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Human Rights Groups Call on Oprah Winfrey to Cut Ties With Israeli Diamond Billionaire

Oprah Diamond magOprah Winfrey may be a billionaire TV mogul known for her charitable deeds, but she has run into her fair share of public relations nightmares.

The latest involves her association with Israeli diamond magnate Lev Leviev. Winfrey has been criticized for wearing Leviev’s diamonds on the cover of O magazine. Born in Uzbekistan, Leviev is now an Israeli citizen who, according to Forbes, is worth more than $1 billion. Leviev is also known as “the King of Diamonds,” said Forbes. In a press release, several human rights groups said Winfrey should distance herself from Leviev because of his companies’ poor human rights record in Palestine and Angola.

“On the cover of the May issue of O, The Oprah Magazine you were featured wearing earrings from Leviev,” said a letter by Adalah-NY, a group campaigning for Palestinian human rights. “We’re confident that you were not aware that security companies employed by billionaire Lev Leviev in Angolan diamond mining communities have been credibly accused by one of Angola’s most courageous human rights activists of committing brutal human rights abuses against Angolans, and that other Leviev companies have built thousands of Israeli settlement homes on Palestinian land in the Israeli-occupied West Bank in violation of international law.”

Adalah-NY said, by wearing Leviev’s diamonds, Winfrey was endorsing his companies and their business practices. The letter also stated Leviev was closely associated with the corrupt regime of Angolan leader José Eduardo dos Santos, who has ruled the country since 1979.

“Leviev has profited immensely off of this relationship with the dictator and off of the oppression of the Angolan people,” said Katie Unger of Jews Against the Occupation, on “Democracy Now!” “And human rights activists and journalists in Angola have pointed to the humiliation, whipping and other terrible conditions by the security companies that Lev Leviev’s interests in Angola are paying.”

Leviev’s companies are also involved in the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Activists say these settlements are only open to Jewish families. Palestinians are separated by a wall in an arrangement many compare to apartheid.

“He is engaged in real estate development, which means, for Palestinians, more settlements, more illegal Jewish-only settlements, especially in Mattiyahu East on the lands of Bil’in, which is a village that has been doing nonviolent demonstrations for the last three years against the wall, the apartheid wall built on its land, confiscating 50 percent of its farming land,” said Palestinian lawyer Lubna Mikkel on “Democracy Now!”

Adalah-NY has been successful in organizing a boycott of Leviev’s companies. To date UNICEF, Oxfam America, the British and Norwegian governments and New Zealand’s pension fund have all stopped doing business with his companies. Adalah-NY has also been successful in getting several celebrities to stop wearing Leviev’s diamonds. Now, they are appealing to Winfrey, who is known for supporting socially conscious causes.

“Given your strong record of support for social justice, we feel certain that you did not intend to convey support for Leviev’s companies, with their terrible human rights records. Now that you are aware of this information, we urge you to take steps to ensure that your peers and the public are not left with the understanding that you have endorsed and lent your credibility to Leviev’s companies,” Adalah-NY said.

Other activists also urged Winfrey to sever ties with Leviev.

“Lev Leviev is profiting off of human rights violations in Angola, and built Israeli settlements with the support of a military. Given all of this, I can’t imagine that Oprah Winfrey wouldn’t distance herself from his company after wearing his diamonds,” said Andrew Kadi, co-chair of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation.

Adalah-NY said they contacted executives at O and the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) on May 29 and have not received a response.

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