Anti-hunger group in New York under fire for ties to Israeli settlement builder

ActivismIsrael/PalestineUS Politics
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Boycott Leviev Protesters gathered outside of Lev Leviev’s diamond store in Manhattan to sing and demonstrate against the mogul’s involvement in building settlements. (Photo: Bud Korotzer)

A New York City anti-hunger non-profit has come under fire from Palestine solidarity activists for taking money linked to a settlement builder. The organization, City Harvest, is being targeted by Adalah-NY: The New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel for taking money from fundraisers put on by Israeli settlement mogul Lev Leviev, who has long been a target of New York boycott campaigns.

City Harvest has provided limited feedback to the New York activists, who are calling on the anti-hunger group to refuse to take money from Leviev and are questioning whether Leviev-raised funds were taken by the organization in 2012. City Harvest is a major anti-hunger organization that collects excess food around the city, which is then delivered to community food programs.

The anti-hunger group refused to speak with Mondoweiss. “We politely decline your request for an interview,” wrote Cara Taback, the associate director of communications for City Harvest, in an e-mail. A follow-up email asking whether the group accepted donations from Leviev last year went unanswered. (Update: After this story was published, Taback emailed back in response to my question about taking money from Leviev in 2012 with this: “The 2012 Annual Report will be posted to the City Harvest website shortly, and can also be obtained by writing [to City Harvest].”

640 letters have been sent to the group protesting their links with Leviev. 

“We greatly value all the excellent work that City Harvest does to address hunger in our city. Still, we don’t believe that feeding hungry New Yorkers needs be achieved at the expense of Palestinian communities that are losing their farmland to Leviev’s settlements,” said Adalah-NY’s Ryvka Barnard, in a press statement sent out by the group. “It’s a hard decision to turn back money, but sticking with ethical standards is right, and will also gain City Harvest respect and support.”

Other organizations with links to Leviev have been successfully pressured in the past. For instance, UNICEF “severed ties” with Leviev in 2008 over his settlement links.

The first salvo of Adalah-NY’s campaign came on November 7, 2012, in a letter sent to Jilly Stephens, the executive director of City Harvest. “Knowing City Harvest’s mission, we feel certain that you will be concerned to learn that, according to a press report, City Harvest is now benefiting from support from Lev Leviev, who is directly involved in increasing food insecurity and poverty of Palestinian families by developing Israeli settlements on expropriated Palestinian farmland,” the letter reads in part.

After a second letter sent garnered no response, Adalah-NY took their campaign public.

In a January 10 press release, Adalah-NY activists detailed the links City Harvest has with Leviev:

An October 2012 article and a celebrity photo blog reported on an October fundraiser for City Harvest held at Leviev’s Madison Avenue diamond store. In July Bloomberg Businessweek reported that the Vice Chairman of City Harvest’s board of directors, Heather Mnuchin, was opening her Hamptons home “for a viewing of the diamond collection of Leviev LVD, a City Harvest supporter.” In February 2010, Women’s Wear Daily reported on a “luncheon for City Harvest” at Leviev’s Madison Avenue store. City Harvest’s 2010 Annual Report lists Leviev as donating $25,000 – $49,999. Board Vice Chair Mnuchin, an organizer of all three publicized City Harvest events with Leviev, and Nina Rennert Davidson, noted as an organizer of two of the Leviev events, are listed as major donors in the organization’s 2011 annual report.

Leviev is deeply enmeshed in Israel’s illegal settlement project. Leviev is the chairman for the board of Africa-Israel, which builds in multiple settlements through its subsidiary, Danya Cebus, according to Who Profits, a project of the Israeli group Coalition of Women for Peace. According to the coalition, Danya Cebus “has built Green Park project in Matityahu East in the West Bank settlement of Modi’in Illit. It has built a housing project for Ya’asour in the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Edomim. It has built projects for the developer Heftziba in the Har Homa, Ma’ale Edomim and Adam settlements next to Jerusalem, and it was hired to complete some housing projects there after the developer Heftziba had gone out of business.” Leviev is also a supporter of the Israeli group Elad, whose aim is to “Judaize” East Jerusalem by expelling Palestinians and creating new Jewish settlements there.

City Harvest is well aware of Adalah-NY’s campaign. According to the activist group, “City Harvest even used the automated email system on Adalah-NY’s website on December 14th to send its senior management two of the form emails about Leviev, labelling them as sent from ‘test test.’” And it is likely that Heather Mnuchin, vice chairman of City Harvest’s board of directors, knew of Leviev’s links to Israel’s West Bank colonization project well before this current campaign. Pictures from the 2007 opening gala of Leviev’s New York store, which was protested loudly by Adalah and others and garnered coverage in the New York Post, show that Mnuchin attended.

