Anti-Arab discrimination exposed at Bank Hapoalim

Anti-Arab discrimination exposed at Bank Hapoalim

TV report shows country’s largest bank refusing to let Arab customers switch accounts to branches in Jewish areas; Hapoalim apologizes

A Jerusalem branch of Bank Hapoalim. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
A Jerusalem branch of Bank Hapoalim. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Staffers at Israel’s largest bank were shown refusing to allow Arab customers to transfer their bank accounts to branches in Jewish neighborhoods, in an Israeli TV investigation on Tuesday night.

The Channel 10 report showed an Arab man entering a branch of Bank Hapoalim in Jewish neighborhoods and being denied his request to transfer his account there from an Arab neighborhood branch. He was turned down in three of five branches, the report said.

In the Channel 10 report, Ibrahim entered the Hapoalim branch in Tzur Yigal, a Jewish town 8 kilometers (5 miles) west of his home in the Arab town of Taibe, with a hidden camera, and asked to transfer his account. When asked why, Ibrahim said that he works near the branch and it would be more convenient for him.

Ibrahim has a steady income, and his account has never been in overdraft, but he was informed by the branch manager in Tzur Yigal that it was against bank policy to allow customers to transfer accounts between branches without an iron-clad reason to do so. That he claimed to work near the Tzur Yigal branch was not reason enough to allow the move.

Minutes after Ibrahim left the branch, a Channel 10 investigator entered, and requested to move his account from the branch in Ra’anana, a Jewish city, to Tzur Yigal. Without being asked why he wished to do so, the branch manager told him that once he and his wife came in together and signed some forms, they would be allowed to transfer the account.

Over the course of 24 hours, Channel 10 conducted a similar experiment at five other branches. In two of them, the racially mixed Haifa, and in north Tel Aviv branch adjacent to Tel Aviv University, Arab clients were allowed to transfer their accounts. In all five banks the Jewish “client” was allowed to do so without difficulties.

According to the directives of the Bank of Israel, Israel’s national bank regulator, clients of banks are allowed to transfer accounts for any reason at all — including for personal convenience. Banks are allowed to refuse the transfer only in cases where there is a reasonable suspicion of crimes, such as money laundering or the establishment of a fictitious account.

Channel 10 ran its segregation experiment at five branches of Bank Hapoalim across Israel. In only two — the mixed-population city of Haifa and a branch near Tel Aviv University — were the Arab clients allowed to transfer their accounts without any difficulties. In the three branches in which the Arab applicant was refused permission to transfer, the Jewish investigator — posing as a client — was allowed to do so.

The Bank of Israel said that it is taking this issue “very seriously,” and would conduct a comprehensive investigation the moment it received a formal complaint of discrimination.

In response, Bank Hapoalim released a statement of “deep regret”; the bank claimed the episodes “do not represent the bank’s policy or the spirit under which it operates.

“Bank Hapoalim sees itself as a bank of equality and pluralism that would never discriminate between customers based on their race,” the statement continued. The management promised to “act quickly to ensure that incidents such as those shown in the television report never happen again.”

The report came less than a week after a Rishon Lezion amusement park was accused of segregating Arab and Jewish class trips to the park.

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