The British subsidiary of Blackrock, one of Wall Street’s major banking firms, announced under pressure that it had divested itself of Lev Leviev’s Africa-Israel Investments. Leviev is an Israeli diamond merchant who has branched out into real estate properties as far-flung as New York (where he owns the former N.Y. Times Building) and the West Bank (including Maaleh Adumim).
A number of anti-Occupation groups including Adalah-NY have taken Leviev on for his major investments in building Israeli settlements and his poor human rights record as a diamond magnate in the mines of Angola . Three Norwegian banks who are major marketers of Blackrock investment funds pressured it to rid itself of Leviev’s stock because of his serial violations of international human rights laws. At one time, the Wall Street firm was the Israeli companies second-largest shareholder. The Norwegian government pension fund may not be far behind. It is the sixth largest investor in AI and pressure is mounting on the government also to divest.
Africa-Israel has faced some very hard times during the global recession both because the wealthy have been less inclined to purchase diamonds and because luxury real estate has taken a huge hit. His stock price has fallen between 75-80% over the past year (though recently it has improved somewhat). As an example of his continuing woes, one of the his lenders has sued him over the N.Y. Times Building deal, claiming that he’s planning to put the property into receivership (it declined in value by almost 50% after Leviev bought it and contributed to a $600-million corporate loss last quarter). If he did this, then the lender (along with Blackrock which invested $40 million) would be wiped out.
Earlier, the British cancelled a proposed lease for its Tel Aviv embassy in a Leviev-owned luxury office building, under pressure from British human rights groups demanding that the government not do business with a settlement builder and supporter of the Occupation.
At one time earlier this year, the company seemed in danger of financial collapse. But it seems to have at least partially regained its footing. Losing the backing, however, of as august a financial firm as Blackrock has got to hurt AI and undermine its stability in the eyes of investors. It remains to be seen, though, whether as confirmed a supporter of the Israeli Occupation and settlements as Leviev will withdraw from his right-wing political commitments for the sake of financial expediency.
There is an even broader issue here to which we should pay attention. There is no doubt that the Global BDS movement is picking up steam and credibility. Israeli professor Neve Gordon just announced his support for divestment in the pages of the L.A. Times and the Guardian. Companies and organizations which in the past would have ignored the calls to avoid doing business with human rights scofflaws like Leviev are sitting up and taking notice. I am not saying that BDS is THE answer to ending the Occupation. I don’t even know if it’s the right or best solution for the problem at hand. But to the question of whether it has utility, we must answer at least partially: yes.
And this victory in the battle against Leviev’s settlement empire is one of the first that involves a major financial blow to a company benefiting from the Occupation. This is how divestment began as an effective tool against the South African apartheid regime. There were victories in small increments initially, which gradually gained momentum and turned into an insurmountable force working to topple the regime. I do not know whether this is the path the current campaign will follow. But I am watching with interest.