Meanwhile, Leviev continues to fuel illegal settlement building on Palestinian land. New information provided by Adalah-NY to Mondoweiss indicates that a new outpost built on the Palestinian village of Jayyous’ land was approved by Leviev. On October 31, the Israeli group Peace Now reported that a new outpost called “Tzofin North” was established. The outposts “are highly supported by the authorities. They include mobile homes, infrastructure, electricity, water and roads (and even air conditioning),” according to Peace Now.

This outpost is an extension of the settlement of Tzofin, which was built on the land of Jayyous. Leviev is one of the owners of the company Leader, which constructed the Tzofin settlement. “The outpost’s creation would require approval from the Israeli party claiming ownership to the land, in this case Leviev’s company Leader,” Dror Etkes, an Israeli settlement expert, told Adalah in a statement that was passed onto Mondoweiss.

The residents of Jayyous are none too pleased about the new outpost. “We are afraid that this new settlement outpost with Israeli families now living in five mobile homes is part of the continued effort to take more of our village’s farmland to expand the Zufim settlement. And just two days ago the settlers set down two more mobile homes not far from the first five. Seizing more of our community’s farmland for Israeli settlements increases poverty in our village and violates our rights,” Shareef Omar, head of Jayyous’ Land Defence Committee and an owner of farmland near the new settlement outpost, said in a statement to Adalah-NY which was also passed onto Mondoweiss.

Activists from Adalah-NY say they plan to continue to highlight to City Harvest’s links with Leviev in the future. “Adalah-NY and allies are examining options on how to best encourage City Harvest to respect human rights and international law by disavowing all support from Leviev’s companies,” reads an e-mailed statement from the group. “A number of organizations, investment funds and even governments have chosen to sever ties with Leviev’s companies, and we expect City Harvest to adhere to the same ethical standards.”

About Alex Kane

Alex Kane is a freelance journalist who focuses on Israel/Palestine and civil liberties. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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18 Responses

  1. Donald
    January 23, 2013, 3:10 pm

    Um, what is the principle here? That an organization that is trying to eliminate hunger in New York shouldn’t accept donations from people with dirty hands?

    Aren’t there better targets for pressure than this?

    • Chu
      January 23, 2013, 5:29 pm

      like every national politician? sure. But, why not wage a battle that brings exposure to a swath of people across the city? This makes headlines and twitter feeds.

      There’s no need to indulge in dirty money, even if it’s for the benefit of the homeless. This guy wants to elevate himself by being a patron to the poor and people aren’t gonna let him do it.

      • Walid
        January 24, 2013, 5:54 am

        The 2 companies building the Green Mount International Inc and Green Park International Inc for Danya Cebus on land stolen from Bil’in discussed in the article here were Montreal registered shell companies with zero value; I think their address was a dry cleaner’s shop or something like that. Activists on behalf of the people of Bil’in sued these 2 companies but in 2009 after a couple of years, the case was thrown out of Quebec Superior Court on the grounds that the Quebec court lacked jurisdiction to adjucate and did not want to get itself involved with an Israeli issue and suggested to the plaintiffs to take up their case in Israel. In short, the Palestinians again lost and Leviev won.

    • talknic
      January 23, 2013, 6:03 pm

      “better targets” .. Such as?

      • Donald
        January 24, 2013, 4:07 pm

        “Such as”

        Well, that’s a slow pitch over the plate. Any group that doesn’t help the hungry. Target Leviev himself for his hypocrisy. Why anyone would target a group that does good for taking money from bad people escapes me. Maybe we should offer City Hunger to double whatever Laviev does, on the condition that they not accept his help.

    • Scott
      January 23, 2013, 7:39 pm

      The principle is isolate Lev Leviev, kind of liking isolating Sodastream but with a local New York angle. BTW, I and my wife are in the picture. Fun singing rewritten and politicized Christmas carols on Madison Avenue, also an important principle.

      • Donald
        January 24, 2013, 4:11 pm

        “The principle is isolate Lev Leviev”

        And hurt others in the process, unless the protestors are willing to fill the financial gap that isolating Leviev would cause.

        I’m fine with people pointing out Laviev’s hypocrisy, but find it upsetting that anyone would think it appropriate to target a group trying to raise money to help the hungry. They aren’t the bad guys here, and if you hurt them you might be hurting innocents.

