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How the global jewellery industry is funding Israeli crimes

Revenue from the diamond industry is estimated to generate about $1bn/yr in funding for the Israeli military. Despite the many grievous human rights violations committed by Israel the jewellery industry continues to deceive consumers by claiming diamonds from Israel are conflict-free.

The Zionist project in Palestine has prevailed, and can only be sustained, by the violent denial of the human rights and democratic will of the Palestinian people. Sustaining the Zionist reign of terror places a heavy burden on the Israeli economy – the primary source of the revenue needed to sustain the project.

The Israeli government recently approved a military budget of NIS 60bn ($15bn) for 2016. This money has to be extracted from the Israeli economy in taxes of one form or another. The US presently gives Israel an additional $3bn per year in military aid and that figure looks likely to increase to $4.5bn/yr in 2018. Efforts to pressure Israel to uphold the rights of the Palestinian people are undermined by the US and the EU which shelter Israel from economic, political and military sanctions.

The international campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanction gives civil society the means to surmount the political firewalls that protect the regime. BDS has the potential to impose an economic toll that can significantly change the political and economic cost benefit of the Zionist project.

In order to help bring about the changes needed to shift the political scales in favour of justice and peace the boycott campaign needs to impact vulnerable sectors of the Israeli economy that can have significant economic consequences.

Israel imports more goods than it exports. Goods that bring in large amounts of foreign currency are critically important to the economy and the regimes ability to provide the social services the electorate demand while at the same time maintaining the matrix of military control needed to brutally subjugate the Palestinian population.

Some sectors of the Israeli economy are much more vulnerable to boycott and divestment than others. In terms of importance and vulnerability the diamond industry stands out.

The diamond industry is "one of the cornerstone of the Israeli economy" – a fact confirmed by the recent publication of Israel's trade performance for 2014 (see graph).

Graph of Israel's exports 2014

Graph of Israel's exports 2014

Unlike electronics, pharmaceuticals, chemicals and other commodities exported by Israel, diamonds are a very personal and emotion-laden purchase for individual consumers. Most people who purchase diamonds probably know little about the plight of the Palestinian people but when they part with thousands of dollars for a bit of polished carbon they certainly don't want to be sold a blood diamond.

Decades of publicity about atrocities associated with the diamond trade in parts of Africa have primed the public to reject blood diamonds for ethical, fashion and peer pressure reasons. Jewellers know this all too well and cannot afford to have their brand image and reputation tarnished by association with the bloodshed and atrocities of Zionist war crimes in Palestine or other rogue regimes in Africa.

Chief executives in publicly listed companies have onerous moral and legal responsibilities to shareholders and patrons alike. The average tenure of CEOs in leading public companies is about 10 years during which they must safely navigate the corporate ship until they can disembark with their retirement package secured.

Jewellers who sell diamonds that generate revenue used to fund human rights violations risk destroying their company's brand and reputation. They also expose the company to potentially costly legal action from disgruntled patrons who would feel aggrieved to discover they were sold a blood diamond and from the victims of diamond-funded human rights violations seeking reparations.

When NGOs exposed the trade in blood diamonds in certain African countries the threat to the diamond brand image was such that in 2002 jewellers eventually agreed to the establishment of a system of self regulation known as the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KP) to control the trade in rough diamonds. However, the industry refuses to ban all blood diamonds and limited the remit of the KP to "conflict diamonds" – rough diamonds that fund rebel violence. Blood diamonds that fund human rights violations by government forces legally enter the legitimate market.

Diamonds are a significant source of revenue for violent regimes in Israel, Angola and Zimbabwe. They account for about 30% of the global diamond market in value terms. These blood diamonds are not "conflict diamonds" and once mixed with diamonds from other counties are impossible to identify. Thus, billions of dollars of blood diamonds are laundered by the jewellery industry each year.

Efforts to broaden the KP definition of a "conflict diamond" to include diamonds that fund human rights violations by government forces have met with resistance from Israel and other vested interests in the KP where each member has a veto. Some NGOs that form part of the KP's tripartite system which includes governments, and representatives of the diamond industry, continue to prop up the discredited system. Global Witness withdrew from the KP when blood diamonds from Zimbabwe's Marange district were certified KP compliant in 2011.

Amnesty International, referring to the export of blood diamonds from the Central African Republic, recently stated that "diamond companies continue to hide behind the veneer of respectability offered by the Kimberley Process rather than taking responsibility for what happens along their supply chains." That veneer of respectability is rapidly wearing thin as increasing numbers of people learn about the linkage between leading jewellery companies including De Beers, Harry Winston, Sotheby's, and Tiffany's and the funding of human rights violations in Palestine.

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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