Ex-Leviev staffer testifies company bribed NYPD to quash protests at diamond store
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 21, 2017, New York, NY - On Saturday New York human rights advocates celebrated the closure of the showcase Madison Avenue diamond store of Israeli billionaire and settlement-builder Lev Leviev by singing social justice-themed holiday carols for the eleventh consecutive year outside Leviev’s now former store. The closure of Leviev’s signature New York store followed 30 protests since its opening ten years ago, years of condemnations of Leviev’s businesses’ human right records, and a raft of conflicts and controversies involving the businesses in the Leviev Group of Companies.
Protesters outside the former Leviev store on Saturday sang Adalah-NY holiday boycott classics including We Wish Him a Loss of Business, I Made a Little Settlement, O Little Store on Madison, and Diamond Mines.
The store closure comes as Jona Rechnitz, a former employee at Leviev’s company Africa Israel USA, testified in a Manhattan court as part of a far-reaching bribery trial that in 2008 Leviev’s diamond store attempted to pay off New York City police to quash Adalah-NY’s protests outside Leviev’s store. Rechnitz testified that “protestors over the holidays, Valentine’s Day and other holidays” at Leviev’s Madison Avenue diamond store “were a big headache for him.” (Click for excerpt of testimony) So Rechnitz secured “from the jewelry store a further donation for the NYPD football team” of $25,000 in order to “make sure the problem went away.” Rechnitz indicated this occurred during the period when Rotem Rosen was Africa Israel USA’s CEO, which ended in January 2009. In 2008 the NYPD frequently harassed protesters at Leviev’s store, including once when protestors “were aggressively confronted by New York City policemen who screamed at them for ten minutes, pulled out handcuffs and repeatedly told them they would be arrested unless they moved.”
Mindy Gershon from Adalah-NY explained, “Leviev’s businesses were so concerned about our protests for Palestinian rights that they tried to bribe the NYPD to stop us. But they didn’t succeed. Every holiday season since 2007 we sang, ‘He put a store here in New York, and we will shut him down.’ So we’re proud to have contributed to the store’s closing. Principled civil society campaigns of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions work, and they won’t be stopped by state repression.”
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 in violation of international law. In the diamond industry in Angola, private security companies guarding Leviev’s operations have been accused of brutal human rights abuses.
Following a boycott campaign initiated in 2007 by Adalah-NY, the government of Norway, the government of the United Kingdom, New Zealand’s Superannuation Fund, Oxfam America, UNICEF, CARE, and even Hollywood stars distanced themselves from Leviev’s companies over their human rights record. The store closing was another sign of the precipitous decline of Leviev’s business fortunes. Leviev is currently in danger of losing control of his flagship company Africa Israel. Leviev reportedly maintains an office in midtown Manhattan’s diamond district. Africa Israel USA and Danya Cebus also have New York City offices.
The protests of Leviev’s companies are part of the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement that aims to pressure Israel to end its systematic violations of Palestinian rights, and is modeled on the global boycott campaign that helped to end apartheid in South Africa. As Israel’s apartheid regime loses popular support globally and support for BDS grows, opponents of BDS are increasingly pushing government to employ the state’s coercive power to crush boycotts of Israel.
Photos of the December 16 Caroling Protest: https://adalahny.org/photo-gallery/1519/photos-bye-bye-lev-final-anti-apartheid-holiday-caroling-leviev
Transcript of Jona Rechnitz’s October 26, 2017 Testimony at US District Court: Southern District of New York: https://adalahny.org/downloadable-files/1522/transcript-full-testimony-jona-rechnitz-10262017
Added Background on Leviev’s Businesses
Leviev Companies’ Construction of Israeli Settlements: Africa Israel and Leader Management and Development have built thousands of Israeli settlement homes, in settlements including Zufim, Mattityahu East, Ma’ale Adumim, Adam, Har Homa and Gilo. Murky reports have emerged in the Israeli media about whether Leviev’s involvement in settlement construction through Africa Israel, and Leader Management and Development could be ending. However, this remains unconfirmed, and the thousands of settlement homes built by Leviev’s companies, remain on Palestinian land. Leviev has also donated to an unscrupulous Israeli settlement organization, the Land Redemption Fund.
Diamond Industry in Angola: In Angola, Leviev partners closely in the diamond industry with the repressive, corrupt Dos Santos regime. 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.
Achievements of Boycott of Leviev Companies: Following a boycott campaign initiated in 2007 by Adalah-NY when Leviev opened his New York store, the government of Norway, the government of the United Kingdom, New Zealand’s Superannuation Fund, Oxfam America, UNICEF, CARE, and even Hollywood stars distanced themselves from Leviev’s companies over their human rights record. Leviev’s companies Africa Israel and its construction subsidiary Danya Cebus are reportedly among companies recently warned by the United Nations over possibly criminal business activities in the Israeli occupied Palestinian Territories.
Other Controversies and Declining Business Fortunes: Leviev’s New York City diamond store opened in 2007 amidst a PR blitz, including a glowing New York Times Magazine piece depicting Leviev as “a legendary philanthropist” and “probably Israel’s richest man.”
Since 2007 estimates of Leviev’s wealth have declined steadily, even as concerns about his business practices have mounted. Leviev is currently in danger of losing control of his flagship company Africa Israel due to unpaid debts to bondholders. Other controversies have included a lengthy legal dispute with his ex-partner and reputed gun-runner in Angola, settled lawsuits over accusations of “ripping off NYC condo buyers,” four years of lawsuits with his primary partner in his diamond stores, and the decision by the managers of his New York store to dump him to work with De Grisogono.
Leviev’s name has also been raised by journalists investigating the Trump campaign’s relationship with Russia in the 2016 elections. Leviev has called Putin “a true friend,” and sold the former New York Times building to Jared Kushner in 2015. Leviev is also linked to the Prevezon Holdings Russian money-laundering case.