Oprah Winfrey asked to renounce Israeli diamond mogul Leviev over rights abuses

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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.

One signer of the letter, Abdallah Abu Rahmah, the Coordinator of Bil’in’s Popular Committee, explained, “Leviev’s companies have built hundreds of illegal Israeli settlements on the land of West Bank Palestinian villages like Bil’in, destroying our farms and olive groves. From Palestine, we call on Ms. Winfrey to renounce Leviev's companies because they have trampled on our basic human rights." Bill Fletcher Jr., Host of The Global African on Telesur-English, added, "Silence, in the face of this evidence of injustice represents acceptance, if not support for the intolerable."

The letter lauded Ms. Winfrey’s “commitment to racial, social and economic justice in the United States and worldwide,” but noted that the Leviev diamonds she wore may well have been from Angola. Security companies employed by Leviev in Angola have been credibly accused by one of Angola’s most courageous human rights activists, Rafael Marques de Morais, of committing brutal human rights abuses. In 2014, Mr. Marques de Morais documented in a video another recent case of brutality by the Angolan private security company working for Leviev. Other Leviev companies have built thousands of Israeli settlement homes on Palestinian land in the Israeli-occupied West Bank in violation of international law. Leviev’s diamond and construction companies all fall under the Leviev Group of Companies (LGC).

Other letter signers included Palestinian and Israeli groups supporting a boycott of Israel, the Dream Defenders, CODEPINK Women for Peace, a South African Jewish group, and a number of African American professors and activists. Adalah-NY also issued a public call today for more online signers to the letter.

Oprah Winfrey appears to be the first major celebrity to wear Leviev diamonds since embarrassing incidents involving celebrities wearing tainted Leviev diamonds in 2008. The photo of Ms. Winfrey wearing Leviev’s diamonds was picked up by E!Online, and Huffington Post.

Andrew Kadi, Co-Chair of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, commented, "Lev Leviev is profiting off of human rights violations in Angola, and built Israeli settlements with the support of a military. Given all of this, I can't imagine that Oprah Winfrey wouldn't distance herself from his company after wearing his diamonds." Rebecca Vilkomerson of Jewish Voice for Peace explained, "By distancing herself from Leviev's companies' human rights abuses in Angola and Palestine, Ms. Winfrey would be making the ethical choice, and would be supported by people of conscience, including many within the Jewish community."

The May 29 letter sent to O and to the Oprah Winfrey Network.

Release Date: 

July 1, 2015

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