Rights advocates protest “Diamonds & Champagne” cocktail at Leviev’s store, 12/04/2008

Socialites partner with Israeli billionaire, shunned by charities for rights violations


New York, NY – New York human rights advocates protested this evening at the Madison Avenue jewelry store of Israeli billionaire and settlement mogul Lev Leviev where the elite, on-line social group “A Small World” held a cocktail party to "Buck the Recession with Champagne & Diamonds." Ten protesters chanted and banged drums on the street in front of the store despite the rain and cold, and despite an aggressive, but failed attempt by the NYPD to move them down the street from the store.

The protesters seemed only slightly outnumbered by the attendees inside the store. Media reports in advance of the party had questioned holding such an ostentatious event during a severe economic crisis. A Small World describes itself as "an exclusive network of like-minded individuals with an appreciation for quality in life." They partnered with Leviev despite Oxfam and UNICEF’s renunciation of Leviev for his companies’ construction of Israeli settlements in violation of international law and rights abuses in the diamond industry in Angola and Namibia. The father of Eric Wachtmeister, who is A Small World’s Chairman and Founder, served as the personal assistant to UN Secretary General and Nobel Peace Prize winner Dag Hammarskjöld from 1958-61.

Alexis Stern of Adalah-NY commented, "Leviev is a member of a truly elite community of spurned global human rights abusers. We hope that the leaders of A Small World don't consider him as among their "like-minded individuals." During the evening, I was able to give flyers to and talk with some event attendees. A number expressed interest in why we were protesting. Some said they agreed with us, and others told me they wouldn’t have come had they known about Leviev’s record of rights abuses.”

After the protesters arrived and stood quietly outside the ropeline holding signs, they 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 to a pen two stores down the street from Leviev. After conferring with lawyers by phone who confirmed they were within their rights, the protesters stayed in place. Eventually the police relented, and the protesters remained next to Leviev's store.

Leviev's companies Africa Israel and Leader have recently built Jewish-only homes on Palestinian land in the Israeli settlements of Zufim, Mattityahu East, Har Homa and Maale Adumim, impoverishing Palestinian communities and violating international law. Leviev also funds the settlement organization the Land Redemption Fund. In Angola, Leviev's close partnership in the diamond trade with the Dos Santos regime supports a repressive and corrupt government. New York Magazine reported in 2007 that, "A security company contracted by Leviev was accused this year by a local human-rights monitor of participating in practices of 'humiliation, whipping, torture, sexual abuse, and, in some cases, assassinations.'" According to the non-governmental watchdog Partnership Africa Canada, Angola and Leviev have failed to fully complying with the Kimberley process, which aims to eliminate conflict diamonds. And in Namibia, where Leviev operates a diamond polishing factory, Leviev recently fired around 200 striking workers, some of whom were already struggling to survive on less than $2/day. In New York, Leviev's real estate ventures, many in partnership with Shaya Boymlegreen, have been associated with the displacement of lower- and middle-income families, prompting community and labor groups to organize against them.

In addition to Oxfam and UNICEF, Leviev was also dropped from the sponsor list of the star-studded Carousel of Hope Ball this past October, and the name and photo of Oxfam Ambassador Kristin Davis have been removed from Leviev's website. The United Kingdom is under pressure not to rent space for its new Tel Aviv embassy from Leviev, and the government of Dubai pledged not to allow Leviev to open stores in the emirate. Companies owned by Leviev's partner in settlement construction, Shaya Boymelgreen, are now being sued  in Canada for war crimes.

Adalah-NY also announced plans to hold a protest on Saturday December 20th at 1 PM at Leviev's Madison Avenue store. Participants will sing parody holiday carols focusing on Leviev's rights abuses. The parody carols from last year's protest at Leviev have received thousands of youtube hits.

Click here for photos of the protest.

Release Date: 

December 4, 2008

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