(photo credit: AP [file])
The Port of Durban has turned to non-union workers to unload an Israeli ship that docked on Thursday, circumventing a boycott of Israeli shipping declared by the South African transport workers union on Wednesday.
According to Israeli diplomatic officials, the South African government and port authorities were "more worried than us" about the boycott announced by the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU).
"The historic and heroic struggle of the Palestinian people for self-determination... is a struggle that SATAWU supports," said Randall Howard, general secretary of the union, as he announced the boycott on Wednesday after the union noticed an Israeli vessel in line to enter the busy port.
However, dock workers discovered a legal impediment to the boycott, since strikes at the port require 48 hours notice. Regardless of the legalities, the union announced on Thursday afternoon it would go through with boycotting the ship, leading the port's management to organize non-union laborers to unload it.
The union's actions have drawn condemnation from Israel and Jewish groups, and praise from pro-Palestinian and other labor groups in South Africa.
A protest will be held to support the boycott initiative in front of the offices of the South African Zionist Federation in Johannesburg on Friday by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and the Congress of South Africa Trade Unions, the organizations announced on Thursday.
Former minister Ronnie Kasrils and SATAWU's Howard are expected to speak at the event.
"Both are vicious towards the State of Israel," said Zev Krengel, national chairman of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, who added that local police were alerted to the protest.
"The police haven't given permission for tomorrow's protest and we're hoping that it won't be allowed to happen," he said, calling the scheduled gathering the first instance in which an anti-Israel protest has been placed outside a Jewish institution, rather than at an Israeli or Egyptian embassy or in a public space.
"We find it very provocative to come into our areas and protest. This is where we live. We don't protest in Muslim areas," he said.
The Palestine Solidarity Campaign issued a statement charging Israel with having "violated numerous provisions of international law," and the South African Jewish community with aiding and abetting Israel's actions.
"We find this statement quite repulsive," Krengel said. "The South African Jewish community supports the right of Israel to exist as a sovereign state and its right to live in peace. This will only serve to increase the tension between the Muslim and Jewish communities of South Africa. It is both dangerous and counterproductive."
According to Krengel, the community will respond to the protests, if allowed by the police. "We won't do anything above the law," he said.
Krengel said that at this stage he did not fear for the safety of the community. "There is always a risk, but the South African government has always had a zero tolerance policy towards anti-Semitism and we've always felt well protected," he said.