UNICEF cut ties with Israeli diamond mogul over construction of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land
New York, NY, June 25, 2008 – The New York rights coalition Adalah-NY today labeled as “hypocritical and outrageous” the June 24 demand by The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) that UNICEF reinstate Israeli billionaire Lev Leviev as a donor. In a June 24 press release, ADL Director Abe Foxman criticized UNICEF’s decision to sever ties with Leviev, saying that it “smacks of selective political discrimination.” UNICEF announced last week that it would no longer accept donations from Lev Leviev due to his involvement in the construction of Israeli settlements in violation of international law. UNICEF’s decision came after they received letters criticizing Leviev’s activities from groups including Adalah-NY, Jews Against the Occupation, Jewish Voice for Peace, and a visit by UNICEF officials to Jayyous, one of the West Bank Palestinian communities where a Leviev company is building Israeli settlements.
Commenting on the ADL demand, Daniel Lang/Levitsky of Jews Against the Occupation, a member group in the Adalah-NY coalition, explained, “International law and universal human rights are essential principles for international organizations like UNICEF. The construction of Israeli settlements unequivocally violates both of these principles. Therefore, the ADL’s demand that UNICEF turn a blind eye to Lev Leviev’s violations of international law while disregarding basic rights for Palestinians is hypocritical and outrageous.”
Leviev admitted to settlement construction in an interview published in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz Daily on March 8, 2008. Adalah-NY has documented on its website multiple Israeli media reports showing that Danya Cebus, a subsidiary of Leviev’s Africa Israel, committed in 2004 to building homes in the settlement of Mattityahu East on the land of the West Bank village of Bil’in, and committed in 2007 to construction in the settlements of Maale Adumim and Har Homa, two settlements designed to separate Palestinian East Jerusalem from the West Bank. Additionally, Adalah-NY has posted on its website documents from Israel’s Companies Registrar in Jerusalem showing that Leviev is co-owner of the company Leader which is building the settlement of Zufim on the village of Jayyous’s land. According to the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, Leviev is also a funder of the settler organization the Land Redemption Fund which uses money, strong-arm tactics and deceit to secure Palestinian land for settlements.
Of great concern to child rights’ advocates, settlement construction by Leviev’s companies is not only destroying Palestinian communities, but is also directly harming Palestinian children. As a result of the construction of Leviev’s settlement and Israel’s wall on Jayyous’ land, the once-prosperous farming village, is now impoverished. 57% of Jayyous’ families now depend on food aid. 103 out of a total of 195 students in grades 7-12 were compelled to drop out of school, often because their parents found it difficult to cover basic school expenses. In Bil’in, a village which has conducted a three and a half year nonviolent protest campaign against the construction of Mattityahu East settlement and Israel’s wall, the Israeli military has injured around 1,000 civilian protesters and arrested 50. Around 300 of those injured and 13 of those jailed were children from Bil’in. These harsh realities led the leading child rights organization Defence for Children International – Palestine to tell UNICEF, “that settlement construction is not only illegal but also has a profound negative impact on the lives of many Palestinian children.”
Leviev’s companies’ violations are not limited to Palestine. Ethan Heitner of Adalah-NY explained, “It’s ironic that the ADL’s demand that UNICEF accept support from Leviev comes at a moment when Leviev’s disregard for basic human rights in Palestine, Namibia, Angola and New York City has never been clearer. In Namibia 200 workers at Leviev’s diamond polishing factory are currently on strike for the third time in four years. In Manhattan, at the Apthorp building, which is 50% owned by Leviev’s Africa-Israel, 88 tenants protected by rent-regulation laws are now threatened with losing their apartments as the owners convert the building into a condo, according to the New York Times. And the Angolan Government, Leviev’s close partner in the diamond industry, is attempting to expel the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in advance of elections. It seems the ADL just wants ‘its’ human rights abuser protected from criticism.”