I hope that title grabbed your attention. They shouldn’t have anything in common, right? The first a progressive, the second a troglodyte. Well, unfortunately they do. They both like diamonds. Nothing wrong with that you might say. Unless the diamonds come from African conflict zones and unless their proceeds are used to build West Bank settlements on confiscated Palestinian land. All of which is true.
Susan Sarandon has a taste for diamonds and the high life and so attended the glittering opening of Lev Leviev’s new Madison Avenue jewelry emporium. She was joined in the crowd by other celebrities like Isabella Rosselini, Dr. Ruth Westheimer and Denise Rich (maybe she was there to arrange a “pardon” for Leviev as she did for her ex, Marc Rich). Problem was that to enter the store Sarandon had to cross a picket line established by Adala NY, a group of human rights adherents who oppose the Israeli Occupation. Despite the cause, Sarandon crossed. Not only that. Jewish Voice for Peace wrote a subsequent letter asking her to voice her opposition to Leviev’s pro-settlement activities. The response–silence. Well, not exactly. The NY Post’s Page Six quotes a representative saying that Sarandon has no “tie” to Leviev and thus nothing to renounce. Which is basically a casuistic non-answer.
Lev Leviev grew up in Tashkent as a member of the Bukharan community. He came to Israel as a teenager and eventually joined the Israeli diamond industry producing polished diamonds. He has become wealthy in his chosen profession by trafficking in Angolan diamonds. Walter Ruby, writing in Jewish Week, notes that Forbes lists him as the 210th richest person in the world worth $4.1 billion (Zev Chafets says that Leviev’s associates estimate his real worth as closer to $8 billion). He also funds the Chabad-dominated Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia.
Also disturbing is Leviev’s participation in the Land Redemption Fund, which purchases land under false pretenses from Palestinian owners in order to transfer them to settlement ownership. Leviev’s development company is also building several settlements including a $230 million project on land confiscated from the Palestinian village of Bilin, which is in the international news because of weekly protests there against the Apartheid Wall. Leviev and the LRF use Palestinian stooges to approach Palestinian farmers, many of whom can no longer farm their land anyway due either to the Wall or settler intimidation, offering to pay many times what the land is worth. As far as the farmers know the land is being purchased by a fellow Palestinian. Instead, the land reverts to LRF and then becomes land that Leviev can build settlements on, further increasing his empire after selling the homes to settlers.
The residents of Bilin and Jayyous recently wrote to Sarandon asking her to take up their cause against settlements encroaching on their land.
I should amend my post title by acknowledging that Lev Leviev is not a member of the Russian mob. He’s way beyond that. His money has bought him respectability that every shady character craves, even as he continues pillaging poor Palestinian farmers as he makes hundreds of millions of dollars and perverts the chances for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
Recently, Leviev decided to expand his diamond and real estate business to New York, where he owns property worth well over $1 billion including the Plaza Hotel and New York Times building ($525 million). The store opening and accompanying protest was covered by The Forward and JTA, which indicates a rapidly changing political climate in the American Jewish community. Until recently, such a story would’ve been met with skepticism or derision by much of the Jewish community and press. It also indicates that Adalah NY had created dramatic protest imagery that would appeal to New York’s mass media.
As the photo above indicates, Leviev is linked with former Russian mobster and now oligarch, Roman Abramovich in the diamond business. Abramovich, in attempting to smooth his path into international business and social circles also purchased the Chelsea football club. Leviev, not to be outdone, also owns an Israeli football club. According to Haaretz, Leviev and Abramovich are among the two largest donors to Elad, whose goal is the “Judaize” East Jerusalem by buying up Arab property and transferring it to Jewish ownership. Elad refused to disclose its donor list publicly and is in danger of being dissolved by the government.
Surprisingly, the NY Post’s Page Six has kept the story alive with periodic updates–probably because the right-wing paper seeks to embarrass the progressive Sarandon. What is a shame is that with a short note to the public Sarandon could reaffirm her commitment to support ending the Occupation and tell the world she knew nothing about Leviev’s right-wing agenda and had no intention of shopping in his store again. Instead, she’s trying to fudge the issue.
As for Dershowitz, ever the entertaining clown, Dersh must’ve seen the brouhaha and decided he needed to get a slice of Sarandon’s PR. So he went down to the Leviev showroom and came out swinging his shopping bag as if it contained Norman Finkelstein’s head. All of which is quite interesting when you consider that during his Democracy Now debate with the latter he said that he opposed Israeli settlements. How quickly they forget. After watching Dershowitz’s pathetic primping performance in this video you realize that he’s nothing more than an ambulance chaser for political notoriety, a Jewish Ann Coulter.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.