    • Kathleen
      January 24, 2013, 11:53 am

      Profit from blood diamonds feed this group while stealing land and making sure Palestinians can not access and cultivate their lands. Glad their focused on this issue. Connecting the dots is important

  2. Mooser
    January 23, 2013, 3:45 pm

    “Foundation and Organization Partners
    Our foundation and organization partners provide important funding for City Harvest’s mission, including support for our various programs that work to end hunger in New York City.”

    On an otherwise meticulously maintained and link-rich City Harvest website, that link appears to be broken. I would think it’s an important link, that bit of recognition for their Partners.

    • Rusty Pipes
      January 23, 2013, 6:01 pm

      Oh no, it’s broken because they are all humble, anonymous donors who only want to do good for goodness sake — not because it freshens the donors’ public profiles, covering up quite a few unsightly blemishes, or because, in tough economic times, even respected charities have a hard time raising enough money from respectable donors.

  3. Les
    January 23, 2013, 5:00 pm

    Help settlers to starve Palestinians with the profits going to City Harvest.

  4. Citizen
    January 24, 2013, 2:53 am

    Why doesn’t the Israeli settlement mogul donate to the 230,000 Jewish Holocaust survivors freezing in Israel without coats? They are really needy and poor American Christians are donating their pennies for this cause–TV ads are on every night, showing tottering old ladies finally getting a coat to warm their shaky bones. Jerusalem Prayer Team’s “Winter Miracle”:

    • Citizen
      January 24, 2013, 3:55 am

      Here’s more places the Israeli mogul can go to donate cash for coats, blankets, hats for the desperately poor and very cold Jewish Holocaust survivors in Israel:

      Or maybe the mogul is part of Bibi’s team, diverting the issue of poverty in Israel by building more settlements?

      • Walid
        January 24, 2013, 5:20 am

        The mogul doesn’t have to worry about such things, the French railroad system will eventually come through with some cash reparations to help victims. The Jewish victims’ BDS campaign in Maryland succeeded in blocking a contract to an affiliate of the French Railroads. Notice has been served on the Societé Nationale des Chemins de Fer Français (SNCF), the French railroad system that they can forget about bidding on the proposed TGV contracts for Florida and California if they don’t pay up for their WW II crimes against humanity in having transported 76,000 victims to the camps.

      • Citizen
        January 24, 2013, 11:00 am

        It’s interesting that 230,000 actual survivors who were in Auschwitz need charity coats, blankets, hats, etc in Israel, the Jewish haven state, which is better off economically than America–so much so Christian Zionists living in poverty in America are giving shabby dollars from their mason jar to buy stuff for old Jews in Israel so they have a warm coat in the promised land, etc. The guy who heads up this charity has been on Hard Ball and Fox News, delivering wisdom on US foreign policy wrt Israel and the MIddle East generally under the credentials of his degree from a small bible college out west.

      • piotr
        January 24, 2013, 1:39 pm

        Auschwitz is not the same as Holocaust, but any way you count it, the number of 230,000 survivors who lived 68 more years AND are abjectly poor seem impossible.

        In any case, private charity does not make huge difference in the large scale problem with multiple causes like hunger in NYC, but it makes a LOT of difference in the expansion of settlements. So I think that “utilitarian calculus” makes Leviev a good target.

        It would be much better if the struggle for a just cause could avoid “innocent targets”. But what is the other side doing? Sending people to prison practically for life for helping deprived children in Gaza. Sending police to shut down theatrical performances organized by Palestinians. Bombing a university. And so on. Google “civilianality”, the invention of world famous professor of law, Alan Derschowitz.

      • Klaus Bloemker
        January 24, 2013, 8:19 pm

        I should add a little story on the matter of poverty:

        When I was in Jerusalem (12/2002), I once went into a shoe repair store
        that was also a money changer and open pretty late. The guy asked me where I was from and when I said ‘Germany’ he was very friendly and gave me a particularly good exchange rate. – He told me that several years ago he had signed up for a German government pension plan for Holocaust survivors (or their descendents, I don’t know exactly). – Anyway, he told me that the pension from Germany that he was now getting was very advantageous for him. – No poverty, as far as he was concerned.

  5. pabelmont
    January 24, 2013, 11:22 am

    I suppose that rich guys get “recognition” for giving to valued charities and thereby get other rich guys to support their other efforts, (“Sure I give to Israeli settlements, doesn’t my pal Leviev do it, and isn’t he a swell guy who gives to the poor in NYC?”). When we embarrass Leviev, we call attention to his deceitfulness (or wrong-headedness as we see it) and seek to inform and warn-off all the other potential donors to Israeli settlements.

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