New initiative to offer NIS 400m. in loans to businesses in North

A new initiative seeks to offer loans to some 85,000 small businesses in the North still reeling from losses incurred during the Second Lebanon War. The initiative will see Bank Mizrahi-Tfahot offer loans of NIS 350,000 to NIS 2 million to small businesses to help them bounce back from the financial setbacks of the war and to allow them to expand operations - and create more jobs - in the North. The UJC and Jewish Agency will provide collateral of $17.5 million, which will allow the bank to offer some NIS 400m. in loans. The first such loan was approved on Sunday. "We want to raise the economy of the North by NIS 2-4 billion in the next five years," Eitan Wertheimer, chairman of ISCAR Metalworking and head of Tzafona, a company that unites businesspeople to promote economic development in the North, told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. Tzafona is handling the initiative's overhead and the selection process for the businesses that will receive loans. "Small businesses in the North were already in a bad situation," explained Beni Shukrun, spokesman of Bank Mizrahi-Tfahot. "The war made it worse. While regular costs - taxes, electric bills - remained, their cash flow was hurt. These loans are meant to restore balance to their cash flow, and to enable them to expand." "The word 'donation' has disappeared from the lexicon of philanthropy," explained Wertheimer of the rationale behind the initiative. "These are investments. We believe they will be sustained beyond the planned five years."