February 15, 2009

Al-Jazeera on Leviev campaign & the growth of BDS in the US — but not Dubai...

The report, by former US Marine Josh Rushing, contains an interview with a Palestinian-American member of Adalah-NY, and with an activist from Adalah-NY coalition member Jews Against the Occupation (JATO-NYC). It also interviews Palestinian-American campaigner Fadi Kiblawi, veteran anti-apartheid campaigner Bill Fletcher, & the Israeli Consul General in New York, Assaf Shariv; who helpfully points out the Nazis boycotted Jewish stores. As Rushing's reportage makes clear, the campaign against Leviev is over his construction of Israeli settlements built in violation of international law and convention in occupied Palestinian territory, partly funded by diamonds mined in abusive conditions in Africa. A cultural boycott of the Batsheva Dance company from Israel is mentioned, as is the growing calls in the US for an academic boycott, & tho not by name, the Hampshire divestment campaign.

Rushing mentions Adalah-NY has introduced a wider consumer boycott campaign based on companies with a New York hook. Yet Aussie activists in Sydney have been able to make use of the research in campaigning against Israeli chocolatier Max Brenner, whose co-owners the Strauss Group gives money to the IDF's feared Golani Brigade.

Al-Jazeera didn't mention that Leviev is causing controversy halfway around the world in Dubai. Nadia Awad summed it up well in a Nov. 24 piece she wrote for the Palestinian organisation MIFTAH:

Earlier this year, controversy erupted when Dubai announced it had allowed the diamond magnate, Lev Leviev, to open two retail stores in the Gulf emirate, including one just opened in the Atlantis. What it did not announce was that Lev Leviev is an Israeli billionaire and a major funder of illegal settlement construction in the Palestinian Territories, including infamous settlements such as Har Homa and Maale Adumim. Two of his companies, Africa-Israel and Leader Management & Development, as well as several other subsidiaries such as Danya Cebus, have been primary forces in the displacement of Palestinian villagers from their lands in the West Bank. Leviev is also a major donor to the Israeli Land Redemption Fund, which is known to use illicit means to obtain Palestinian land for Israeli settlements. Granted, the Dubai authorities initially displayed an unwillingness to award the Israeli billionaire a license to do business in Dubai; but apparently those feelings of reluctance were dispelled when Leviev used American and European connections to persuade Dubai officials otherwise.

To donate millions of dollars in assistance to the Palestinians and then to profit from business dealings with a primary funder of Palestinian land theft is hypocrisy at its best. The lavish hotel opening last week was just another example of Dubai's lack of tact and sensitivity. The Atlantis itself is owned by Solomon Kerzner, a South African billionaire, but the cost of the party was split between him and the Dubai government-owned Nakheel PJSC, also a developer of the hotel. Perhaps business is merely that, business. But in the heart of the Middle East, it would have behooved Dubai to express a little solidarity with the suffering of its fellow Arabs, the Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip, perhaps by donating some of the firework display funds to purchase fuel for Gaza's power plant, or by having a moment of silence. Or perhaps by kicking Leviev out of the emirate, or at least, putting pressure on him to refrain from illegal settlement building. Big business is not the only goal in life.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband infuriated the Israeli government when he informed them of his intention to press for EU tariffs to be imposed on produce and products coming from Israeli settlements. Londoners demonstrated outside a large supermarket to bring attention to the fact that produce coming from the illegal settlements is being sold in Britain under the misleading 'West Bank' label. On the other hand, Dubai, who has more in common with us historically, geographically, culturally and religiously, is helping to bankroll a major Israeli settlement builder, indirectly causing untold misery for Palestinians. Dubai is not the first Arab state to have business dealings with Israelis, nor is it likely to be the last; but to have dealings with such a man as Leviev helps to undermine efforts to stop illegal settlement construction. As one Palestinian official in Gaza said, "We never imagined that a day would come when we would have to appeal to an Arab country to refrain from harming us and undermining our cause."

To say Palestinians feel a bit betrayed is an understatement. We definitely need humanitarian aid, but more importantly, we also need Arab and other international nations to stand by us morally and politically, shoulder to shoulder, in the face of an ever-worsening Israeli occupation. And as always, actions speak louder than words.

As of today, Dubai still hasn't taken any steps to stop Leviev from peddling his gems there. However, it stood firm in its decision not to allow Israeli tennis star Shahar Pe'er to play in this year's Dubai open. One might wager that Israelis playing tennis in Dubai has rather less impact on Palestinians than if the emirate allows a settlement builder to line his pockets there. Dubai needs to act, lest it be forever known as the emirate that supports settlements, & the ongoing dispossession of Palestinians.

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