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.
Richard Witty says
Very unfortunately, in the West Bank now, there is very high unemployment, and a not insignificant portion of the employment that does exist, and the best paying, is in the construction of settlements.
In divesting of settlement construction, it would be a complete suggestion, to INVEST in productive activity in Palestine.
But, that is only attractive in an environment of stability. Risk very greatly shifts the logic that capital adopts. The people that will invest in a very high-risk environment tend to be more “parasitic”, requiring very high prospective returns on their investment capital, in exchange for the risk of loss.
Militancy does not create a risk-free environment. Nor does occupation.
How bad do we ourselves want to make it before there is even any prospect of it getting better?
Or, is there another more sober, and more fruitful approach?
I think BDS is the most sober and fruitful approach available in the current situation, and I’ve yet to see you or anyone else make a reasonable argument to the contrary.
Richard Witty says
Netanyahu today announced agreement to cease settlement construction for nine months. That is longer than Hamas’ negotiated cessation from acts of war.
But, with a temporary agreement, it can always be extended, until it creates the setting of hope, so that it can be permanent.
I oppose Netanyahu’s witholding of concessions that Israel can make unilaterally, on the basis that it is giving up a bargaining chip. At the same time, a temporary cessation of settlement construction is political progress.
Fayyad is making much more progress towards a Palestinian state, removal of Israeli troops and roadblocks, than BDS could.
I guess the threat of BDS adds weight to Fayyad’s efforts.
I find there to be a very disempowering view among many radical dissenters, and that is a distrust in their ability and then investment of time, in persuading, towards influencing primarily Israeli policies and decisions.
I think you actually just made the argument for BDS, thanks Richard.
1) Hamas has ceased “acts of war” (seriously, do they have a military?) for over a year in the past. And notably offered to lay down arms for 10-year long periods, but I digress…
2) You just said that the threat of BDS adds weight to Fayyad’s efforts… I think that statement speaks for itself.
3) Salam Fayyad’s approach, similar to the approach of so many other Palestinian politicians… has always, and I am not saying it will be the case now but has in the past, led to nothing. Promises… then nothing. In fact, I think it’s telling that they’re pushing this new “the economy is booming” storyline about the West Bank. I’d be curious as to how a poll of West Bankers (meaning going to small villages, not just sitting in Ramallah) comes back on this supposed “boom.”
People have different approaches. I think BDS has made itself quite apparent as a successful approach. I trust it to open the way for a future Palestinian state much more than I do trust a party of individuals died to people like Mohammed Dahlan, Ahmed Qureia (whose company was at one point found to be helping build the “separation” wall), and co.
Oh and let me add one more thing… this so-called “settlement freeze” is rather ridiculous. The idea is that settlements that already had plans approved are going to go forward with construction, and that somehow just halting new plans is a positive thing…? So for example, the people of Bil’in, among at least 3 or 4 towns and villages, will continue to have their land built upon by Israeli settlers. Modi’in Illit will continue to expand… that’s a “settlement freeze”?
“Fayyad is making much more progress towards a Palestinian state, removal of Israeli troops and roadblocks, than BDS could.”
You have absolutely no factual or logical basis for saying that. BDS was an essential part of toppling apartheid in South Africa, and there is no reason to believe it will not play a similar role in bringing Israel into compliance with international law and the rules of decency.
And I have not noticed that sitting around pontificating and thinking and contemplating and tongue-clucking at us while Israel kills and destroys and maims and steals and establishes facts on the ground at a constantly escalating rate has had any effect at all, except to allow those who indulge in said pontificating, etc. to feel smug and superior to those of us who choose to take action.
Witty, obviously the Palestinians want the settlements to go so they can then lead normal lives. Once they have Leviev’s boot of their necks, they’re perfectly capable of using their land & resources to develop their own economy. Before Leviev stole the land his settlements in Bilin & jayyous are built on, the villagers farmed that land. That’s why they protest the Leviev-built settlement Matityahu East every week, and get beaten, arrested, & shot. they want their farmland back. You think they are better off letting Leviev steal the land, & instead of farming it as they have for generations, take jobs building houses for strangers on their stolen ancestral lands? That’s like telling someone they’re better off letting a thief kick you out of your house & be grateful if they hire you to re-tar the roof.
The argument of “investment” and “jobs” was, you guessed it, also used to argue against the boycott of Apartheid South Africa, and companies who crossed the pickett line often mouthed pieties about how concerned they were for the jobs of black South Africans and their economic development.
Never mind the fact that black South Africans (as Palestinians now) very much including labor groups were very much the voices calling for the boycott.
Bruce Worthmann says
[comment deleted for violating comment rules]
Richard Witty says
I’m going to take the risk of “violating posting policies”, more than three posts in the last 24 hours.
I support Fayyad’s efforts more than “resistance” because it makes sense. One of the factors that made the state of Israel possible, was that there was similar efforts to establish parallel governance during the British mandate. Israel becoming sovereign did not require construction from the ground up. It already existed, including democratic character. (Parallel government is also the mode of Hamas and Hezbollah, to establish social service and legal institutions that actually function, reducing their dependance on outside help, making their communities free, if you consider periodic terror free. Hamas states that they are still occupied, but self-govern of a sort.)
If Palestine achieves political independance, but not social or economic (to choose whether and how to form other relationships, or not), it will fail, and ultimately lose it sovereignty.
Whether economic/social or political changes must happen first, is an open question, NOT a closed one. If Fayyad is successful at establishing functional state institutions, and a functioning economy that is capable of attracting actual investment (not just charity and not just bootstrapping), that will be a great success.
That will then be the chicken. (chicken/egg which comes first?) and Palestinian identity and validity will be self-evident, and international recognition will occur naturally, rather than by force.
It doesn’t matter if aspects of Fayyad’s effort correspond to Netanyahu’s. The effort should not be rejected or worse, disrupted, just because one’s opponent endorses elements. (Netanyahu is threatened by Fayyad’s efforts as well. His bluff is called.)
Whether you ultimately adopt BDS as preferred strategy or not, it is obvious that there are serious political and moral risks associated, and nowhere near confidence of success.
Especially if oriented to the two institutions that have some potential of positively influencing Israeli consciousness, academia and arts.
Post referenced in comment at http://mondoweiss.net/2009/08/blankforts-response-to-avnery-on-boycott-issue.html