New York’s City Harvest in ethics bind over links to Israeli settlement-builder Leviev

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

New York, NY – The award-winning New York City anti-hunger nonprofit City Harvest is avoiding requests to distance itself from funding and support from controversial Israeli billionaire Lev Leviev, despite over 500 letters to the organization complaining about Leviev’s human rights record. Leviev’s companies have built thousands of Israeli settlement homes on occupied Palestinian land in violation of international law, and have also been accused of involvement in human rights abuses and unethical business practices in the diamond industry in Angola and Namibia, and now possibly in Zimbabwe as well.

The governments of Norway and the United Kingdom, Oxfam America, UNICEF, CARE, and Hollywood stars have all sought distance from Leviev or his companies over their human rights record. Most recently, in December, New Zealand’s Superannuation Fund, which invests $20 billion for New Zealand’s government, announced it had divested from Leviev’s companies Africa Israel and its subsidiary Danya Cebus.

An October 2012 article and a celebrity photo blog reported on an October fundraiser for City Harvest held at Leviev’s Madison Avenue diamond store. In July Bloomberg Businessweek reported that the Vice Chairman of City Harvest’s board of directors, Heather Mnuchin, was opening her Hamptons home “for a viewing of the diamond collection of Leviev LVD, a City Harvest supporter.” In February 2010, Women’s Wear Daily reported on a “luncheon for City Harvest” at Leviev’s Madison Avenue store. City Harvest’s 2010 Annual Report lists Leviev as donating $25,000 - $49,999. Board Vice Chair Mnuchin, an organizer of all three publicized City Harvest events with Leviev, and Nina Rennert Davidson, noted as an organizer of two of the Leviev events, are listed as major donors in the organization’s 2011 annual report.

Adalah-NY, along with five other New York City human rights and food justice organizations, sent two letters (first letter, second letter) to City Harvest with extensive documentation of Leviev’s companies’ abysmal business practices. On December 10th, after City Harvest failed to return repeated follow-up calls, Adalah-NY launched a letter writing campaign which has resulted in over 500 emails sent to City Harvest’s leadership calling on the organization to sever ties with Leviev. City Harvest even used the automated email system on Adalah-NY’s website on December 14th to send its senior management two of the form emails about Leviev, labelling them as sent from "test test."

Ryvka Barnard of Adalah-NY commented, “We greatly value all the excellent work that City Harvest does to address hunger in our city. Still, we don’t believe that feeding hungry New Yorkers needs be achieved at the expense of Palestinian communities that are losing their farmland to Leviev’s settlements, or poor Angolan communities that have suffered violence at the hands of his private security forces. It’s a hard decision to turn back money, but sticking with ethical standards is right, and will also gain City Harvest respect and support.”

City Harvest has provided very limited feedback on inquiries. After an email from Ryvka Barnard, Cara Taback, Associate Director for Communications at City Harvest, responded with a December 4th email that did not acknowledge any of the concerns Barnard had raised about Leviev. Taback wrote, “City Harvest is a private New York City organization dedicated to feeding hungry men, women and children across the five boroughs. Our mission is singular - to help those in need with access to nutritious food… There is a hunger crisis in New York City and helping feed our hungry neighbors is our sole focus every day…”

Patrick Connors from Adalah-NY explained, “The last time I managed to get anyone from City Harvest to answer a phone call, on November 16th, Cara Taback told me that City Harvest’s management found our November 7th letter regarding Leviev to be ‘enlightening,’ because City Harvest preferred to work with ‘like-minded people.’ Taback claimed that City Harvest had not been contacted about the Leviev fundraiser, but she refused to rule out taking money from the event. With City Harvest now closing its books for 2012, we hope that no funds from Leviev fundraisers are included on the revenue side.”

Neither Heather Mnuchin, nor Nina Rennert Davidson, the organizers of the Leviev fundraising events for City Harvest, is a stranger to controversies relating to business ethics. In 2011, Mnuchin’s Bel Air, California mansion became the target of protests against home foreclosures by her husband’s bank, OneWest. Nina Rennert Davidson’s father, multi-billionaire Ira Rennert, is a junk bond specialist, whose Hamptons’ mansion is the largest home in the United States, and whose companies have repeatedly been accused of pollution. According to Mother Jones, Rennert has been threatened by Peru with extradition, on “charges of defrauding the Peruvian government in connection with his management of Doe Run Peru, a lead smelter in the Andes that has poisoned a surrounding town.“ According to Bloomberg News, Ira Rennert is also a donor to the Israeli settlement organizations Elad and Ateret Cohanim, which aim to expel Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem. Leviev has been linked to Elad, and has donated to other, related Israeli settlement organizations.