Lev Leviev

The information in these background documents regarding Leviev's companies was last updated in 2009. For more updated information please see Adalah-NY's press releases.

Lev Leviev is one of Israel’s wealthiest and most powerful businessmen. Born in Uzbekistan, Leviev made his initial fortune as a siteholder with the powerful South African diamond company DeBeers during the Apartheid era, thereby supporting South African apartheid. Leviev eventually left DeBeers to begin his own operations and became known as the man who "cracked the DeBeers cartel." In 1996 Leviev bought the controlling share of the company Africa-Israel, which owns numerous subsidiary companies including Danya Cebus. Danya Cebus has carried out a number of projects building Israeli settlements on Palestinian land in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Given his company's current settlement construction and Leviev's background collaborating with apartheid South Africa, it is not surprising that according to Africa-Israel's 2004 Annual Report, Africa-Israel was originally established in 1934 as Africa Palestine Investments Ltd. "by a group of Jewish investors from South Africa, with the purpose of engaging in acquisition and development of real estate for Jewish settlement in Israel". The company changed its name from Africa Palestine to Africa-Israel in 1967, the year Israel seized control of all of historic Palestine by militarily occupying the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.

Leviev is now the world’s largest cutter and polisher of diamonds, and is also deeply involved in diamond sales, and in diamond mining in Angola, Namibia and Russia. In Angola, Leviev’s activities related to diamond purchasing and sales contribute to severe human rights violations. In New York City, Africa-Israel owns a number of major properties and has been involved in construction projects with underpaid workers laboring in dangerous conditions that displace the local low- and moderate-income families. In addition to Africa-Israel and its many subsidiaries like Danya Cebus, Leviev’s business empire includes a number of diamond and jewelry companies known collectively as Lev Leviev Diamonds (LLD). He also owns other companies, including Leader Management and Development, which is currently building the settlement of Zufim on Palestinian land in the West Bank.

A glowing, uncritical profile of Leviev in The New York Times Magazine on September 16, 2007 noted that Leviev has bought over $1 billion of real estate in New York City in the last year. The Times article called Leviev a “moderate,” and quoted a former adviser to Ariel Sharon saying of Leviev, “He’s not one of the crazies… Certainly not a Greater Israel man.” The New York Times article failed to note Leviev’s companies’ settlement construction, their involvement in human rights abuses in Angola where his companies mine diamonds, or his problematic New York City real estate projects.

The assertion that Leviev is moderate is belied by his companies’ settlement construction and Leviev’s words. In a March 2008 interview in Ha’aretz Daily, Anshel Pfeffer asked Leviev, “Do you have a problem with building in the territories?” Leviev responded, “Not if the State of Israel grants permits legally.” But, regardless of Israeli law, all Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories violate international law according to a widespread international consensus. According to an English translation of the same Ha’aretz interview published in The Jewish Chronicle, Leviev explained, “For me, Israel, Jerusalem and Haifa are all the same.” “So are the Golan Heights. As far as I’m concerned, all of Eretz Israel is holy. To decide the future of Jerusalem? It belongs to the Jewish people. What is there to decide? Jerusalem is not a topic for discussion.” Told that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert apparently thinks differently about Jerusalem, Leviev responded, “Then he has a problem. It’s a betrayal of the Jewish people if the prime minister thinks so.”

 

Construction of Israeli settlements by Leviev’s Companies: Leviev’s companies’ most recent settlement construction projects - Mattityahu East in Modi’in Illit, Zufim, Maale Adumim and Har Homa - are central to Israel’s efforts to seize control of and annex strategic areas of the West Bank. They take water and key agricultural areas from Palestinians, carve up Palestinian areas of the West Bank into isolated enclaves, cut off East Jerusalem from the West Bank, and thus help to destroy any remaining hopes for the creation of a Palestinian state. Most of the settlements that Leviev built or is building are located west of the route planned for Israel’s wall, in the West Bank settlement blocs that Israel aims to annex. Indeed, there is clear evidence, according to a report by the Israeli human rights organizations B’Tselem and Bimkom, that the wall’s path deep within the West Bank was drawn with the intention of facilitating the expansion and annexation of these settlements.

