Ask Oprah To Renounce Leviev’s Angolan Blood Diamonds and Israeli Settlements

O MagUS megastar and social justice philanthropist Oprah Winfrey wore diamond earrings made by Israeli billionaire Lev Leviev on the cover of the May 2015 edition of O, the Oprah Magazine. She wore the earrings despite the fact that Leviev’s companies have been involved in brutal human rights abuses in the diamond industry in Angola and in the construction of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land. On May 29, Adalah-NY emailed the letter below, signed by nine organizations and 34 individuals from the US, Palestine, Israel and South Africa to: Ms. Winfrey; Sheri Salata and Eric Logan, Presidents of the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN); Lucy Kaylin, Editor in Chief of O; and Gayle King, Editor at Large of O. The letter calls on Ms. Winfrey to demonstrate that she does not support Leviev’s abusive business practices by publicly distancing herself from his companies. Following email exchanges and phone calls between letter signers and executives from O and OWN over the course of more than three weeks, Ms. Winfrey’s representatives have failed to provide a promised response to the letter.

Please join the call for Ms. Winfrey to support the human rights of Angolans and Palestinians. Fill out and submit the form on the right in order to sign the letter and email a copy to: Chelsea Hettrick, Communications Director at OWN; Lucy Kaylin, Editor in Chief of O; and Karla Gonzalez, Assistant to Lucy Kaylin at O

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July 1, New York, NYIn a letter made public today, nine organizations and 34 individuals from the US, Palestine, Israel and South Africa called on Oprah Winfrey to publicly distance herself from the companies of Israel billionaire Lev Leviev. Ms. Winfrey wore Leviev diamonds on the cover of the May 2015, 15th anniversary issue of O, The Oprah Magazine. The letter detailed Leviev’s companies’ involvement in serious human rights abuses in Palestine and Angola.

On May 29, Adalah-NY emailed the letter to executives at O and the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN). The letter noted, “We fear that this publicity conveys to your peers and to the public your implicit endorsement and promotion of Leviev’s companies.” Chelsea Hettrick, Communications Director at OWN, told an Adalah-NY representative that Ms. Winfrey was reviewing the letter, and that Ms. Winfrey’s team would respond soon. However, Ms. Hettrick then failed to reply to further calls and emails.

Among those who have severed ties with Leviev’s companies over their human rights abuses are UNICEF, Oxfam America, the British and Norwegian governments, and New Zealand’s pension fund.

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New York, NY, April 12th, 2015 – On the evening of Sunday April 12th, 40 New York human rights advocates from Adalah-NY, Jewish Voice for Peace, Jews Say No,  and others protested the performance by Israeli singer Idan Raichel at the Beacon Theatre at 75th St. and Broadway. Idan Raichel calls himself a cultural ambassador for Israel and is an outspoken and uncritical supporter of the Israeli army (photos). His band, The Idan Raichel Project, is part of the Israeli government’s Brand Israel public relations campaign, which uses art and music to distract from Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights.

Although he presents himself as a proponent of peace, Raichel has strong ties to the Israeli military. In his endorsement of the right-wing US organization Thank Israeli Soldiers, he said that supporting Israeli soldiers “is a fulfillment of the Jewish ideal.” Raichel performed for the army before, during, and after its August 2014 attack on Gaza, which killed over 2100 Palestinians, including 500 children. Even more recently he began his US tour by attending a gala fundraiser for Friends of IDF.

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New York, NY, March 10, 2015 - Sixty New Yorkers weathered Tuesday evening’s downpour to protest the gala fundraiser organized and hosted by US nonprofit Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) at the Waldorf Astoria. Demonstrators demanded that FIDF be stripped of its current tax-exempt status, which allows it to raise funds used to subsidize the Israeli military at the American taxpayers’ expense. Last year, the FIDF’s tax-exempt fundraising was subsidized by taxpayers to the tune of at least $20 million. Signs and pamphlets at the demonstration reminded attendees and passersby that these tax-exempt millions are not supporting a humanitarian cause, but a military force with a known record of egregious human rights abuses.

