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Diamond Profiles: Moshe Schnitzer

No single name is more closely associated with the Israeli diamond industry than that of Moshe Schnitzer. Born in Romania in 1921, Schnitzer moved to what was then Mandatory Palestine in 1934 to study history and philosophy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

His father did not see a future for his son with an academic degree, and in 1942, he entered the diamond business at his father's urging so that he could find a practical source of income. Diamonds were a small budding industry in the country at the time, and young Schnitzer left university to work at a diamond polishing plant only under protest, according to his biography by Merav Halperin, published in 2008. 

His got his start at Carol Pickel's factory in Tel Aviv, where he was initiated into the art of rough diamond marking, sawing, and cutting. For years to come, he would consider the plant manager, Jack Fuchs, his professional father. Alongside his work at the diamond polishing plant, he found a political home at the factory as well. Several of the workers were members of the underground Zionist para-military organization, the Irgun, and the factory served as their meeting place. It did not take long before Schnitzer joined the organization as well. His underground nickname was Dan. The friendships and relationships that he established with members of the Irgun would serve him throughout his career in the diamond industry.

Pickel recognized Schnitzer's qualities, and a year after he started working at the factory, Pickel promoted him to the position of manager. Shortly afterwards, he started his public service career in the diamond industry, when he was elected chairman of the Diamond Industry Manager and Clerks Association. "Immediately after being elected, I organized a strike," he later said in an interview. The strikers demanded better pay for low wage workers at some of the diamond facilities. It was the first and last strike in Israel's diamond industry.

In 1946, Schnitzer and Elhanan Halperin co-authored an instruction manual titled, Diamonds, which explained how diamonds are formed, processed, and traded. It was the first such book in Hebrew.

Hard times hit Pickel's factory and he was forced to close. Schnitzer, who had married just a month earlier, found himself out of work. He took his savings and opened a small diamond-polishing factory, employing two workers. His first deal was a very bad one. A con man posing as a South African pilot sold him a parcel of fake rough diamonds that Schnitzer purchased with most of the funds he had.

He began frequenting Café Zukerman in Tel Aviv, where members of the first diamond exchange would meet and trade. However, when he tried to join the exchange as a member, he was rejected for being too young. That did not discourage Schnitzer, who founded a competing mini-bourse for younger business owners. In 1949, realizing that competing exchanges did not serve them well, the two exchanges merged to form the Israel Diamond Exchange, and Schnitzer was appointed vice president.

In 1952, Schnitzer expanded his business when he partnered with Chaim Greenstein. They worked closely for nearly 30 years until Schnitzer opened M. Schnitzer & Co with his son Shmuel and son-in-law Asher Gertler.

During his many years in business, Schnitzer remained active in public life. He is credited with convincing De Beers to start providing rough diamond allocations to the Israeli diamond manufacturing sector. He convinced the Mayor of Ramat Gan to allocate land to the diamond industry to build a modern trading center, similar to those in Antwerp. He established trade publications to bring news and knowledge to Israeli diamond traders. Additionally, he successfully lobbied the Israeli Ministry of Finance to support the Israeli diamond industry and was instrumental in opening many new markets to it.

A lesser-known side to his activities was diplomatic. Schnitzer was a confidant of many public figures in Israel and worldwide, and was at times asked to use his international ties to help Israel's leaders with sensitive diplomatic matters. According to biographer Halperin, Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Golda Meir used Schnitzer to transmit messages to the Soviet Union, partly under the guise of diamond transactions.

Schnitzer served as president of the Israel Diamond Exchange from 1967 to 1993. He was elected president of the World Federation of Diamond Bourses (WFDB) and later named its Honorary President. In 2004, Schnitzer received the Israel Prize for Lifetime Achievement and Special Contribution to Society and State, the country's most prestigious accolade.

The judging committee that selected Schnitzer said, "In his activities, Mr. Schnitzer turned the State of Israel into one of the leading [countries] in the global diamond industry and by doing so, contributed to the economic foundations of the country, and the creation of tens of thousands of jobs." Schnitzer died in 2007 at the age of 86. 

Diamond Personalities: William Goldberg
Diamond Portraits: Richard T. Liddicoat, Jr.

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