Bank Leumi has trumpeted a 2-million shekel charity giveaway (Hebrew) called “2-Million Good Reasons,” which allows their customers to direct gifts to a variety of Israeli NGOs and philanthropic organizations. They include groups fighting hunger and promoting animal welfare, Ethiopian Jewry, the environment, youth, the physically-challenged, culture and arts, etc. But there is one amazing group included on the list, the far-right nationalist, Im Tirzu. I checked the other groups listed to see if any political groups were included. There was only one even remotely so, dedicated to protecting the right to privacy. New Israel Fund and Peace Now, of course, are not on the list.
In fact, the rules of the competition explicitly prohibit groups which have “political purposes,” which should rule out Im Tirzu. The Bank somehow lists it as an “educational” group since its declared aim of “educating” (read, propagandizing) Israelis about Zionism might seem on its face fairly benign (at least to the average Israeli). But most Israelis see through the disingenuousness of this claim, which is why so many customers are up in arms.
Interesting to note that Israeli readers of this blog have seen the Bank Leumi ad promoting this competition in my own sidebar (see screenshot displayed).
Today, Im Tirzu’s inclusion has become a cause celebre with articles in many newspapers and hostile comments burning up Bank Leumi’s Facebook page. A significant number of angry customers are threatening to withdraw their accounts from the Bank. Unfortunately, Israel does not present as many banking alternatives as the U.S. There are, for example, no credit unions to which one can turn as the Occupy Wall Street protests urged supporters to do in protest of the role banks played in the housing and economic crisis.
The bank’s mealy-mouthed response was: our customers will vote on who receives funding. In other words, if you don’t like Im Tirzu, vote for other groups and it will lose. Which of course absconds from the main question: why is Im Tirzu on the list at all, since it’s the only overtly political group included? Calcalist quotes the Bank attempting to qualify its rules by claiming that Im Tirzu is non-political because it is not affiliated with a political party or with the government. That, of course, isn’t how the rules defined excluded groups. And if it did, why not include NIF and Peace Now, which are also independent groups unaffiliated with parties or the government. The Bank finally said simply: “They cannot be excluded.”
I am sorry to say that Calcalist reports that the Israeli far-right NGO is currently ranked 7th among all groups in the competition and would receive $10,000 if that was its final ranking.