November 19, New York, NY –  Demonstrators protesting the performance of Israeli musician Idan Raichel overflowed police barricades in front of Symphony Space Tuesday evening (PHOTOS). With creative signs, songs, poetry, dance and hip-hop performances, over 60 New Yorkers braved the sub-freezing temperatures to highlight the contradiction between Raichel’s self-image as a representative of a “tolerant, multi-ethnic Israel” and his role as a cultural ambassador for Israel and its brutal policies toward Palestinians.

Raichel’s image as a musician who crosses cultural boundaries has made him an important cultural ambassador for Israel in its rebranding campaign. Israeli Foreign Ministry official Andy David said of Raichel: “I think Idan is maybe the best ambassador that Israel has through his music and his inclusiveness.” Raichel has affirmed his role in drumming up support for the Israeli government, saying, “I believe that our role as artists is to enlist in the Israeli propaganda campaign [Hasbara].”

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November 13, 2014, New York, NY - On busy Lafayette Avenue outside Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), 80 New Yorkers gathered last night to dance and sing in protest of Batsheva Dance Company's performances in BAM's 2014 Next Wave Festival (photos). Batsheva's appearance is part of the “Brand Israel” initiative designed to distract from the facts of Israel’s ongoing occupation and colonization of Palestinian land, and its denial of rights to Palestinians the world over. The demonstration was organized by Adalah-NY and endorsed by 15 other local human rights organizations including the BDS Arts Coalition, Brooklyn For Peace, Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, and the Ya-Ya Network.

Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs touts Batsheva as "perhaps the best known global ambassador of Israeli culture." Batsheva is funded in part by that government office as well as by the Ministry of Culture and Sports. While Batsheva artistic director Ohad Naharin has criticized Israeli abuses of Palestinians, Batsheva Dance Company continues in its role as a prominent cultural ambassador of the Israeli state.

November 4, 2014, New York, NY - In a public letter, over 4000 individuals and 50 groups from around the world have called for the New York-based World Music Institute (WMI) to cancel their presentation of a concert by Israeli musician Idan Raichel on November 18 at New York City’s Symphony Space due to Raichel’s role as a cultural ambassador for Israel who provides “uncritical support for the Israeli military and government.” Raichel will be performing with the Malian musician Vieux Farka Touré.

Current signatories to the letter calling on WMI to drop Raichel include filmmaker and WMI honorary board member Mira Nair; the Grammy-nominated Haitian band Boukman Eksperyans, scheduled to perform with WMI in May; Egyptian writer and activist Ahdaf Soueif; musician Shubha Mudgal; writer and art critic Lucy Lippard; poet Ammiel Alcalay; actor David Clennon; the Palestinian hip hop group DAM; playwright Naomi Wallace; and groups from the US, India, South Africa, Latin America, Europe and the Middle East.

October 27, 2014 – The Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported today (article in English) that representatives from Africa Israel (AI) and its construction subsidiary Danya Cebus, targets of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, say they will stop building Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including in Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem. Yedioth Ahronoth reported that protests against settlement construction beyond the Green Line were among the main reasons for AI’s decision. The Israeli newspaper cited Africa Israel’s past construction the settlements of Har Homa, Gilo, Ma'aleh Adumim, Ariel, and Mattityahu East. However, Adalah-NY believes that this announcement - undoubtedly the result of seven years of pressure generated by Adalah-NY and allied groups worldwide and a sign of the growing strength of the BDS movement - should be greeted with vigilance because Africa Israel has in the past made similar statements that proved to be untrue.

In fact, according to the Israeli watchdog group Who Profits, “In October 2010, in an official letter to Who Profits, Africa-Israel stated: ‘Neither the company nor any of its subsidiaries and/or other companies controlled by the company are presently involved in or has any plans for future involvement in development, construction or building of real estate in settlements in the West Bank.’ However, the company soon after received a 78 million shekel contract to construct the C-Jerusalem project in the settlement neighborhood of Gilo in East Jerusalem.”