NEW YORK // Human rights protesters took to the streets in New York last week to continue their campaign against an Israeli billionaire who is suspected of building settlements in the occupied West Bank. Adalah-NY, a Jewish-Palestinian umbrella group of activists, vowed to maintain pressure on Lev Leviev, a real estate and diamond mogul who is one of the richest men in Israel, over his suspected activities in the West Bank and to prevent him from opening more Leviev diamond jewellery stores in Dubai.
"There is growing awareness around the world about Leviev's blatant human rights abuses," said Daniel Lang-Levitsky, a spokesman for Jews Against the Occupation, which is part of Adalah-NY. Unicef, the United Nations children's agency, announced last month it would not accept any financial contributions from Leviev companies after finding "at least reasonable grounds for suspecting" they were building settlements in defiance of international law.
Mr Leviev is the chairman of Africa Israel Investments, a global conglomerate. One of its units is Danya Cebus, which activists say is helping to construct the settlement of Zufim on land taken from the Palestinian village of Jayyous in the northern West Bank. There is one Leviev store at the Mina Al Salam hotel in Dubai; plans to open more shops appear to be on hold while the Arab League's Central Boycott Office in Damascus considers its position.
About 20 people gathered on a rainy afternoon outside the Leviev store on Madison Avenue on Wednesday for the latest in a string of protests that started last year. Wednesday was the fourth anniversary of the International Court of Justice's ruling that Israel's separation barrier illegally annexed Palestinian land. Just inside the store, protected by a New York police cordon, a burly security guard in a suit stood behind a window display of diamonds and a printed list of Leviev store locations - London, New York, Moscow and Dubai.
The protesters chanted such slogans as "you sparkle, you shine, but settlements are still a crime" and "you're glitzy, you're glam, you're stealing Palestinian land". Many people walking past, including glamorous Upper East Side ladies, looked bemused but many took a leaflet. "Our movement is providing a model for other campaigns in the boycott movement," said Riham Barghouti, a spokesman for Adalah-NY, who is from Ramallah and works as a teacher in Brooklyn.
"Our main message to supporters either here or in the United Arab Emirates is that in spite of the difficulties, it is possible to get together and protest against human rights violations." Mr Leviev's public relations staff would not comment. In an interview with Ha'aretz, an Israeli newspaper, this year, the usually media-shy Mr Leviev said he would build in the Palestinian territories as long as he had permission from Israel.
He said "groups that are funded by business competitors" were behind the protests but offered no evidence. The Adalah-NY grassroots campaign - including protests, letters to the media and internet activism - is sharply focused against Mr Leviev and his business activities in the West Bank but also supports striking miners at his companies in Namibia and rent-controlled tenants at properties owned by the businessman in New York.
Although Adalah-NY is a small group, it said its effect was illustrated by Unicef's rejection of further financial contributions from Mr Leviev. Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, which fights anti-Semitism, defends Mr Leviev. "The decision not to accept assistance from Mr Leviev smacks of selective political discrimination," Mr Foxman said. "This decision only gives legitimacy to those who would seek to promote a boycott of the state of Israel and its supporters."
The debate was taken up by Richard Silverstein, who runs the liberal Tikun Olam website. "I've been following Adalah's energetic, months-long campaign against Russo-Israeli diamond baron Lev Leviev with great interest. Not so much because I agree with Adalah's politics regarding the I-P [Israel-Palestine] conflict but because I find Leviev's political, commercial and religious interests to be so odious," he wrote. "Through an imaginative, tenacious campaign they have nipped at Leviev's heels all over the globe where he maintains commercial interests."