Africa Israel, the flagship company of Israeli billionaire Lev Leviev, announced this week that it is no longer involved in Israeli settlement projects and that it has no plans for future settlement activities. Africa Israel subsequently denied that this was a political decision. However, in the last few years numerous organizations, firms, governments and celebrities have exerted pressure and severed their relationships with Leviev and his companies over their involvement in settlement construction and other human rights abuses, in response to a boycott campaign initiated by Adalah-NY.
Israel’s Coalition of Women for Peace disclosed on Monday that in an official letter to the Coalition, Africa Israel stated, “Neither the company nor any of its subsidiaries and/or other companies controlled by the company are presently involved in or has any plans for future involvement in development, construction or building of real estate in settlements in the West Bank.” In follow-up articles in the Israeli media on Monday, Africa Israel said that the statement was “a description of the business today” and that “Africa Israel builds for all the public in Israel, and does not deal in politics or any other policy."
Ethan Heitner from Adalah-NY explained, “Following years of settlement construction, and pro-settlement statements and activities by Lev Leviev, the public announcement by Africa Israel that it has no plans to build Israeli settlements is clearly a result of pressure from the growing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. This provides concrete evidence of the way in which the BDS movement can change companies’ behavior. But Africa Israel can’t speak out of both sides of its mouth and expect a clean bill of health. Africa Israel must unambiguously renounce settlement activity, and all other involvement in violations of Palestinian rights. And Lev Leviev needs to end his involvement in settlement construction through other companies like Leader Management and Development, as well as his support for human rights abuses in the diamond industry in countries like Angola and Namibia.”
Adalah-NY began a campaign to boycott the companies of Lev Leviev in November, 2007, which has since gained support from allies around the world. As a result, the Norwegian, Swedish and Dutch governments have divested from Africa Israel, as have a number of major international investment firms. The British government, UNICEF, Oxfam and CARE have all severed ties with Leviev, and major celebrities have quietly disassociated themselves from him.
From 2000-2008, Danya Cebus, the construction subsidiary of Africa Israel, built homes in the settlements of Har Homa, Maale Adumim (two different projects), Adam, and Mattityahu East on the land of the West Bank village of Bil’in. In late December, 2009, Africa Israel sold Anglo-Saxon Real Estate, a company that sold settlement homes. Another Leviev-owned company, Leader Management and Development, still owns and operates the expanding settlement of Zufim, built on the land of the West Bank village of Jayyous. In what is now Tel Aviv, Danya Cebus has supported Israeli efforts to erase Palestinian claims and heritage, by building projects on top of the remains of Palestinian villages like Sheikh Muwanis and Sumail that were ethnically cleansed by Israel in 1948. Leviev has also been a donor to two Israeli groups - the Land Redemption Fund and the Bukhara Community Trust, both of which have been involved in expanding Israeli settlements. Leviev has also been rumored to donate to Elad which is taking over the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan.
As recently as 2008 Leviev expressed strong support for Israel’s continued takeover of Palestinian land. In a March 2008 interview in Ha’aretz Daily, reporter Anshel Pfeffer asked Leviev, “Do you have a problem with building in the territories?” Leviev responded, “Not if the State of Israel grants permits legally.” According to an English translation of the same Ha’aretz interview published in the Jewish Chronicle, Leviev explained, “For me, Israel, Jerusalem and Haifa are all the same.” “So are the Golan Heights. As far as I’m concerned, all of Eretz Israel is holy. To decide the future of Jerusalem? It belongs to the Jewish people. What is there to decide? Jerusalem is not a topic for discussion.”
Modeled on the worldwide campaign against apartheid-era South Africa, the movement for Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel, which was called for in response to Israel’s many violations of Palestinian rights, has grown and achieved significant successes, particularly following Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip in 2009, which killed over 1400 Palestinians.