Charities, celebs distance themselves from Israeli settlement-builder

The October 28 release of the celebrity portrait book Hollywood Pinups by photographer Timothy White is being marred by controversy, as a charity and stars distance themselves from Israeli billionaire Lev Leviev who provided the jewelry worn by stars in the book. Oxfam America is named in the book as recipient of White’s book sales proceeds, and on the page immediately before, Leviev is thanked for his “support and contribution” to the book. In response, Oxfam America, which had renounced Leviev in January, has again decried Leviev’s settlement construction and diamond mining practices, and announced that it will be informing others of “the deliberate strategy of Leviev Diamonds to connect itself with unwitting charities and celebrities.” In June, UNICEF renounced all connections with Leviev.

Eighteen of 23 celebrity women in the book wore Leviev’s diamonds. The New York rights coalition Adalah-NY has contacted many — Susan Sarandon, Tea Leoni, Felicity Huffman, Vanessa Williams, Kate Hudson, Kate Walsh, Molly Sims, Mary-Kate Olsen and Gina Gershon — and asked them to renounce all connections with Leviev. Adalah-NY notes that a photo of Oxfam “Ambassador” Kristin Davis wearing Leviev’s jewelry has been removed from Leviev’s website. Susan Sarandon, who was previously embroiled in controversy after attending the opening of Leviev’s New York jewelry store despite a protest, wrote the book’s foreword, but did not wear Leviev’s diamonds in her photo in Hollywood Pinups.

Lubna Ka’aabneh of Adalah-NY explained, “We don’t believe that the stars who wore Leviev’s diamonds knew that the diamonds were tainted by human rights violations in Palestine and Angola. Now that they do, we expect them to follow Oxfam and UNICEF’s lead, by forbidding Leviev from using their names and photos.” In a related development, after contacts from Adalah-NY, Leviev was removed from the list of previously announced sponsors of the Children’s Diabetes Foundation’s (CDF) star-studded Carousel of Hope Ball held last Saturday in Beverly Hills. CDF said this did not represent a judgement on the merits of Adalah-NY’s claims about Leviev.

In January, Adalah-NY informed Oxfam that Leviev was touting support for the organization. Oxfam responded by stating that it had not received support from Leviev, and that it does not accept support from individuals who violate international law. But Leviev’s claims of links to Oxfam continued.

In a 21 October statement on Hollywood Pinups, Adrienne Smith, an Oxfam America spokesperson in Boston, explained, “At some point in the process, Leviev Diamonds offered to provide diamonds for some of the photo shoots, but Oxfam was not aware of this. Just a few weeks ago, Adalah-NY tipped us off to the fact that Leviev Diamonds were promoting their inclusion in the book and using this to claim to be Oxfam supporters … Oxfam reiterates our policy that we are not and never will be partners or beneficiaries of Leviev because of both his mining practices and his support of Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian lands which is in contravention of international law and a major obstacle in the road to peace … Oxfam is disturbed to find ourselves used in this way and we intend to be proactive in informing those in our community about the deliberate strategy of Leviev Diamonds to connect itself with unwitting charities and celebrities.”

Leviev’s Los Angeles-based public relations firm BluPRint has a case study about Leviev on their website explaining their strategy of “engaging the Hollywood and celebrity community,” and aiding “in Leviev’s charity alliances and event partnerships to maximize the brand recognition and partnering opportunities in the US.” Alexis Stern of Adalah-NY explained that “The developments with CDF, Oxfam, UNICEF, and various stars signals the collapse of Leviev and BluPRint’s cynical public relations strategy. No amount of deception, branding and PR can make a businesses’ human rights abuses acceptable.”

Leviev’s companies Africa Israel and Leader have recently built homes in at least four Israeli settlements in the West Bank. In 2007, New York Magazine reported that Angolan security companies employed by Leviev were accused of torture, sexual abuse and even murdering Angolans. In Namibia Leviev recently fired 222 striking diamond polishers. And in Brooklyn and at the Apthorp in Manhattan, Leviev’s construction of luxury apartments threatens to displace low- and moderate-income residents.

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