A Turkish-flagged cargo ship was turned away from the Tunisian port of Radès after Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions activists claimed it was linked to Israel. The action followed a call from Palestinian trade unions, a local Tunisian union and international BDS activists to prevent the ship from entering the port.
A spokesman for the Israeli container company Zim told The Jerusalem Post that the ship did not belong to the company, was not rented by the company, and did not contain any cargo belonging to the company.
On August 1, Deputy Secretary-General of the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT) Sami al-Tahiri told a local radio station that the union had received information that a ship “belonging to a Zionist company” was due to arrive in the Tunisian port of Radès under a Turkish flag. He asked the government to verify if the ship was linked to Israel.
TACBI, the Tunisian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel said that it would be “extremely scandalous to allow this boat to dock in Radès, especially since last Sunday, the Israeli navy intercepted the Freedom Flotilla in international waters.”
Two days later, Palestinian trade unions reached out to their Tunisian counterparts, claiming they had received reports that Turkish container transport company Arkas was paid by Israeli container company Zim, and the ship was expected the next day in Tunisia’s port.
“We appeal on behalf of major Palestinian trade unions to act urgently to prevent the ship mentioned in the port or prevent it from emptying its cargo,” Palestinian trade unions said. They added that pressure was necessary to prevent either direct or indirect transactions with Tunisia.
TACBI’s website said the ship, named Cornelius A, belonged to the Turkish company Arkas, “with which Zim entered into a vessel-sharing agreement” and did not dock on August 5, but had continued on a different path.
TACBI said the ship had previously docked there in July and “may have made regular stops for several months.” But the boycott campaign mobilized in early August with the support of the local UGTT union, who said they will “block any Zionist entity trying to enter Tunisian soil.”
TACBI posted a screenshot from Zim’s website which they claimed showed that Zim’s Texas container ship has a regular route from Haifa to Valencia, Spain, and that the Cornelius A travels from Valencia to Radès. The screenshot itself does not show any direct link between Israel and Radès, or the Cornelius A.
In Tunisia and in other BDS circles, “victory” was declared on August 7 when they reported the ship would not dock in Radès. The website, The Electronic Intifada, also celebrated the victory and said activists with the union and BDS were not “demanding to stop the covert trade.”
Furthermore, “the industrial action by dockworkers in Radès shows that any government attempt to normalize relations with Israel is diametrically opposed to the will of the Tunisian people.”
Palestinians have also celebrated with Facebook posts with images of a woman waving a sign, “Zim degage.”
Arkas Container Transport announced in January 2014 it would offer regular services to Ashdod. It was described as a “new player in Israel’s maritime trade” at the time by the website port2port.com.
Attorney Nati Rom, founder of the “Lev HaOlam” organization that fights against the boycotts of Israel commented on the events, “Unfortunately I am not surprised to hear this news. Zim, like many Israeli companies, continues to suffer from boycott groups that spread lies about Israel.
“In the end, this will only hurt Tunisia’s citizens," Rom added. "This incident also follows the refusal of Tunisia to host Israel in the international chess championship following pressure from these groups. My organization and I will continue to expand our relationships with citizens throughout Africa who recognize the lies of the BDS and want to know the truth about what is happening in Israel. We have no choice but to continue strengthening our connections to this important region. I am optimistic that a change in views on Israel will yet come.”
Today, the Cornelius A is off the coast of Mallorca, according to vessel tracking GPS. Dockworkers have targeted Israeli ships in the past, in Sweden in 2010 and in Los Angeles in 2014.
In 2014, Tunisia even barred Israelis from leaving a Norwegian cruise ship. This appears to be one of the first times a foreign-flagged ship owned by a foreign company was prevented to enter a port because of allegations it has agreements or business with Israel.
A request for a statement to Arkas was not returned by press time. Zim also did not respond to requests for comment.
Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.