August 4, New York, NY—Executives at O, The Oprah Winfrey Magazine, refused yesterday to receive a small delegation of human rights advocates at O’s headquarters at the Hearst Corporation’s office in Manhattan. The delegation was bearing a letter signed by over 5600 people calling on Ms. Winfrey to publicly distance herself from the companies of Israeli billionaire Lev Leviev. A worker in the Hearst Corporation mailroom told delegates he was ordered to refuse to even accept the letter detailing Leviev’s companies’ involvement in serious human rights abuses in Angola and Palestine. As a result, the visitors held a small protest, holding signs and distributing flyers to passersby in front of the Hearst Corporation’s Manhattan office.
Ms. Winfrey wore Leviev diamonds on the cover of the May 2015, 15th anniversary issue of O, The Oprah Magazine, despite an international boycott of Leviev’s companies that has gained steam since 2008. 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.
Mindy Gershon, one member of the delegation that visited O, explained, “In early June O staff expressed concern about the human rights issues raised in our letter. Yet today O staff went to great lengths to avoid any contact with people concerned about Oprah’s public endorsement of companies involved in human rights abuses in the diamond industry in Angola and the construction of Israeli settlements in Palestine. But we’re determined to ensure that Oprah Winfrey knows that thousands of human rights supporters oppose what she did, and to ensure that she does the right thing and renounces the companies of Lev Leviev.”
The letter asking Ms. Winfrey to renounce Leviev, originally signed by nine organizations and 34 individuals from the US, Palestine, Israel and South Africa, was initially sent to O and the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) in late May. Commenting on the fact that Ms. Winfrey was featured wearing Leviev diamonds, 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.” Ms. 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.
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. Local 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 another case of brutality by the 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.
Sharif Omar from the Land Defense Committee of the West Bank Palestinian village of Jayyous explained, “Since the 1990s Leviev’s company Leader Management and Development has been stealing the land of farmers from my village, Jayyous, to build the Israeli settlement of Zufim. Even today we are fighting in court against the expansion of Zufim on our land. Though the ownership of Leader Management and Development has been hidden over the last year, we from Jayyous call on Oprah Winfrey not to endorse a man who has been responsible for taking over our village’s agricultural land for many years."
In June, 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 failed to reply to further calls and emails. Adalah-NY then made the letter public, and it has since garnered 5600 more signatures.
Original signers of the letter 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.
Photos of the delegation’s visit to O in Manhattan: https://adalahny.org/photo-gallery/1299/delegation-asks-oprah-winfrey-renounce-leviev