Protesters called on Taylor Swift to renounce Leviev
New York, NY, December 21, 2015 – On Saturday, for the second year running, 50 New York human rights advocates held a celebratory protest in front of a closed Leviev diamond store on Madison Avenue on one of the biggest holiday shopping days. Days before the protest, staff working for Israeli diamond mogul Lev Leviev had insisted his store would be open, per their publicized business hours. The Leviev store was also mysteriously closed the day of the December 2014 anti-apartheid caroling protest. This is the ninth consecutive year New Yorkers have gathered in front of Leviev’s store singing holiday anti-apartheid carols critical of Leviev’s construction of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land and human rights abuses in the diamond industry in Angola.
The human rights protesters at Leviev's store also directed a new song at pop star Taylor Swift. They asked Swift to “join us, Taylor, we can shake, shake, shake” to the tune of Swift’s song “Shake It Off.” Swift was photographed wearing Leviev diamonds in September’s Vanity Fair. Adalah-NY emailed a letter from seven organizations to Swift’s publicist Tree Paine of Premium PR in September asking Swift to commit to never wear Leviev diamonds again. Swift and her team have not responded to the letter and repeated follow-up phone calls. In May 2015, Oprah Winfrey wore Leviev diamonds on the cover of O Magazine. To date, Oprah has not responded to a letter signed by over 5600 people and a visiting delegation asking her to renounce Leviev.
Hannah Mermelstein of Adalah-NY commented, "We are disappointed that Taylor Swift has not yet disavowed her promotion of Leviev diamonds. We're hoping her propensity to 'shake it off' will lead her to shake off Leviev due to his support for oppression of Palestinians and for violations of basic human rights." Shake it off is the literal translation of the Arabic word "intifada", the common name for popular Palestinian uprisings.
Leviev’s companies - Africa Israel, and Leader Management and Development - have built thousands of homes for Israeli settlers on Palestinian land in the Israeli-Occupied West Bank. Murky reports have emerged in Israeli media about whether or not Leviev’s involvement in settlement construction through Africa Israel, and Leader Management and Development could be ending. However, this remains unconfirmed after more than a year, and the thousands of homes, built for Israeli Jews only, remain on Palestinian land. The government of Norway, Oxfam America, UNICEF, CARE, the government of the United Kingdom, New Zealand’s Superannuation Fund, and some Hollywood stars have all distanced themselves from Leviev’s companies over their human rights record.
In the diamond industry in Angola, Angolan security companies guarding Leviev’s operations have been accused of acts of “humiliation, whipping, torture, sexual abuse, and, in some cases, assassinations.” In 2014, a video was posted of private Angolan security forces working for the Leviev-owned mine Luminas torturing community members.
In Namibia, in partnership with Israel Chemicals, Leviev plans to mine for phosphates - chemicals used in fertilizer - off the seacoast of Namibia, despite concerns voiced by the Confederation of Namibia Fishing Associations about the potential detrimental impact on the marine ecosystem and thousands of local fishers. A recent Al Jazeera expose also raised questions about Leviev’s partnership with a Chinese businessman in Angola, Zimbabwe and New York City.
Saturday’s protest is part of the international movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) targeting Israel. Today’s BDS campaigns are modeled on the global movement that helped to end apartheid in South Africa. They spread the word about Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights and pressure Israel to uphold those rights and abide by international law.