Settlement builder Leviev dealt divestment blow

25 August 2009

In another stunning blow to Israeli settlement-builder Lev Leviev, the Israeli business magazine Globes Online has reported that BlackRock Inc., one of the world’s largest investment management firms, has divested from Leviev’s Africa-Israel Investments. The Globes article follows a similar report by the Norwegian news service Norwatch. The move comes after a nearly two-year-long global boycott campaign of Leviev’s businesses that developed in response to the billionaire’s construction activities in at least four Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, all of which violate international law, and his abusive labor practices in the diamond industry in Angola and Namibia.

In a 23 August article, Globes noted that BlackRock has been under pressure from three Norwegian financial institutions to remove Africa-Israel from its portfolio of funds offered to investors. Globes reports that BlackRock, once the second-largest investor in Africa-Israel, had formerly offered Africa-Israel as an investment in its BlackRock Emerging Europe fund, which the Norwegian banks in turn offered to their clients. The information manager for Skandiabanken, one of the three banks that requested that BlackRock divest from Africa-Israel, is quoted in the Globes article as saying “We have received confirmation [from] BlackRock that Africa-Israel Investments no longer is part of their portfolio. The confirmation of the divestment was sent to Skandiabanken the day before yesterday on 18 August.”

BlackRock expects to complete the acquisition of Barclays bank by the end of 2009. Barclays has also been cited as a major owner of Africa-Israel stocks.

The campaign against Leviev, launched in November 2007 by Adalah-NY, is part of a growing global movement of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) aimed at stopping Israeli rights violations against Palestinians. Ethan Heitner from Adalah-NY explained, “We are elated at BlackRock’s decision, but expect BlackRock to ensure, as it purchases Barclays, another a major owner of Africa-Israel, that Barclays also divests from Africa-Israel. We call on other businesses with investments in Israel to follow BlackRock in ending their complicity in Israel’s crimes.”

BlackRock’s move comes after the March decision by the government of the United Kingdom to drop plans to move its Tel Aviv embassy into a building owned by Africa-Israel. Leviev has also been renounced by UNICEF and Oxfam, and major Hollywood stars have quietly distanced themselves from the settlement-builder.

In a related development in May, 11 organizations, including organizations from Norway, Palestine, Israel and other countries, along with Adalah-NY, called upon the Norwegian Government Pension Fund to divest from Africa-Israel. The fund is reportedly the fifth-largest shareholder of Africa-Israel. In a 15 May response to Adalah-NY, Aslak Skancke of the Norwegian government Pension Fund’s Council on Ethics noted that the fund is assessing “whether companies in the Fund have activities which can be considered supportive of violations of international humanitarian law. One area of such interest is the construction of various forms of infrastructure in occupied territories.” A decision on the Norwegian government pension fund investment in Africa-Israel is expected in the fall.

Israeli settlements violate international law and cut the West Bank into disconnected Bantustans. Leviev’s company Africa-Israel has built housing units on occupied Palestinian land in such settlements as Mattityahu East on the land of the village of Bilin, and in the settlements of Har Homa and Maale Adumim. Leviev’s company Leader owns and builds settlement homes in the settlement of Zufim on the land of the village of Jayyous.

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