UK gov’t boycotts settlement financier Leviev

4 March 2009

The government of the United Kingdom has decided to boycott Israeli diamond and real estate mogul Lev Leviev over his companies’ construction of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported today. The decision by the UK government followed a coordinated advocacy campaign by human rights advocates in New York, the UK, Palestine and Israel demanding that the UK government end plans to rent the new UK Embassy in Tel Aviv from Leviev’s company Africa-Israel.

The UK’s Tel Aviv Ambassador notified Leviev of the decision by letter, following a British parliamentary debate, and inquiries with Leviev’s company Africa-Israel over its activities in the West Bank, Haaretz reported. According to Haaretz, “The embassy in Tel Aviv confirmed the details of the story.”

The Haaretz article did not note the construction of the settlement of Zufim on the land of the village of Jayyous by Leviev’s company, Leader. The Israeli army has recently intensified efforts to crush Jayyous’ protest campaign against the construction of Leviev’s settlements and Israel’s wall on village land. Sharif Omar, the head of Jayyous’ Land Defense Committee, commented, “We feel heartened by the UK government decision opposing Leviev’s settlement construction, and we expect our brothers and sisters in the UAE to follow the UK government’s example by banning Leviev from selling his diamonds in Dubai. We need more pressure in order to end Israeli repression, return our land, and restore our rights.”

Adalah-NY has held 13 protests at Leviev’s Madison Avenue jewelry store since it opened. UNICEF and Oxfam have renounced Leviev over human rights abuses, Hollywood stars have distanced themselves from him, and the Dubai government is under pressure to boycott Leviev’s businesses. Additionally, Africa-Israel has also lost 90 percent of its value and has been engaged in an embarrassing New York real estate battle.

Leviev’s companies have built Jewish-only homes on occupied Palestinian land in the Israeli settlements of Zufim, Mattityahu East, Har Homa and Maale Adumim, impoverishing villages like Bilin and Jayyous and violating international law. Leviev also funded the settlement organization the Land Redemption Fund. In December, the Israeli financial journal Globes published an expose of Leviev’s serious human rights abuses and failure to fully comply with the Kimberley Process in Angola. And in Namibia, Leviev recently fired around 200 striking diamond polishers, some of whom were already struggling to survive on less than $2 per day.

After Israeli and British papers reported the UK’s plans to rent its new Tel Aviv embassy from Leviev, eight groups in the US, UK and Palestine launched a letter-writing campaign to the UK’s Foreign Office. Among those writing to demand a boycott of Leviev were ex-BBC Middle East Correspondent Tim Llewelyn, US academics Norman Finkelstein and Noam Chomsky, Vice President of the European Parliament Luisa Morgantini, and British lawyer Daniel Machover, writing in The Independent. A 22 November letter in the Guardian by eight Palestinian civil society leaders, including Palestinian Legislative Council members Mustafa Barghouti and Hanan Ashrawi, called on the UK to “publicly guarantee that it will not do business with settlement-builders such as Lev Leviev.”

Omar Barghouti, one of the initiators of the Palestinian civil society call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) said, “I wholeheartedly congratulate British activists and Adalah-NY for this substantial achievement for the boycott movement. This is a step in the right direction for the British government, a government that has taken thousands of steps in the wrong direction, not least of which is its open complicity in Israel’s war crimes in Gaza and the rest of the occupied territory. Time for a British arms ban on Israel.”

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