Diamond Mogul Meets a Star-Studded Controversy

By Marissa Brostoff

Published October 30, 2008, issue of November 07, 2008.
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A group of A-list celebrities who appear in a new photography book wearing shimmering jewels (and not much more) have become caught in a tussle between an Israeli diamond mogul, an international poverty relief organization and a couple of highly irritated public relations firms.

It all started a couple of years ago when 23 female stars, including Mary-Kate Olson, Susan Sarandon, Kate Hudson and Vanessa Williams, agreed to take their clothes off for a good cause. Timothy White, a celebrity photographer, enlisted them as subjects for a coffee table book called “Hollywood Pinups.” White’s proceeds from the book were to be donated to the aid organization Oxfam.

What Oxfam representatives say they did not know is that Lev Leviev, billionaire diamond merchant and major donor to the ultra-Orthodox Chabad-Lubavitch movement, was also enlisted in the project: He provided the gems draped across the stars’ scantily clad bodies.

Leviev has become a controversial figure in recent years for his use of diamond mines in Angola and what detractors say is his extensive involvement in housing construction for Jewish settlers on the West Bank. This January, after articles in Women’s Wear Daily and other publications reported that Leviev was an Oxfam donor, the organization announced on its Web site that it had not and would not receive money from the mogul, citing Leviev’s involvement in the Israeli settlements.

“Lev Leviev began talking about Oxfam as an organization that he supports, and we had no idea who the guy was,” said Adrienne Smith, an Oxfam representative.

In September, Smith said, she was informed by the organization Adalah-NY, an anti-occupation group that has been fervently protesting Leviev, that the diamond merchant’s claim to affiliation was probably based on their “Hollywood Pinups” connection, a link as thin as a string of jewels.

So where does that leave the celebrities who posed for the book?

They have been informed of whence their diamonds came, Smith said. Oxfam has put up a new statement on its Web site denouncing Leviev, and a picture of Kristen Davis, a star of “Sex and the City” — and an Oxfam ambassador — wearing Leviev jewels has been taken off Leviev’s Web site (the reasons for the removal of Davis’s picture are unclear). And the PR organizations that represent Leviev, White, and the celebrities in the book are very, very annoyed.


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