Diamonds are (not) a boycotter’s best friend

It may be hard to boycott Israeli diamonds because so many of them make their way through the country’s exchanges in some way or another.

DIAMOND DEALERS examine their wares at the Israel Diamond Exchange in Tel Aviv. (photo credit: NIV ELIS)
DIAMOND DEALERS examine their wares at the Israel Diamond Exchange in Tel Aviv.
(photo credit: NIV ELIS)
Diamond is one of the hardest natural materials on earth, a substance that few other materials can scratch.
Perhaps it is unsurprising that Israel’s diamond industry has proven similarly unscratchable when it comes to the movement to boycott, sanction, and divest from Israel.
“Internationally, from America’s viewpoint, we’ve never had a single question of whether it’s an Israeli-cut or Israeli-traded diamond,” Reuven Kaufman, president of New York’s central diamond exchange, the Diamond Dealer’s Club, said in Ramat Gan on Monday.
Kaufman was in town to kick off the week-long US & International Diamond Week at the Israel Diamond Exchange, which is the world’s largest. During the course of the week, some 400 diamond suppliers will display over $1 billion-worth of the precious stones.
Israel Diamond Exchange president Shmuel Schnitzer says part of the reason there is no problem is because all of Israel’s diamond trading, cutting, and polishing activities remain squarely within the Green Line, though many Boycott, Divesment and Sanctions advocates do not differentiate.
Israel’s diamond trade crosses other unexpected barriers.
“We do have relationships with Arab countries, but please allow me not to elaborate,” Schnitzer said.
Italian jewelry designer and manufacturer Roberto Coin said he had sold Israeli diamonds in Dubai without any questions.
“Business has no religion,” he said, “But we’d trade more and more without the politics.”
When Dubai’s Diamond exchange was accepted to the World Federation of Diamond Bourses – of which Schnitzer was also the president at the time – it was on condition that it would not bar trading from any other exchanges.
Last year, Kaufman said, he showed up with a group of Hassidic dealers from New York, complete with black hats and side locks. They received only the best treatment.
One of the reasons it would be hard to boycott Israeli diamonds is that so many of them make their way through the country’s exchanges in some way or another.
Israel turns over about $28 billion in diamonds a year. The value of exported diamonds is so significant (about a fifth of total industrial exports) that the government reports its figures sans diamonds to ensure the gems do not skew the values.
While Israel was once a base for its cutting and polishing prowess, a significant portion of that work has migrated to India and several Eastern “tigers” such as Laos and Vietnam. Yet even there, the 1,400 companies in Israel still do major operations. In fact, for every five of the 20,000 people employed in the diamond sector in Israel, there are seven employed by Israeli companies abroad. Even abroad, Israel still provides the expertise, technology, security, and connections to facilitate the trade.
Israel’s influence on the global diamond trade is so pronounced, said Scnitzer, that around the world, diamond deals are closed with a Yiddish phrase meaning luck and a blessing: mazal ubracha.
The phrase, adds Kaufman, is more sacred than a contract.
“If one person goes back on his word, every person in the boursa knows he’s gone back on his word, he’s finished in the industry,” he said.
One reason for holding the diamond exchange event is to reintroduce a level of personal relationships into the business, one that the advent of online diamond trading has worn down.
“For the last ten years or so, Internet trading has really taken off,” said Albert Robinson, editor- in-chief of IDEX Online, an online diamond exchange. “The interesting thing is that it’s back to face-to-face. Diamonds have always been a face-to-face industry.
People like that element and haven’t forgotten about it.”
But Idex sales representative Avivit Morhaim, who Robinson notes is “of a younger generation,” disagreed.
“I think the Internet is where the future is,” she said.
Perhaps down the line, online purchases will be sealed with the click of a “mazal ubracha’ button.