Susan Sarandon has expressed surprising unwillingness to denounce her support for the Israeli Billionaire, Lev Leviev, who has been criticized by a variety of NGOs for his involvement in building settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
In 2004, the ICJ declared both current Israeli settlements and the wall Israel is building inside the West Bank to facilitate future settlements inside the West Bank to be illegal under international law.
UNICEF has recently rejected all offers of partnerships and financial support from him. Lev Leviev had previously sponsored UNICEF fundraising events in France, and his support of UNICEF is featured in several places on his company's website.
But it seems that Susan Sarandon, a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, has decided not to follow UNICEF's lead and cut all ties with Leviev. As recently as Nov. 13th, 2007, Sarandon appeared as a guest at Leviev's New York jewelry store gala.
Last week while working on a story, I send an email to her spokesman. He responded:
"She is not a spokesperson for any jewelry company nor is she an expert on this matter. She has read information from various sources about both sides of the issue. Beyond this Ms. Sarandon does not feel qualified to make any further comment."
I've always admired Ms. Sarandon's good will and aspirations, but I was amazed by her response to this particular situation and especially her use of the phrase "reading information from both sides." Christopher de Bono, UNICEF's chief of media, told me that, "UNICEF's decision was made after they undertook an internal screening process [and] concluded that donations from him would not be appropriate, because of the nature of some of his business activities."
But was Ms. Sarandon an expert on Iraq, WMD, etc? How about when she spoke out against the U.S. war on Iraq? The fact is one doesn't need to be an expert on agriculture or food to talk about the taste of egg or tomato. Regarding the international law, Israeli settlements on Palestinian land are morally wrong. Any participation and involvement in the creation of such settlements violates international law and presents an obstacle to peace.
Opposing Israeli settlements is one of the clearest morally "correct" positions to take on an Israel-Palestine issue. Many Israelis and even Zionists agree that it is wrong. Secretary of State Condi Rice regularly has warned the Israelis against settlements expansion. Leviev's companies are among those responsible for expanding the settlements.
"Our position on settlements, I think, has been very consistent, very clear. The secretary expressed it not too long ago. He said settlement activity has severely undermined Palestinian trust and hope, preempts and prejudges the outcome of negotiations, and in doing so, cripples chances for real peace and prosperity. The U.S. has long opposed settlement activity and, consistent with the report of the Mitchell Committee, settlement activity must stop." Mr. Richard Boucher, U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing -- November 25, 2002
In denouncing settlements and those who build them, Sarandon does not need expertise to follow the lead of UNICEF, Oxfam International, the UN, all leading human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, B'Tselem (Israeli) and almost all governments worldwide. If she is concerned about her expertise, she or her assistants can get on the phone and talk to any of those organizations.
Sarandon appears to be employing a double standard with respect to human rights in Palestine. She may be doing this due to personal beliefs or out of fear that publicly defending Palestinian rights will hurt her standing to speak out on issues in Iraq. Or, perhaps she might even fear that supporting Palestinian rights and criticizing Israel could hurt her position in Hollywood. Whatever the reason is, Sarandon seems to have forgotten that beyond the names of countries and influential people there are some universal rules we all should respect, and those are international laws.