May 20, 2009

Le Monde Diplomatique: Leviev, Dubai & the boycott of Israel

Alain Gresh, deputy director of Le Monde Diplomatique, and author of numerous works on the mideast, recently went to a conference on Arab media in Dubai. The conference, hosted by the Dubai Press Club, was portentiously titled, "Arab Media: Weathering a Period of Change and Crisis." Some big fish were netted, including Sy Hersh, & the heads of al-Jazeera, al-Arabiya, & the BBC's Arab monitoring service. You can read all about it in the UAE's AME Info. The forum was held in the recently-opened Atlantis hotel, which houses a diamond store selling Israeli settlement-builder Lev Leviev's gems.

What you won't read about the conference at AME Info was that Gresh asked the audience, according to someone who was there: if this is an open forum, I want to know, why is there a Leviev store in this hotel? There was wide applause, but no one reported on Gresh's comment. Today on his blog at LMD, [Google translation here] Gresh reflects on the gaudiness & ironies of the Atlantis:

One can see in this ceremony, and in the hotel itself, the sign of an era of waste, of crazy money. It suffices to take a walk in its immense corridors, in the month of May 2009, to measure to which all that is vain, tasteless, and, of course, widely unoccupied, the tourists awaited having deserted it since the crisis.

This is obvious in the luxury shops and stores that sell out pricy clothes or diamonds. Among those up and coming is a store with an announcement on its window promoting Leviev diamonds as in the picture.

What is Leviev? Leave the word to Abe Hayeem, an Israeli pacifist who wrote an article entitled "Boycott this Israeli settlement builder" in The Guardian on April 28, 2009. It recalls that the ministry of the British foreign affairs decided to renounce a rent contract for the British embassy in Tel Aviv because of the activities of this corporation. Too big to limit itself to the sale of diamonds, Leviev is implied in activities in the occupied Palestinian territories, notably constructing a road that links up the illegal colony of Zufim to the Israeli territory, facilitating the confiscation of Palestinian lands. The company is active in Bil’in also, where on April 17, the Israeli army killed 29-year old Bassem Abu Rahmah who was taking part in a peaceful demonstration. This is the same company that has two shops to Dubai.

The presence of Leviev jewelry raised some questions in the emirate. The English language newspaper Gulf News published, on April 30, 2008, an article entitled "Israeli jeweller has no trade license to open shop in Dubai", by Abbas Al Lawati. This article, quotes an official saying that the emirate had not granted any license to Leviev, but it clearly indicates that, in reality, Leviev sells his diamonds there through these shops. Only the Gulf News followed up on this issue and returned to it several times, including at the time of a demonstration to Dubai ("Call to boycott Israeli jeweller", by Abbas Al Lawati, December 14, 2008). At the Arab Media Forum, which I attended this month, I raised this issue with different local Arabic dailies in the discussions I had with them and they explained to me that they were not authorized to follow up on these matters.

At a time when Israel violates all the resolutions of the Security Council of the United Nations and enjoys impunity, a movement is forming in favor of boycott, divestment (recollection of the foreign investments in Israel and in the occupied territories) and sanctions. This is the direction adopted by campaigns in France against Alstom and Veolia for their involvement in the construction of a tram in occupied Jerusalem ("Tram to Jerusalem, lie to Paris", October 24 2007). It is astonishing in these conditions that the Arab countries collaborate with these same corporations that work in the occupied territories.

That's a partial translation. Gresh has a photo of Leviev's store on his blog.

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