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Israel's greatest fear - its diamond trade exposed

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The stakes couldn't be higher for the $60 billion global diamond industry, and Israel's burgeoning diamond industry in particular, as the dynamic forces of economics, human rights, and politics careen towards a major showdown in Washington. The fallout is likely to blow the lid on a cozy cartel that has kept the scandal of cut and polished blood diamonds hidden from public scrutiny.

In November members of the Kimberley Process (KP) diamond-regulatory system, ostensibly set up to end the trade in blood diamonds, will come under severe pressure to adopt a US proposal, rejected last June, which would slightly broaden of the definition of a "conflict diamond" to include rough diamonds linked to violence by government forces associated with diamond mining.

The US proposal falls far short of the reforms initially sought by the KP Civil Society Coalition and other members of civil society , who want all diamonds, including cut and polished diamonds, which fund human-rights violations, to be classed as "conflict diamonds" and banned.

The remit of the KP system of self-regulation, which came into force in 2003, has been severely limited from the outset when the definition of a "conflict diamond" was restricted to "rough diamonds used by rebel movements or their allies to fund violence aimed at undermining legitimate governments." This allows diamonds that fund human-rights violations by government forces, including those accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity, to evade scrutiny. In 2011 diamonds from the Marange area of Zimbabwe, where government forces are accused of human-rights violations, were deemed KP compliant and allowed enter the international market. As a result, Global Witness, the London-based human rights organizations responsible for exposing the trade in blood diamonds and a founding member of the KP, withdrew from the scheme in protest, stating: "Most consumers still cannot be sure where their diamonds come from, nor whether they are financing armed violence or abusive regimes."

In a recent address to the World Diamond Congress in Mumbai the US Chair of the KP said : "Buying diamonds is an emotion-laden decision that is a choice, not a necessity. These kinds of purchases are particularly vulnerable to changes, sometimes rapid changes, in consumer sentiment." Western consumers, and increasingly so consumers in the East, have learned to consider diamonds as objects of romance and eternal love.  

But that romantic image was damaged when reports of diamond-funded human-rights violations gained media attention and a Hollywood film exposed the uglier side of the diamond trade.   While the human-rights violations that lead to the establishment of the Kimberley Process were associated with rebel groups in Africa, recent revelations have exposed how cut and polished diamonds, sold as conflict-free diamonds in most of the world's leading jewelry outlets, are funding war crimes and possible crimes against humanity by Israeli government forces. 

Despite the fact that a significant percentage of cut and polished diamonds are crafted in Israel (50% in the USA) the jewelry industry has so far failed to take any action to curb the trade in these diamonds. In a clear indication of the unwillingness of the diamond industry to deal with the issue of Israeli blood diamonds, it was recently reported in the Israeli media that the US Chair of the Kimberley Process, Gillian Milovanovic, had assured the industry that diamonds that fund cross-border fire between Gaza and Israel would not be banned.

The double standards of the jewelry industry was evident earlier this year in an article supporting KP reform on a leading US jewelry magazine's website (JCK), which posed the question, "What if there were diamonds (either mined or imported to be cut) in Syria?" JCK Senior Editor Rob Bates ignored the fact that Israel, which illegally occupies part of Syria, is a leading player in the global diamond industry, is responsible for the proliferation of nuclear weapons in the Middle East, and stands accused of war crimes by the UN Human Rights Council.  

Evidence given to the London Session of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine in November 2010 by Israeli economist Shir Hever indicated that revenue from the Israeli diamond industry generates over US$1 billion per year in funding for the Israeli military/security industry. And yet jewelers facilitate the trade in Israeli diamonds, which are a major source of funding for Israel's nuclear-weapons programme and many grievous breaches of humanitarian law and international human rights laws.

Any mention of the link between Israeli diamonds and war crimes is likely to result in censorship and the castigation of those who questions the ethical provenance of diamonds crafted in Israel. The editor of the leading jewelry magazine, Retail Jeweller, was forced to withdraw copies of the April 2011 edition from the Basleworld Jewelry Fair and issue an apology for publishing a "Letter of the Month" that questioned why Israeli diamonds are allowed dodge the blood-diamond rules.  

In recent months human-rights activists in London have been staging an on-going protest over the display, by De Beers, of a Forevermark Steinmetz diamond in the Tower of London in honor of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. The Steinmetz Diamond Group, through the Steinmetz Foundation, adopted a Unit of the Givati Brigade of the Israeli military, which it funded and supported during the Israeli assault on Gaza in the winter of 2008/2009. That assault resulted in the death of over fourteen hundred people, including more than three hundred Palestinian children, and left thousands maimed and traumatized. A UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) investigation concluded Israeli forces committed serious war crimes and possible crimes against humanity during the three-week assault.

The Givati Brigade was directly responsible for one of the most serious examples of human-rights violations documented by human-rights groups and the UNHRC when 29 members of the Samouni family were massacred by the Brigade. When the Steinmetz Foundation's support for the Givati Brigade became public knowledge, the Foundation tried to conceal the facts by deleting from their website all reference to their funding and support for the Brigade during the assault on Gaza - but not before a screen short of the page was distributed on the internet.

Against this background, leading players in the diamond industry are trying to persuade the industry to back the US proposal for Kimberley Process reform. If successful this will allow the industry to claim they have eliminated the loophole that allowed some "conflict diamonds" to evade the regulations, while at the same time the trade in cut and polished blood diamonds that fund the Israeli military regime continues unchecked.

In the open letter to the jewelry industry, Matthew Runci, President and CEO of Jewellers of America, and 25 other leaders of the American jewelry industry called on companies to demonstrate their support by making a commitment that "they will not supply diamonds and diamond jewelry connected to violence or conflict in any way" and "to ask that their suppliers to not supply their businesses with diamonds and diamond jewelry connected to violence or conflict in any way."

On the face of it this sounds like a comprehensive rejection of all diamonds that fund human-rights violations. However, when Matthew Runci, who is also Chairman of the Responsible Jewelry Council (RJC), and members of the RJC Management Team were notified in April 2011 about the trade in diamonds from Israel that fund human-rights violations, the Council's CEO responded on his behalf, saying the RJC "does not accept your proposition that the Israeli diamond industry, by virtue of being Israeli taxpayers, is funding human-rights violations and that, thereby, the diamonds sold by Israeli companies should be considered 'blood diamonds.'"  

This selective righteousness, which has plagued the Kimberley Process from the outset, will continue as long as the vested interests in the diamond industry have a veto on what is and is not a "conflict diamond".   The US proposal looks set to fail as some countries see the move as an attempt to cut off diamond revenues from governments not in favour with the US and its allies.   Human-rights groups are also stepping up the pressure on the KP Civil Society Coalition to demand an end to the trade in all blood diamonds, including cut and polished diamonds that fund human-rights violations.

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A human rights activists from Ireland with a particular interest in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and the global trade in diamonds which are a major source of funding for the Israeli military regime.
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