In 2004 Leviev’s Danya Cebus company, a subsidiary of Africa-Israel, agreed to serve as the subcontractor for Shaya Boymelgreen’s Green Park Project for the construction of 2500 homes in the settlement of Mattityahu East on Bil’in’s land (click for contract in Hebrew showing Danya Cebus' responsibility for Mattityahu East homes and for other sources). The village of Bil’in has gained worldwide renown for its three-plus-year nonviolent protest campaign, supported by Israeli and international activists, which aimed to save 50% of the village’s land from Mattityahu East and Israel’s wall. Danya Cebus is also building 60 homes in the strategic settlements of Har Homa on Jabel Abu Ghneim that divides Jerusalem from Bethlehem, and 102 homes in Maale Adumim which divides the northern and southern West Bank. Even the US government, Israel’s closest ally, has criticized both Har Homa and Maale Adumim. Africa-Israel was also one of the original companies that agreed to market and build Har Homa in the early 1990s, before Leviev bought Africa-Israel. In 1999, Leviev's Africa-Israel announced plans to build 700 new homes in the settlement of Ariel, which reaches up to 13 miles inside the West Bank, cutting off the northern West Bank from the rest of the West Bank. It is not clear whether this construction was ever implemented. Articles in Globes, Israel's leading financial newspaper, also announced that Danya Cebus was contracted to build 175 homes in the settlement of Maale Adumim in 2000, as well as an undetermined number of homes in the settlement of Adam in 2003.

Leviev and his brother in-law Daviv Eliashov own Leader Management and Development (often translated from Hebrew to English as “LIDAR”). Leader is expanding the Zufim settlement on the land of the West Bank village of Jayyous, according to documents obtained by Israel’s Coalition of Women for Peace from Israel's Companies Registrar in Jerusalem (click here for the documents). According to B’Tselem and Bimkom, Leader requested approval to expand Zufim by around 1400 housing units, and has started building them. In 2002, Jayyous became the first village to mount a sustained nonviolent campaign, with the participation of Israeli and international activists, against the construction of the wall and related settlement expansion on its land. Because Jayyous’ agricultural land was cut off by the wall to facilitate Zufim’s expansion, The Financial Times reported in September, 2006 that 50% of the once prosperous Jayyous villagers were reliant on foreign food aid.

Together, these examples show that Leviev’s companies are major builders of Israeli settlements - not the biggest builders, but very important ones. From 1999 onward, the various cases listed above show that Leviev’s companies aimed to build approximately 5000 housing units in the West Bank. It is clear that some of these announced plans were not implemented, mostly due to protests and legal challenges by Palestinian and Israeli civil society groups. However, in the murky world of settlements, it is unclear how many were built. Using a conservative average family size of four residents per home, Leviev’s companies aimed to add almost 20,000 settlers to the West Bank settler population of around 450,000 during an eight year period. Had all their plans been implemented, Leviev’s companies alone would have increased the total Israeli settler population by 4.5% during an eight year period.

 

Leviev’s Aid to Settler Organizations: Claims that Leviev is a moderate are further belied by Leviev’s financial support, according to the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, to the settler organization the Land Redemption Fund. Yedioth Ahronoth and other sources explain that the Land Redemption Fund has used large sums of money, strong-arm tactics and deceit to secure Palestinian land for settlement expansion. According to Gadi Algazi,“The fund, established 20 years ago, coordinates the takeover of Palestinian land in key areas earmarked for the expansion of the settlements.” Moreover, “The fund’s intelligence network is made up of former [Palestinian] collaborators who were discovered and returned to their villages, retired Israeli General Security Services operatives who are information contractors for pay, and former military governors,” who use their “connections in the villages.” The Land Redemption Fund’s attorney Moshe Glick explained the LRF’s goals to Yedioth Ahronoth in this manner: "The fund has no interest in just blurring the Green Line, but wants all of Judea and Samaria to move toward the State of Israel."

The Land Redemption Fund was central to securing land from Jayyous and Bil’in which was used for eventual settlement construction by Leviev’s companies. The Yedioth Ahronoth article explains, “The LRF also was responsible for purchasing the land on which parts of Oranit near Kafr Kassem was built, and for Tzofim [Zufim] near Tzur Yigal.” The village of Bil’in’s 2006 Supreme Court Appeal filed by Israeli attorney Michael Sfared explains the Land Redemption Fund’s central role in securing Bil’in’s land. The Appeal explains that, as just one example, “On 28 August 1990, Attorney Moshe Glick, the representative of Respondent 4 [The Fund for the Redemption of the Land], contacted Ms. Plia Albek, director of the Civil Department in the State Attorney’s Office, and informed her that his client, the Fund, had acquired several plots in the land of the village of Bil`in.”

