The horrific carnage we have seen unleashed in Gaza in recent weeks – a humanitarian catastrophe – would not have been politically or economically affordable without the tacit acquiescence of the global jewellery industry. The link between the two is not widely known and is downplayed by stakeholders in the jewellery industry.
Diamonds account for 30% of Israel’s manufacturing exports. They are of such great importance to the Israeli economy that leaders of the diamond industry in Israel and the jewellery industry globally probably have more influence on the Israeli political elite than any politician worldwide, including Zionist lobby-strung US president Barak Obama who and has been repeatedly humiliated by the actions of the Israeli government led by Benjamin Netanyahu.
Despite the fact that a high percentage of the diamonds sold worldwide help fund a regime that many observers believe is guilty of the crime of genocide – holocaust survivors , Israeli historian Ilan Pappe and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas among them – there hasn’t been as much as a whisper of disapproval from leaders of the global jewellery industry.
Diamond exports add over $10 billion net to the Israeli economy each year. This foreign currency is essential in order to maintain the political stability needed to further entrench the occupation of Palestine, bankroll Zionist hegemony and bludgeon Palestinians who dare to resist.
While the US contributes $3 billion in military aid, the Israeli economy generates the additional$17 billion needed each year to fund the military. Without revenue from the diamond industry Israel would be forced to cut military spending and raise taxes, as happened in 2013 following a 22% drop in diamond exports the previous year when a fraud investigation caused exports to collapse.
With social tensions in Israel bubbling close to the surface the threat of popular unrest over living costs and disparity in Israeli society is a very real concern for politicians in Israel. In 2011 hundreds of thousands of people protested all over Israel forcing the government to commit to providing more affordable housing. Renewed protests earlier this year show that the burden of military spending and occupation most acutely impacts the swollen ranks of the underprivileged in Israeli society. For that and other reasons any disruption to Israel’s diamond exports would have serious economic and political repercussions.
Rather than using the “direct close contacts that the industry management has with the most highly-ranked politicians” and their proven influence with Israeli authorities to call for an end to the attack on Gaza, the leaders of the Israeli diamond industry supported the military action. The president of the Israeli Diamond Exchange, Shmuel Schnitzer, is quoted as saying, “It is a national duty to aid our soldiers who are battling at the front in order to defend the State of Israel. I thank the bourse members for their generous donations for this noble purpose.” Members of the diamond bourse bought ceramic bullet-proof vests and organised trucks of equipment for soldiers responsible for killing over two thousand people, mainly civilians including nearly five hundred children and for physically and psychologically maiming thousands more in Gaza.
As Jews have traditionally been heavily involved in the diamond industry many people within and some outside the industry are reluctant to hold Israel to the same standards expected of other countries where diamond revenue is used to fund gross human rights violations. The fear of being labelled anti-Semitic and the potentially devastating risk to the diamond brand image if consumers begin to associate diamonds with grotesque images of mutilated children in Gaza has resulted in a stony silence for those who would be expected to speak out against such diamond-funded atrocities.
Instead of putting pressure on Israel to abide by international law and calling for an embargo of Israeli diamonds, the jewellery industry has buried its head in the sand while continuing to profit from the sale of blood diamonds that generate about $1 billion annually for the Israeli military.
Given that blind support for the military is deeply ingrained in most Israelis it is no surprise that the Israeli diamond industry (IDI) funded and supported the slaughter in Gaza. What is surprising though is that the same blind support for the Israeli military appears to permeate the leadership of the global diamond industry. According to an article published by the IDI, Harry Levy, president of the Gemmological Association of Great Britain and president of the London Diamond Bourseencouraged Israel’s actions in Gaza. The article quoting his inflammatory remarks has since been removed but a screenshot can be seen here.
In 2011 leaders of the global jewellery industry sharply criticised the editor of Retail Jeweller magazine for publishing a Letter of the Month which asked “Why should Israel dodge blood diamonds rule”. The magazine had to be withdrawn from an international jewellery fair in Basel and the editor was persuaded to publish an apology and a full page of critical letters the following month.
