Lev Leviev
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A Madison Avenue diamond store owned by Israeli billionaire and settlement profiteer Lev Leviev shut its doors late last year. The closure is being celebrated by activists who held creative, holiday-themed protests against Leviev's companies for years.

A former Leviev employee, who was at the epicenter of a recent, high-level New York City bribery scandal, revealed in court testimony that employees of Leviev's diamond store had bribed the city's police department in an attempt to repress the protests. Leviev himself had told the assistant that the protesters were "a big headache" for him.

"Every holiday season since 2007 we sang, 'He put a store here in New York, and we will shut him down.' So we're proud to have contributed to the store's closing," said Mindy Gershon, an activist with Adalah-NY, a group that organized protests and boycott campaigns against Leviev's businesses. "Principled civil society campaigns of boycott, divestment and sanctions work, and they won't be stopped by state repression," Gershon added.

Longtime boycott targets

One of Leviev's companies, Africa Israel, has been a focus of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaigns because it has built Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank through its subsidiary Danya Cebus. Africa Israel is among dozens of firms likely to appear in a UN database of companies profiting from Israel's military occupation and colonization of Palestinian land.

In 2013, the Norwegian finance ministry reversed a previous decision to exclude Africa Israel and Danya Cebus shares from a state pension fund, after Africa Israel claimed it was no longer involved in settlement building. But The Electronic Intifada published evidence showing that Leviev's company was lying. Partly based on this evidence, the Norwegian government reimposed its ban on the occupation-profiteering firms.

Another Leviev-owned company, Leader Management and Development, built Zufim settlement on land belonging to the Palestinian village of Jayyous, according to Who Profits, a group that researches companies involved in Israel's occupation.

Leviev also has financial ties to members of the Trump administration.

In 2015, Leviev sold several floors of the former New York Times headquarters in Manhattan to Donald Trump's son-in-law and top political adviser, Jared Kushner.

Kushner, who has been tasked by the president to revive the so-called peace process, has made donations to Israeli settlements and his family has been close to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Leviev's companies have been accused of human rights abuses including torture, sexual abuse and killings in Angola, where his diamonds are mined, and firing striking diamond workers and diamond theft in Namibia.

International action

The campaigns against Leviev's companies began at the request of Palestinian and Israeli activists working to resist land confiscation in the villages where Leviev's companies were building settlements, according to Patrick Connors of Adalah-NY. Activists reached out to Leviev's business partners and nongovernmental organizations that had taken donations from him, Connors told The Electronic Intifada.

In 2008, after advocacy by Adalah-NY, both UNICEF, the UN's children's agency, as well as the anti-poverty group Oxfam America, cutconnections with Leviev.

Activists also led successful campaigns prompting Hollywood celebrities to dissociate from Leviev's jewelry.

In the UK, human rights campaigners successfully pressured the British government to drop negotiations to lease a building owned by Africa Israel for use by its embassy.

"There was a snowball effect as different actors around the world either publicly or privately distanced themselves from Leviev," Connors explained.

Creative actions

Connors said that the key to sustaining a decade of protests was creativity. The street protests, which often parodied Christmas carols and Hanukkah songs, "were fun and exciting and created interest, catching the attention of media sometimes as well," Connors said.

He added that this was coupled with "a systematic look" at the different elements of the Leviev business empire, who around the world was most vulnerable to Leviev's "unethical business practices" and who would be mostly likely to separate themselves from him if approached by campaigners.

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine.