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Gulf News | 30 April 2008

Israeli jeweller has no trade licence to open shop in Dubai

Dubai: No trade licence has been granted to open Israeli jewellery store Leviev in Dubai contrary to claims by Leviev and its agent in Dubai, said a top official at the Department of Economic Development.

"We are aware of these reports and have not granted a trade licence to any business of this name. If such an application does come to us we will deal with it accordingly," Ali Ebrahim, Deputy Director General for Executive Affairs in Dubai, told Gulf News.

Israeli diamond magnate Lev Leviev's self-titled diamond boutique recently issued a press release announcing plans to open two stores in Dubai through its Moroccan-Palestinian agent Arif Bin Khadra. Lev, an Uzbek-Israeli, is accused of profiteering from building Jewish colonies on occupied Palestinian land, illegal under international law.

Ebrahim said Israeli citizens were not allowed to operate in Dubai, adding that "precautionary measures" are taken to ensure that they do not. He added that Israeli businesses would be prevented from operating in Dubai through non-Israeli partners.

"There are no loopholes," he said. "We check backgrounds of businesses that apply".

Jewish and Palestinian advocacy groups have been campaigning against Leviev's alleged plans to open in Dubai.

Jewish colony activities

Eisa Mikel, a spokesperson for The Coalition for Justice in the Middle East (Adalah), a Jewish-Palestinian advocacy group leading the campaign against Leviev, told Gulf News that Lev Leviev profits directly from the building of colonies on Palestinian land in the West Bank, where his companies are active in at least four colonies.

Dania Cebus, a subsidiary of Lev's Africa-Israel Investments, is alleged to be involved in the construction of the colony of Har Homa between occupied Jerusalem and Bethlehem, Ma'ale Adumin, which surrounds occupied East Jerusalem, Zufim, built on the village of
Jayyous, and Ariel, built in 1978 on a number of former Palestinian villages.

Adalah and New York-based Jews Against the Occupation issued a statement calling for the UAE to "join the growing international campaign to boycott Lev Leviev's companies due to their construction of Israeli colonies".

Mikel said the momentum against Leviev has been growing, citing a letter Adalah received from charity organisation Oxfam recently in which the group distanced itself from the Israeli businessman following media reports of donations made to the group by Lev.

Gulf News' requests for an interview with a Leviev representative were unanswered by the time of going to print, but according to the Leviev press release, the boutiques will open in Dubai Mall and the Atlantis Hotel in Palm Jumeirah this year.

The Emaar Malls Group, which is developing the Dubai Mall, would not comment on the issue but a spokesperson from the Atlantis Hotel confirmed to Gulf News that the lobby of the hotel will include a Leviev boutique.

Leviev's agent, Bin Khadra, first brought Leviev diamonds to the UAE in March this year with the opening of his store Levant Jewellery in the Mina Al Salam hotel. He told Gulf News that the franchise in the Dubai Mall and the Atlantis Hotel would be wholly owned by him.

Asked if he was aware of the activities of Lev Leviev's companies in the West Bank, Bin Khadra said that he had heard of Leviev's practices in the West Bank but had seen no proof of the allegations, adding that they were not a major concern because "such questions are not asked in the diamond business". Dubai, he said, was an apolitical and international city that needed global brands such as Leviev. "What we have learned here is that you don't have to talk about politics or religion if you're doing business," he said.

Bin Khadra added that he knows of other major Dubai-based jewellers who were interested in bringing Leviev to the UAE. "If we hadn't brought Leviev, someone else would have".

Lev Leviev's activities in one colony in particular have raised concerns from Palestinian activists. Ma'ale Adumin is the largest and most controversial of Israel's 126 colonies in the West Bank.

The strategic colony of 33,000 Jewish residents has expanded deep into the occupied territory, in effect splitting the northern and southern West Bank into half, and encircling occupied East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want as the capital of their future state.

Israel's hold on and continuing expansion of Ma'ale Adumin is often cited by its critics as proof of the lack of a serious commitment to a settlement to the conflict on Israel's part.

Ardent Zionist

Mikel noted that Lev's activities in the colonies are driven by his ideological leanings.

Said to be an ardent Zionist, Lev told an Israeli paper recently that the status of occupied Jerusalem was non-negotiable.

"For me, Israel, [occupied] Jerusalem and Haifa are all the same. So are the [Syrian] Golan Heights," he told the paper. "To decide the future of [occupied] Jerusalem? It belongs to the Jewish people. What is there to decide? [occupied] Jerusalem is not a topic for discussion."

We are aware of these reports and have not granted a trade licence to any business of this name. If such an application does come to us we will deal with it accordingly."

Plans to open clothing chain dropped

Dubai: The UAE-based family business that was in talks to bring an Israeli clothing chain to Dubai dropped plans to do so after the story surfaced in the Israeli media, the chain's owner told Gulf News.

In a phone interview from Tel Aviv in June last year, Avi Malka, CEO and Chairman of ML, a plus-size clothing chain, confirmed Israeli media reports that a UAE business family was interested in bringing the Israeli chain to Dubai, but said that it backed out in fear of arousing controversy at home.

"The UAE family was going to import the clothes from our franchisee in France, but told us they would reconsider once it was publicised in the media," said Avi Malka.

It is illegal for Israeli businesses and individuals to operate in the UAE as per the Arab League's primary boycott of Israel. Malka said that registering the store as a French company would act as a loophole to open in Dubai.

He refused to name the family, saying it would jeopardise the business potential between the two parties in the future. The story has since been circulating via email in the UAE. Gulf News readers have also written to protest the alleged move.

Malka said he was keen on doing business in Dubai, "not for money, but to make peace through business". ML's clothes, according to Malka, are manufactured in Israel. The company also has outlets in Jewish colonies built on occupied land, such as the illegal Ma'ale Adumin.

Posted on 30-04-2008

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