Importing diamonds, exporting ethics

Despite Israel’s difficult relationship with the United Nations, successive governments in Jerusalem have a history of working with the world body in support of global causes. A recent resolution on “Entrepreneurship for Development,” sponsored by Israel’s mission to the UN, exemplifies the latest in Jerusalem’s desire to actively engage the international community as a willing partner for change. This drive has improved the lives of millions around the world, though Israel is rarely recognized for such contributions.

Quite remarkably, Israel’s leadership has had perhaps one of the most significant effects in the fight to eliminate conflict diamonds from domestic and international markets—a problem that has plagued the international community for years. With one of the world’s largest diamond industries located in the Diamond Exchange District of Ramat Gan, Israel has willingly faced up to the ethics of its business practices and the importation of diamonds for resale from such places as Angola, Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Sierra Leone.

The United Nations defines conflict diamonds as “diamonds that originate from areas controlled by forces or factions opposed to legitimate and internationally recognized governments, and are used to fund military action in opposition to those governments.”  Warlords frequently use enslaved men, women, and children to mine these diamonds before smuggling them into legitimate markets, which provide a steady source of funding for illegal rebel groups. In addition, warlords often employ bribes, torture, and murder, thus giving conflict diamonds their other name: “blood” diamonds.

This month marks the tenth anniversary of United Nations Security Council resolution 1459, passed in January 2003 to express support for the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) “as a valuable contribution against trafficking in conflict diamonds.”  The KPCS is a joint initiative among 80 countries, the World Diamond Council, and other civil and labor groups to “ensure that diamond purchases [are] not financing violence by rebel movements and their allies seeking to undermine legitimate governments.”

Following the passage of resolution 1459, Israel was the first country to issue a Kimberley Process certificate. In 2003, the first year of the KPCS, Israel imported approximately $4 billion worth of certified “conflict-free” rough diamonds. So committed was Israel to improving its own industry that it agreed to random spot checks to ensure total compliance with KPCS standards. This was supplemented by the work of the Ministry of Industry, Labor, and Trade, which includes a Diamond, Gemstone and Jewelry Administration that monitors the import and export of diamonds.

Israel’s effort to eliminate conflict diamonds goes beyond domestic assurances to an active role on the international stage. In 2010, Boaz Hirsch, Deputy Director General for Trade in Israel’s Ministry of Industry, Trade, and Labor, was named Chairman of the KPCS. During his time in office, Mr. Hirsch supported the “introduction of a permanent, dedicated, supranational body to this process” in order to supervise and guide member states. In addition, he supported passing the chairmanship between trading countries and producing countries to build trust. While the former suggestion has yet to come into being, Mr. Hirsch accomplished the latter in 2011 when Mathieu Yamba of the Democratic Republic of the Congo took the reigns of the KPCS.

Avi Paz, then-president of the Israel Diamond Exchange, has stated:

Israel, as a target of terror, has a greater interest in international controls. One of the most effective ways to fight terror is to dry out the money supply of those who support terror. We must terminate any possible link between our business and any illegal activity, for both moral and commercial reasons.

Israel’s devotion to making the KPCS work stems from an alignment of its interests with its values, which puts a premium on the preservation of human life. By attempting to mitigate the influence and financial power of African warlords, Israel is actively seeking to improve people’s lives while bettering its own business practices.

What began as an initiative of 38 countries in 2003 has become an incredibly large operation. In ten years, 80 states have adopted the standards of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, accounting for 99.8 percent of the world’s production of rough diamonds. While there is no shortage of criticism directed at the KPCS, Israel has actively sought change through a forum that brings together every major player in the global diamond industry.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is so confident in Israeli diamonds that it promises on its website that they are “synonymous with trust and reliability, and… guaranteed to be conflict-free and genuine.”  This pledge reflects Israel’s desire for excellence, which it has attempted to elevate beyond its own borders to the rest of the world.

Ten years since United Nations Security Council resolution 1459, Israel’s devotion to supporting global causes for the greater good is just as strong. By rising above unwarranted criticisms and biases, Israeli contributions to the international community continue to make a difference in people’s lives around the world.

About the Author
Robert Pines, a Maryland native, is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C. He has interned with a number of organizations promoting Jewish and Israel advocacy. In fall 2011, he spent a semester at the Rothberg International School at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.