No more reasons

Charity campaign by Bank Leumi forced to close down after opposition from Peace Now.

Bank Leumi 521 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Bank Leumi 521
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Within days of its launch in early December, Bank Leumi, one of Israel’s oldest and largest banks, was forced to close down a charity campaign. The campaign, “Two Million Good Reasons,” intended to give away two million shekels to 60 philanthropic organizations, based on Internet voting. According to a statement released by Bank Leumi, some 139 NGOs were invited to prepare a short Internet video about their group on the banks website. Funds were to be distributed to 60 groups, according to their popularity in the Internet votes.
Organizations were quick to send out messages to their email and Facebook lists, encouraging them to vote. According to the rules, it was permitted to vote “once a day from every computer.”
Opposition to the campaign mounted after Yariv Oppenheimer, director general of Peace Now, announced on Facebook that he was closing his Bank Leumi account because he had discovered that the organization, Im Tirzu, was included among the potential recipients.
Im Tirzu refers to itself on its website as “an extra-parliamentary movement that works to strengthen and advance the values of Zionism in Israel.” The group emphasizes its activities against what it refers to as the “anti-Zionist bias and the exclusion of Zionist positions and research within Israeli academic institutions” and has initiated strident media campaigns against what they refer to as “left-wing” organizations, especially the New Israel Fund.
The rules of the campaign clearly stated that no political organizations were allowed to participate, and opponents of Im Tirzu (from both the left and the right) contended that the organization’s attempt to disguise its right-wing political agenda is disingenuous.
Following Oppenheimer’s posting, a Facebook group named “Two Million Reasons to Leave Leumi” was founded. On their page, the group stated that “Bank Leumi is a private, nonpolitical body. Our money cannot be used to fund political groups, particularly extremist bodies like Im Tirzu that clearly advocate for political oppression and silencing.”
A petition, also circulating on Facebook, was signed by nearly 3,000 people who warned the bank that they would transfer their funds to another bank, if the bank gave any funds to Im Tirzu.
The bank’s own Facebook page was quickly inundated with comments from irate customers, and it was obvious that the site administrators were trying to calm the public with comments such as, “We’re listening to our customers.”
Finally, in a statement released on December 11, Bank Leumi wrote, “We reached an understanding that at this time the model we adopted had not achieved its goal. Therefore, we decided that we should stop the project at this point, and examine alternate routes to achieve the project’s goals.”
The bank further stated that the project had “good intentions, but we found ourselves the target of public criticism, which also affected the NGOs. A number of the NGOs said… that the atmosphere surrounding the project was overshadowing them and even harming them.”
Posting again on his Facebook page, Oppenheimer declared, “We have proven that with determination and public support we can take initiative and win. Our message to Bank Leumi was clear and rational: You can contribute to Im Tirzu – but not with our money… Now we have to fight against the incitement and spin coming from the right, which doesn’t shy away from lying in order to deflect the fire against them towards us.”
In response, Im Tirzu issued a statement to The Jerusalem Report, reading: “The campaign to stifle opinion and the bully threats of Peace Now have succeeded… We are sorry that Bank Leumi has capitulated to Peace Now’s threats and blackmail, as a result of which dozens of social organizations who do sacred work have suffered.”
The campaign was seen by some as a revival of the social activism spirit of the summer and a renewal of social media activism. “I signed that petition and went to my bank and complained,” Shoshi Armoni, a 26-year-old teacher, tells The Report. “I felt empowered again, like I did in the summer. I think that no one should muzzle Im Tirzu anymore than they should be trying to muzzle other organizations. But I am glad that I feel energized and I put my foot down about where my money is going. The government hasn’t listened to us, but the bank did.”
But Rimon Neuman, a 48-year-old volunteer in a soup kitchen that had participated in the campaign, tells The Report that this is a case of “throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Sure, Im Tirzu is a political organization and they should not have been participating – even though I agree with a lot of what they say. But what about all the money of the other organizations, which really do try to provide for the poor? It seems like we can’t do anything good anymore in this country, because everything gets bogged down in political name-calling.”
Bank Leumi spokesmen promised that the 139 NGOs that had participated in the project will each receive NIS 10,000 to cover their expenses, and that the remaining funds would be allocated for education, community and welfare initiatives in Israel, at the discretion of the bank.