September 20, 2008

Thank God Lev Leviev is not motivated by Racism!

If Lev Leviev did not exist, Charles Dickens would have invented him. But as far as conjuring ugliness is concerned, Dickens is no match to reality.

There is apparently no misery that Leviev cannot turn into additional zeroes to his net worth. He makes money from the mining of diamond in Angola under conditions not far from slavery. There his company assets are "protected" with murder and sexual torture (Rafael Marques, lecture at St Antony’s College, Jan 26 2007 ). In the West Bank, his companies build settlements on stolen land and participate in the destruction of Palestinian villages such as Jayyous and Bil'in. Opression for Leviev is just another name for a business opportunity.

He is also a Jewish chauvinist who supports right-wing religious organizations such as Chabad and helps them spread their message of hate across the world.

All this leads to a fascinating question. What comes first for Leviev, the egg of racism or the chicken of profits?

We are interested in this question because in the general culture we live in, profits are kosher, whereas racism is a bit like dirty underwear, common enough but not to be shown in public. If it can be established that although Leviev invests in settlements he only really cares about money, some people might think better of him. We on the other hand think it is important to understand how profits depend on and require racism.

Concerned as we are with his damaged reputation, we are happy to report that Leviev's entrepreneurial portfolio proves he is more than willing to make money from the misery and oppression of Jews as much as from that of Palestinians and Angolans.

First, there is the interesting fact that Leviev's schools in Israel are implicated in their own racist scandal involving Ethiopian Jews. Then there is the complex economic nexus of the settlements Leviev builds. The demand for "development," on which Leviev's profits depend, is generated by government policies officially motivated by zionist fervor. But behind that fervor is a new economy that uses economic misery in a very old fashioned way. In Leviev-built settlements like Modi'in Ilit, high tech companies like Oracle, Matrix (a subsidiary of Formula Systems) and others compete on the fabled global marketplace by paying ultra-orthodox Jewish women between $275 and $1000 a month for writing java and code. The women work in hi-tech sweatshops where they are not allowed to talk with each other. And the company Rabbi forbids taking a 5 minute break for prayer on company time. (Gadi Alghazi, New Left Review 40, 2006)

Then, there is Leviev's company Africa-Israel, which is working towards the grand opening of Israel's first private prison. This first prison is a modest affair, less than a thousands inmates. But if the court bid to stop Leviev fails, it is already clear that a stay at Leviev's Hotel California will cost more than the public facilities it replaces. The Prison-Industrial Complex not being a new thing, we can be sure that Leviev will make money from his Israeli prison by following the U.S. model of providing inhuman conditions to his captive audience. No doubt also that given the ease with which Israeli politicians are bought, private prisons will create irresistable temptations to cut back even more on those social services that help people stay out of jail (although that would be hard given than 30% of schoochildren in Israel who began the scholarly year this month already suffer from hunger!)

We would like however to make two modest proposals.

First, we hope Susan Sarandon will grace the grand opening of the first Israeli private prison with the presence of her beautiful persona. After all, there are arguments on both sides, and there is nothing like such a gesture on her behalf to prove that the reason she wouldn't condemn Leviev has nothing to do with cowardice and fear of being associated with the too unpopular cause of justice for Palestinians.

Second, we note that there aren't enough Israelis to guarantee the kind of profits that would really make Leviev smile. Even if Israel's incarceration rates reached U.S. levels, and even if Leviev operated every prison cell in Israel, his profit would be less than $400 million dollars a year from this venture. Realistically, Leviev can expect to put his paws on no more than 10% of that. $40 million isn't chump change at all. But surely a world class entrepreuneur like Leviev can do better. Why stop at these retail prisons when the "international community's" plan for "peace" in the Middle East includes putting four million Palestinans in four open air prisons. Now there's a business opportunity of a century! Go for it Leviev! Nobody else is up to the challenge.


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