Haredi daily: Planned law 'defames Judaism worldwide'

In pushback at discrimination law, prominent Israeli firms vow to boycott bigots

Tech, law and insurance firms, local authorities say they won’t serve entities that discriminate against certain customers; outgoing tourism minister warns move may deter tourists

Illustrative: A high-tech development center in Herzliya, Oct 30, 2020. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)
Illustrative: A high-tech development center in Herzliya, Oct 30, 2020. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

Moneymakers, insurance providers, high-tech firms, local authorities and academic institutions are putting out the message that they will boycott doing business or work with entities deemed to be bigoted, as pushback grows over concerns the incoming coalition government will enact changes to allow the use of discriminatory practices.

The Herzliya Municipality said Tuesday that it would not grant a business license to entities that discriminate against parts of their clientele. Tel Aviv University likewise said it would not cooperate with those “that pursue a policy of improper discrimination,” while dozens of schools across the country displayed a notice at their entrance gates vowing adherence to state education values of equality.

The action came in response to a clause in the coalition agreement between the Religious Zionism and Likud parties, stipulating that the incoming government will seek to amend discrimination laws to allow business owners to refuse to provide a service if it violates their religious beliefs. The deal has yet to be officially signed, but Religious Zionism MK Simcha Rothman said Tuesday that the controversial clause will be included in it.

On Sunday, fellow Religious Zionism MK Orit Strock, who is set to become a cabinet minister in the incoming government, sparked an outcry by saying that doctors should be allowed to refuse to provide treatments that go against their religious faith, as long as another doctor is willing to provide the same treatment.

Rothman made similar comments the same day, asserting that if a hotel wanted to refuse service to LGBT people on religious grounds, it would be entitled to do so.

Gili Ra’anan, founder of Cyberstarts, a venture capital fund that invests in early-stage cybersecurity startups, announced Tuesday that the fund will refrain from doing business with any company or individual that discriminates against people based on their religion, nationality, race, sex, origin or sexual orientation.

Lior Simon, right, and Gili Raanan, partners at cybersecurity VC fund Cyberstarts. (Yossi Zliger)

“For years, we have been able to maintain a separation between business and politics,” Ra’anan said. “In recent weeks, I have been concerned about the racist legislative initiatives of the new government, which threaten to harm the democratic nature of Israel as well as the economy’s ability to continue to grow and attract foreign investors.”

Cyberstarts and other tech firms are following on the heels of players in the business community, including Israel’s Discount Bank, which said Monday that it will not grant credit to any business or organization that acts in a discriminatory manner or discriminates against customers.

More Provident & Pension Ltd, which has almost NIS 50 billion ($14.2 billion) in assets under management, announced this week that it has updated its investment and credit policy and will not invest in or provide credit to a business or entity that discriminates against customers on the basis of religion, race, sex or sexual orientation.

“As a financial institution that manages funds for savers, we believe that our responsibility does not end with professional and responsible investment management, but also with promoting values of diversity and inclusion,” the firm stated.

In a similar vein, the AIG Israel insurance company announced that it will stop insuring businesses and terminate the work with suppliers that engage in discriminatory practices.

“We did not agree in the past, and we will not agree now, to accept statements and actions that harm different populations and sectors in Israeli society,” said AIG CEO Yifat Reiter. “Going into the year 2023, racist and discriminatory discourse is unacceptable.”

Amdocs’s Ra’anana offices. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

“I call on the heads of the economy to act decisively and denounce this improper phenomenon from the root,” Reiter demanded.

Israeli law firms have joined the wave of opposition, including Epstein Rosenblum Maoz (ERM), which articulated on Tuesday that the firm felt “obliged to mark a clear line in the sand,” and said that “discrimination ingrained into law, cannot be tolerated.”

“We usually do not involve business with political views,” wrote Nimrod Rosenblum, ERM founding partner and head of corporate, M&A and private equity on his LinkedIn page. “However, recent developments in Israel go beyond legitimate political views and touch upon our core existence as humans and citizens.”

“We are alarmed by reports of political initiatives aimed at harming minority populations in Israeli society, and pledge to continue our efforts to ensure equality, tolerance and security for every individual,” the law firm said.

Barak Siman Tov at Kremer-Siman Tov stated that the law firm will terminate contracts with suppliers who act in a discriminatory manner towards their customers.

Amdocs, an Israeli-founded software and communications multinational, affirmed its opposition Tuesday to any discourse or action that discriminates against any person, adding that the firm will continue to act and lead business and community activities that promote equality.

“Amdocs is the largest employer in Israel of engineers from the Arab society and the proportion of women in technological positions in the company is almost 40%,” Amdocs said in a statement. “Amdocs sees diversity as a human and social value that promotes innovation, and has always worked to promote equality and inclusion — both with its over 30,000 employees in Israel and around the world, and with suppliers and customers.”

Meanwhile, outgoing Tourism Minister Yoel Razvozov warned hotel operators on Sunday that just “one case of discrimination is enough to leave a mark on the tourism industry in Israel as a whole, and the industry that supports tens of thousands of families in Israel.”

“The expected amendment to the discrimination law will leave a stain on the tourism industry in Israel and will significantly harm incoming tourism,” Razvozov wrote in a letter to the operators. “This will make it difficult for tourism to return to pre-corona levels.”

Yated Neeman, a newspaper affiliated with the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, included in the incoming coalition, published an editorial against the Religious Zionism politicians, saying they were “defaming Judaism worldwide” and branding the future government as “one that persecutes Arabs, minorities and discriminates against people on the basis of religion and more.”

Academic institutions also made their voices heard. Tel Aviv University’s President, Prof. Ariel Porat, informed faculty members that the university “will not cooperate with entities that pursue a policy of improper discrimination.” Haaretz reported.

In a letter to lecturers, he wrote that recently “extremist voices are heard raising shocking ideas which just by being voiced harm the delicate fabric of our lives as a society in a democratic country.”

Haaretz reported that principals at dozens of schools across the country hung signs at the entrance gates declaring adherence to state education values as laid out in law.

The signs, which all contained the same text, declared commitment to “develop an attitude of respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms, democratic values, the observance of the law, the culture and views of others, and to educate for the pursuit of peace and tolerance in relations between people and between peoples.”

They showed up outside schools in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Hadera, Kiryat Motzkin, Binyamina, Pardes Hana, Ramat Gan, Kiryat Ono, Emek Hefer and Netanya, Haaretz reported.

The deans of Israel’s six faculties of medicine also issued a statement denouncing “the recent calls to allow discrimination in the provision of medical care on the basis of religious, gender, national or any other background.”

They said that it has always been stressed to medical students that they are ready to serve “all their patients in their distress at any time and at any hour” and recalled the oath taken by graduating doctors to help all those who are sick, regardless of their background or origin.

“We will not give a hand to destroy these basic principles and we will continue to educate Israeli doctors in the spirit of these things,” they wrote.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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