Ha’aretz Daily reporter Meron Rapoport has also raised the possibility that Leviev is a donor to the settlement group Elad which is also using dubious means to take over the Palestinian East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan for Israeli settlement. Rapoport wrote that, “According to government sources, businessmen originally from Russia are among the main donors to Elad. At an event held by Elad two years ago, in honor of its new visitors center in the City of David, the guests of honor included Russian real estate tycoon Lev Leviev and Roman Abramovich, the owner of the Chelsea soccer club. Representatives of the two would not say whether they made donations to Elad.” Despite an order from Israel’s Registrar of Associations, Elad has refused to turn over a list of its donors. Thus until now it has been impossible to prove or disprove that Leviev has donated to Elad.

 

Leviev in Israel: Destroying Palestinian communities and building private prisons: Leviev’s Africa-Israel has also shown disregard for Palestinian land, homes and heritage inside what is now Israel. In just a few examples of recently publicized cases, Africa-Israel initiated projects to destroy the remains of and build on top of the Palestinian villages of Sheikh Muwanis and Sumail, located in what is now Tel Aviv. From 1947-50, during what Palestinians call al-Nakba, or the Catastrophe, Zionist militias and the Israeli army drove around 800,000 Palestinians from their homes and destroyed around 500 Palestinian towns and villages. In addition to the now more than 4 million Palestinian refugees who have been denied the right to return to their homes and villages, approximately 250,000 Palestinian citizens of Israel are also internally displaced. Though many live just miles from their former homes and lands, they too have never been allowed by the Israeli government to return to them.

An April 13, 2003 article in Ha’aretz Daily reported on efforts to save from demolition by Africa-Israel the Beidas home, one of the last remaining structures of Sheikh Muwanis village located in what is now Tel Aviv. The Ha’aretz article described the house as “a magnificent structure adorned by arches, which was constructed around 1900 by Mahmoud Beidas in the village Sheikh Muwanis, and remains impressive even today.” According to Ha’aretz, “the house is among the last few remains of the village Sheikh Muwanis which was located in the area until the establishment of the state of Israel, and the large part of which was destroyed. Besides the house there remain, as far as is known, only part of the cemetery of the village and the ‘Green House,’ which was renovated ten years ago and serves today as the faculty club of Tel Aviv University.” Despite multiple appeals, the Israeli organization Zochrot, which focuses on educating Israelis about the Nakba, reported that the home was demolished before the eyes of “Mrs. Majdulin Baydas, a daughter of the well-known al-Shaykh Muwannis family… a refugee living twenty minutes away from her father’s house.”

An April 16, 2007 article in the Israeli financial paper Globes reported on Africa-Israel’s partnership in another destructive project. ”The lot of the former Arab village of Sumail on Ben Sarouk Street at the junction of Arlozorov Street and Ibn Gvirol Street will be turned into a complex of high-rises and commercial centers… The Arab village of Sumail was abandoned by its inhabitants in the War of Independence in 1948 and the houses were occupied by Jewish residents. The area zoned for the project includes a number of vacant lots, where 120 people still live as squatters.” A December, 2007 article in Ha’aretz Daily notes that Africa-Israel took over complete responsibility for the Sumail project, including, it must be assumed, responsibility for evicting the 120 squatters.

In addition to imprisoning Palestinians on small pockets of land, surrounded by expanding Israeli settlements, Leviev’s Africa-Israel is building and soon will operate the first private prison in Israel. Africa-Israel won an Israeli government contract in 2005 to build and operate Israel’s first private sector prison. The prison, to be located in Be’ersheva, will hold 800 inmates. Ha’aretz Daily reports that court appeals have attempted to stop the creation of the prison because “transferring a prison to a private enterprise infringes on the sovereignty of the state. The state is supposed to have a monopoly on the use of force and punishment, and the petition alleges that a private facility contravenes the Basic Law on Government. The petitioners further claim that privatization could lead to a violation of a prisoner's rights, thus contravening the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty.” Nonetheless, the prison is expected to open in 2009 despite cost overruns, court appeals and significant opposition.

Africa-Israel is also one of the companies now bidding to build a giant police training center in Israel.

 

Destroying communities in New York City: Leviev has recently purchased over a billion dollars’ worth of real estate in Manhattan, including the former Met Life clocktower, the former New York Times building and 50% of the Apthorp building. While these purchases evoke images of wealth and glamour, many of his New York City real estate activities have also been characterized by abusive behavior towards communities and workers.