One would expect the Ethical Jewellery Committee UK (EJCUK), an amalgam of the British Jewellers Association (BJA), the National Association of Goldsmiths and the Gemmological Association of Great Britain (Gem-A) which purports to want to clean up the jewellery market by promoting ethical and socially responsible gold and diamonds, to be at the fore in denouncing the diamond-funded atrocities in Gaza. Not so.
When I spoke by phone to Vivien Johnston, chair of EJCUK in July, three weeks into the latest Israeli assault on Gaza, she said there was no evidence that diamond companies in Israel were directly funding the Israeli military or illegal or criminal acts which she claimed Israel was not guilty of at that moment. In 2011 Johnston is reported to have opined: ‘the Israeli diamond industry has historically had a reputation of being associated with the trade in blood or conflict diamonds: “They went in where other people feared to tread”’. Her recent appointment as manager of ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility for Gem-A may have given her cause to reconsider her attitude to the Israeli diamond industry.
Whether diamonds are directly or indirectly funding the Israeli military makes no difference to the victims in Gaza, the outcome is still the same. Dead children, broken bodies, searing grief, Hiroshima-esque destruction and despair is the legacy of the silence and indifference of the jewellery industry.
By coaxing the ethical jewellery sector into their lair, the wider diamond jewellery industry in the UK has silenced that section of the industry which the public would look to for moral guidance and leadership. Instead of speaking out about the atrocities in Gaza, the ethical jewellery sector continues to shelter blood diamonds that fund the Israeli military under their umbrella.
All of this makes a mockery of jewellery industry claims to support and promote openness, transparency and traceability in order to eradicate human rights abuse from the supply chain. If the industry is serious about traceability then why is that consumers, or indeed jewellers, have no way of telling where a diamond was crafted? “Ethically sourced” doesn’t mean the final product is ethical or conflict free. Revenue generated after sourcing, as a diamond increases in value along the supply pipe, may be used to finance human rights violations far removed from where a diamond was sourced.
Almost every product, from matchsticks to a Mercedes, has a stamp to indicate where it was manufactured. This allows consumers to make informed choices about the products they purchase. Even though laser technology to inscribe diamonds is readily available, it is only used for branding and promotional purposes by a very small number of diamond manufacturers. But allowing customers to know where a diamond was manufactured would expose Israeli diamonds to a consumer backlash. People would reject blood diamonds from Israel just as they reject blood diamonds from Africa and the jewellery industry knows this all too well.
The diamond industry and jewellers go to great lengths to promote a positive, romantic image of diamonds but their efforts are nothing more than a facade behind which the trade in cut and polished blood diamonds flourishes. Under the cloak of a discredited system of self-regulation – the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme – the industry allows blood diamonds that fund rogue regimes to freely enter the market.
With Israeli blood diamonds labelled conflict-free, mingling unseen with diamonds from other countries, diamond buyers are deliberately prevented from making an informed decision about the ethical provenance of their purchase. Consumers who bought a diamond believing it to be a symbol of love and romance may be forever haunted by the knowledge that it probably helped fund a ruthless, belligerent regime that has no regard for international law or the suffering it causes to an imprisoned, besieged population, mainly refugees – victims of the ethnic cleansing that is part and parcel of the Zionist project in Palestine.
In recent months a common response from vested interests when the issue of Israeli blood diamonds is aired is the “whataboutery” defence. This appears to be an agreed response whereby the ethical credentials of Israeli diamonds are juxtaposed with those of diamonds from other countries with questionable human rights records, including America, Russia, the UK, France, India or China. This is a rather curious tactic as taken to its logical conclusion it only enforces the argument that diamonds remain a significant source of funding for human rights violations. However, it is a fallacious argument because even though a number of countries have engaged in illegal wars of aggression, to those countries, unlike Israel, diamond revenue is not of critical importance and banning them would make no difference.
People and companies involved in the jewellery industry should follow the example of thousands of people worldwide, including many holocaust survivors and others of the Jewish tradition , who have spoken out to condemn Israel’s actions, and call for an immediate embargo on diamonds from Israel and reform of the Kimberley Process so all blood diamonds are banned. They should heed the words of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, who recently said “Those who continue to do business with Israel, who contribute to a sense of “normalcy” in Israeli society, are doing the people of Israel and Palestine a disservice. They are contributing to the perpetuation of a profoundly unjust status quo.”
Sean Clinton’s twitter page is @wardiamonds