Bank bans credit for bigots as firms in Israel decry planned pro-discrimination laws
Microsoft, Wiz among businesses expressing concern incoming government will seek to amend rules to allow firms to refuse services if it violates their religious beliefs
Sharon Wrobel is a tech reporter for The Times of Israel.
Israeli tech firms and financial institutions are joining an effort started by Israel Discount Bank to clearly voice their opposition to discrimination amid growing concern that the incoming coalition government will enact changes to allow the use of discriminatory practices.
Israel Discount Bank on Sunday announced that its board of directors accepted a recommendation by the bank’s management to update its credit policy to reflect that the lender will not grant credit to any business or organization that acts in a discriminatory manner or discriminates against customers on the basis of religion, race, gender, or sexual orientation.
“We found it appropriate to amend the bank’s credit policy, so that what is already obvious will now become official,” said Israel Discount Bank chairman Shaul Kobrinsky. “According to the policy, Discount Bank will not grant credit to businesses or entities that discriminate against customers in the State of Israel.”
“This is our commitment and responsibility as a significant business entity within the Israeli economy,” Kobrinsky added.
Discount Bank’s statement comes in response to an apparent coalition agreement between the Religious Zionism and Likud parties, which includes a clause 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.
Meanwhile, incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has denied that his coalition would allow such a law to pass.
The law as it stands forbids discrimination by those providing public services or products on the basis of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and other similar considerations, and anyone doing so is liable to be fined.
Michal Braverman-Blumenstyk, corporate vice president at tech giant Microsoft Corp., warned that discourse that encourages racism and discrimination of any kind has no place in a civilized society.
“Microsoft is a diverse home where racism does not enter,” Braverman-Blumenstyk wrote in a statement on her LinkedIn page. “The reason for the company’s success is diversity: I walk around the corridors of Microsoft every day and see wonderful employees – Jews, Arabs, ultra-Orthodox, secular, LGBT, women and men – working side by side in brotherhood, professionalism, against the background of the basic understanding that everyone is equal.”
“Israel is a democratic and moral state and must remain one,” declared Braverman-Blumenstyk, who is also general manager of Microsoft Israel’s Research & Development Center.
Israeli cybersecurity firm Wiz on Monday announced that any company that wants to do business with the startup will need to comply with its non-discrimination policy.
Discrimination against a person for any reason – including race, religion, nationality, country of origin, gender, sexual orientation, outlook, party affiliation, age, or personal status – will be grounds for Wiz to terminate any business relationship with the contracting company, the startup said.
“Recent calls for revoking basic rights heard in the political arena in Israel are of grave concern to our society,” Wiz stated. “We are obligated to do as much as we can to prevent discrimination of any kind.”
Other companies and financial institutions, including More Investment House, Altshuler Shaham Investment House, and AIG Israel insurance company, made similar statements vowing to oppose discrimination.
The statements from the Israeli business community come just a day after 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 contravene their religious faith, as long as another doctor is willing to provide the same treatment.
Backing up Strock, fellow Religious Zionism MK Simcha Rothman made similar comments on Sunday, asserting that if a hotel wanted to refuse service to gay people on religious grounds it would be entitled to do so.
Last week, more than a hundred senior Israeli corporate executives and fund managers joined an appeal initiated earlier this month to warn Netanyahu that his coalition’s desired policies are threatening Israel’s image as a stable democracy and could harm the industry by driving away crucial foreign investment.
Pitango venture capital fund on Monday called on the VC community and the high-tech industry to oppose any manifestation of hatred, racism or discrimination that threatens democracy and the rule of law in Israel. The VC firm affirmed its commitment to work only with businesses and entities that do not discriminate for any reason, including race, religion, nationality, country of origin, gender, sexual orientation, party affiliation, and age.
“Pitango has been working for years to promote diversity, inclusion, and equality for all, in the ultra-Orthodox populations, the Arab minorities, the gay community and other populations.,” said Pitango founder Chemi Peres. “This call is an integral part of our commitment for all of them, and we will continue to work for them, even more strongly.”
Peres, who is the son of the late President Shimon Peres, emphasized that the high-tech sector was and still is the growth engine of the State of Israel.
“The contribution of the high-tech community to the Israeli economy is large and significant,” he added. “We must all be committed to maintaining an egalitarian and inclusive society for the benefit of the future of the State of Israel.”
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.