Shaya Boymelgreen, Leviev’s US and New York City real estate partner from 2002-2007, has been accused by the Laborers’ Union and ACORN of having a development history in New York City characterized as being “rife with unsafe conditions, shoddy construction and delayed work. Boymelgreen's developments are plagued by a variety of construction problems, including delays and poor craftsmanship. His employees are underpaid and work in unsafe conditions. At his construction sites, Boymelgreen's poor development practices not only endanger his workers, but also the surrounding community. His company's previous negligence caused physical harm and economic losses to the surrounding community.” The Laborers’ Union and ACORN also note that “Boymelgreen generally builds high-rise, luxury condos that benefit from tax abatements; yet he has a reputation for not creating any affordable housing. His pricy apartments displace the local low- and moderate-income families and destroy the unique character of Brooklyn.”

Many of the problems in Shaya Boymelgreen’s work, as highlighted by the Laborers’ Union and ACORN, were in developments that were co-owned by Lev Leviev as part of their New York City partnership. Almost all of the problematic developments are featured under “New York” on the website Leviev/Boymelgreen. A crosscheck between the buildings on the Leviev/Boymelgreen website that are cited as problematic by the Laborers’ Union and ACORN and other Africa-Israel sources (Africa-Israel’s 2005 Periodic Report, an Africa-Israel’s 2006 Periodic Report and the Africa-Israel website) confirms that most were co-owned by Africa-Israel and Boymelgreen when problems occurred. The Laborers’ Union has explained that it focused its campaign on Boymelgreen rather than Leviev and Africa-Israel because Boymelgreen was the on-the-ground manager and was locally known.

Examples of problems in buildings confirmed as partially owned by Africa-Israel include:

  • Atlantic Court/The Smith: A wall accidentally collapsed during construction. 16 violations were issued by the Department of Buildings for failing to safeguard adjacent or public property. A lawsuit was filed for the continually unsafe management of construction debris. Failure to shore, support, brace or buttress the foundation during excavation of Atlantic Court damaged the foundation of a neighboring building, leading to a $3,000,000 suit.
  • 60 Spring Street: 13 violations were issued by the Department of Buildings for failing to safeguard adjacent or public property. A lawsuit was filed against the continual, unsafe management of construction debris. An engineering report noted that brickwork was flaking and cracked. A designer clothing store postponed its flagship store opening at 60 Spring Street because of alleged construction delays, and was suing for alleged damages.
  • Lawsuit by workers over withheld wages: Boymelgreen and Leviev were sued by 200 construction workers, supported by the New York State Attorney General’s Office, over their failure to pay the workers overtime for three years. The suit was settled out of court.

Additionally, the Laborers’ Union and ACORN note that construction workers at Boymelgreen's projects were earning $10 an hour, a fraction of the prevailing wage. Many of these workers would have been working on buildings co-owned by Leviev.

For all these reasons, families in Gowanus Village in Brooklyn, where Leviev and Boymelgreen had purchased a large part of an area planned for redevelopment, were greatly concerned about gentrification and destructive development. However, with the break-up in mid-2007 of Leviev and Boymelgreen’s US and New York City partnership, and Leviev and Boymelgreen’s current effort to sell their Gowanus Village property, families in Gowanus Village can breathe easier.

Still, Leviev’s New York City real estate problems have not ended with the break-up of his partnership with Shaya Boymelgreen. In March, 2008 his company was issued a stop-work order for building without permits at the Met Life Clocktower.

Much more troubling is the fact that Michael Idov’s September, 2007 New York Magazine article “Apoplectic at the Apthorp” describes tenants at the Apthorp being forced from their apartments after Leviev bought half of the building in early 2007. Idov explains, “residents were on edge, their fears running from massive rent hikes to flat-out evictions, and for some, the worst-case scenario happened almost immediately. Over the spring and summer, as lease after lease expired and got renewed, the building’s market-rate renters saw their rents rise by jaw-dropping sums all across the price spectrum. Apartment 3KS, a two-bedroom, went from $6,000 a month to $14,865. The monthly rate for one five-bedroom went overnight from $24,000 to $35,000. It is rumored that the monthly rent for at least one particularly spacious unit rose to $54,000—an impressive figure even for the rarefied Manhattan luxury-rental market.” And, “The vast majority of renters are simply afraid they’ll be muscled out (in the case of the rent-regulated tenants) or priced out (in the case of the free-market residents), their rents jacked up by such extreme amounts—double? triple?—that they’ll have no choice but to leave. It’s hard to say how many people have already left the Apthorp since Leviev entered the picture (one can’t separate distressed movers from normal turnover), but a recurring guesstimate, which Mann and Herbitter call far too high, puts that number at about 30.“

Finally, according to Ha’aretz Daily, in Florida Leviev and Boymelgreen’s real estate “dream has turned into a nightmare,” with construction delays, acrimony, the break-up of their partnership, lawsuits against the company by buyers and real estate agents, as well as denied mortgages.

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