An Open Letter to Daphne Guinness

November 21, 2011

Dear Ms. Guinness,

As groups committed to human rights in the Middle East we were concerned to learn that the current exhibition of your clothing at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in Manhattan is being funded by diamond mogul and Israeli settlement-builder Lev Leviev.[1] As you would have seen during your November 3 visit to FIT,[2] Leviev’s name as a sponsor is prominently displayed just below your name on exhibition signs outside and inside the museum.

We expect that you were not aware that Lev Leviev’s companies have become notorious for their involvement in Israeli settlement construction in violation of international law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and for human rights violations and questionable business practices in the diamond industry in southern Africa. Because of this many respected organizations - including Oxfam America,[3] CARE[4] and UNICEF;[6] governments - including Norway[6] and the United Kingdom;[7] major investment firms and Hollywood stars[8] have all sought distance from Leviev’s companies.

The UK Foreign Office once considered leasing floors in a Leviev-owned office block in Tel Aviv for their embassy. However, after warnings regarding Leviev’s illegal settlement building, the Foreign office told the Jerusalem Post, "We can confirm that we have withdrawn from negotiations on a lease for the Hakirya Tower premises in Tel Aviv…The UK government's firm stance is that the construction of settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is unlawful under international law; this is an important policy issue for the UK government."[9]

Leviev’s companies have long histories of building Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land. Though a year ago Leviev’s company Africa Israel announced that it had no plans to build Israeli settlements,[10] presumably in response to pressure, today Leviev’s company Leader Management and Development continues to build hundreds of housing units in the settlement of Zufim on the land of the West Bank Palestinian village of Jayyous.[11] Leviev’s settlement construction is separating Palestinian families from their farmland, and impoverishing this once thriving agricultural community.

Leviev’s companies have a history of involvement in human rights abuses in the diamond industry in Angola.[12] Leviev works in close partnership with that country’s repressive and corrupt government. The Angolan government also fails to respect the Kimberley Process which was put in place to stop the worldwide trade in conflict diamonds.[13] In the diamond industry in Namibia, Leviev’s company fired around 200 striking, low-wage factory workers in 2008,[14] and this year his employees in Namibia have been accused of trading in illicit diamonds.[15]

We recognize your strong commitment to supporting women’s rights around the world,[16] to countering AIDS in Africa[17] and to helping the needy in places like Haiti.[18] Therefore, like the organizations, governments and individuals who have sought distance from Leviev, we feel confident that you do not wish to tarnish your name and good works by associating yourself with Leviev’s companies’ human rights violations and questionable business practices. Leviev’s companies undermine the very rights and humanitarian causes that you support. Therefore, we call on you to act swiftly to sever all ties between the exhibit at FIT that bears your name, and Lev Leviev.

Attached is more detailed information on the role of Leviev’s companies in Israeli settlement construction, and in human rights violations and questionable business practices in the diamond industry. We would be happy to meet with you to discuss this information further.

Thank you,

Patrick Connors and Alexis Stern
Adalah-NY: The New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel (US)

Abe Hayeem
Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine (UK)

Rae Abileah and Nancy Kricorian
CODEPINK Women for Peace (US)

Rebecca Vilkomersom
Jewish Voice for Peace (US)

Deborah Fink
Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods (J-BIG) (UK)

Sarah Colborne, Director
Palestine Solidarity Campaign (UK)

1Fashion Institute of Technology: Daphne Guinness

2Daphne Guinness Holds Court at FIT, Women's Wear Daily, Rosemary Feitelberg, November 4, 2011

3Hollywood Pinups Statement, Oxfam America, November 2008

4CARE Trustee Takes Leave Over Israeli Settlements, Chronicle of Philanthropy, September 2010

5UNICEF Cuts Ties to Israeli Billionaire Leviev, Reuters, June 2008

6Three Companies Excluded from Government Pension Fund Global, Norwegian Government Ministry of Finance, August 2010

7UK Embassy Cancels Move in Tel Aviv, The Jerusalem Post, March 2009

8Stars Photos Removed from Leviev Website as Celebs Seek Distance from Rights Abuser, Adalah-NY, December 2008

9UK Embassy Cancels Move in Tel Aviv, The Jerusalem Post, March 2009

10Israeli Holding Company Africa Israel Claims It Will Not Build in Settlements, Coalition of Women for Peace, November 2010

11May 2011 photo of Zufim construction taken by Jayyous resident

12Meet the Mogul: The Putin Pal who just bought the old New York Times building, New York Magazine, Ben Smith, May 7, 2007; Ben Smith's article refers to a report posted by the UK-based Business and Human Rights Resource Centre about the Angolan diamond industry, including Leviev, by Angolan human rights activists Rafael Marques, and Leviev's formal response to that report. The Business and Human Rights Resource Centre also outlined the process for soliciting diamond industry responses

132009 Diamond Industry Annual Review, Partnership Africa Canada

14MUN Blamed for Diamond Impasse, The Namibian, Denver Isaacs, July 14, 2008

15LLD Gems Probe Widens, Denver Kisting, The Namibian, August 17, 2011; Dispute in Leviev Group Over Alleged Namibian Gem Swap, Ha’aretz Daily, November 17, 2011

16Put Yourself in Daphne's Shoes, Ally Pyle, Vogue, February 18, 2008; Womankind Worldwide: What We Do

17Daphne Guinness & David LaChapelle for Keep A Child Alive Foundation, January 25, 2011; Keep a Child Alive

18Daphne Guinness at Naomi Campbell's Fashion For Relief, Entertainment Ireland

Associated Initiative: 

Our Work Sections: 

Content Type: