palestinian cause.

The organisers of the picket targeted shift-changes at the terminal. The first picket assembled at 2:30pm and the second at 10:30pm. This was strategic. Instead of attempting to take direct action against ZIM and the trucks servicing that berth, the community activists called on the workers scheduled to work that day—members of the Maritime Union of Australia—to respect the picket. The workers did.

This was the first time in living memory that Australian maritime workers have respected a community picket for Palestine, but there have been international examples. In 2014, pro-Palestine activists in Oakland organised community pickets targeting the ZIM ship Piraeus which were respected by members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU). The action was so successful that ZIM had to stop all shipping to the US west coast for seven years!

The community picket in Perth delayed the As Nadia for 26 hours. One experienced port worker estimated the delay would have cost ZIM somewhere between $156,000 and $260,000 at this port alone, with further losses likely at subsequent ports along its route and damage to its global reputation.

The example of ZIM shipping shows the global nature of war. In the face of that we need a global resistance too. If small victories like that won against ZIM by activists in Perth can multiply, it can throw a spanner in the works of the Israeli war machine.

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