Over 100 well-dressed, well-heeled New Yorkers attending the invitation-only opening of diamond mogul Lev Leviev’s Madison Avenue jewelry store this evening appeared stunned and aghast to find their evening derailed by a noisy protest against Leviev’s construction of illegal West Bank settlements. Gala attendees set down their champagne glasses and gathered by windows to view the signs and Palestinian flags, and hear protesters’ chants.
Thirty New York City human rights activists chanted, “You’re glitz, you’re glam, you’re building on stolen land,”* and “All your diamonds cannot hide, your support for Apartheid.” Protesters called on New York City’s upscale residents to boycott Leviev’s diamonds. Disconcerted attendees hastily exited to their limousines to loud chants of, “Occupation is a drag, just say no to your gift bag.”
Lev Leviev is one of Israel’s richest men. He built his enormous fortune trading in diamonds with Apartheid-era South Africa. His company now buys diamonds from the repressive Angolan government. Leviev uses profits from diamond sales to fuel the conflict in Palestine and Israel by funding the construction of suburban developments for Israeli settlers on occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank, undermining the prospects for Middle East peace, and threatening farmers’ ability to survive and remain in their homes. Leviev’s diamonds are “conflict diamonds” in a broad sense of the term, funding repression in Angola and violations of international law in Palestine.
Leviev and his former US partner Shaya Boymlegreen have also angered New Yorkers with their abusive local development schemes. Leviev has invested $1 billion in real estate in New York City over the last year. In New York City, Leviev and Boymelgreen have employed underpaid, non-union workers in hazardous conditions and violated housing codes to construct luxury apartments that displace low-income and moderate-income residents in Brooklyn, provoking local branches of the Laborer’s International Union and ACORN to launch a campaign against these abuses (www.shayaiscoming.org). Brooklynites remain concerned that Leviev and Boymelgreen are key developers in the planned Gowanus Village project.
Leviev’s real estate empire in Israel is building homes for Israelis in the West Bank settlements of Mattityahu East and Zufim, according to Gadi Algazi in the August 2006 Le Monde Diplomatique, and in Maale Adumim and Har Homa, according to The Jerusalem Post. He has also built homes in the settlement of Ariel. All the settlements in which Leviev has built homes seize vital Palestinian water and agricultural resources and carve the West Bank into disconnected Bantustans, destroying hopes for a viable Palestinian state. All Israeli settlements built in the Occupied Palestinian Territories violate international law.
The Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth also reported on 28 January 2004 that Leviev is a primary donor to the Israeli organization the Land Redemption Fund, which allegedly uses fraud and intimidation to extort land from Palestinian farmers for Israeli settlement. While Leviev donates to UNICEF and OXFAM, 50 percent of families in the farming village of Jayyous are now dependant on food aid, according to the Financial Times, because they are being choked by Leviev’s expansion of the all-Jewish settlement of Zufim. Leveiv and Boymlegreen are building the settlement of Mattityahu East on the village of Bil’in’s land. Bil’in has earned international acclaim for its three-year campaign of nonviolent protest against the construction of settlements and Israel’s wall on their farmland.
“Leviev’s new Manhattan store hides the devastating use of its owner’s fortune underneath shimmering facets of polished diamonds. As long as Lev Leviev violates international law by building settlements in the West Bank and attacks New York’s communities with invasive luxury development, there can be no business as usual for him,” said Daniel Lang-Levitsky of Jews Against the Occupation/NYC. Adalah-NY will hold a second protest at Leviev’s 700 Madison Avenue jewelry store on Tuesday 20 November from 4:30-6:00pm.
* Editor’s note: The press release was corrected from the original text which read “ ‘You’re glitz, you’re glam, you’re building on Palestinian land …’”
For more info: Adalah-NY: The Coalition for Justice in the Middle East: www.mideastjustice.org