'Racism or assimilation' sprayed on a wall in Abu Ghosh.
'Racism or assimilation' sprayed on a wall in Abu Ghosh, June 18, 2013. Photo by Emil Salman
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Despite the wave of anti-Arab legislation being enthusiastically promoted by some of our elected officials – the governability law, which will primarily undermine the Arab parties; the nation-state bill, which defines Israel as first a Jewish state and only then as a democratic one; and the bill that would give priority to the hiring of Israel Defense Forces veterans – the strongest and most tangible expressions of racism are the ones we encounter in our daily lives.

They emerge in our small talk and in unofficial guidelines issued by mid- and lower-level clerks, conveying unwritten codes of conduct that ultimately fashion the policies of the organization and the state.

The transcript of one such conversation was published in Haaretz on Wednesday. It was an exchange between a customer recruitment manager in a Kiryat Shmona branch of Bank Mizrahi-Tefahot and a call-center employee.

“We don’t give credit to the cousins,” said the recruitment manager. When the call-center representative said she didn’t know who the “cousins” were, the manager specified: “Arabs, Druze, whatever you call them.”

She made it clear that the bank considered these customers undesirable, people who should be offered such unattractive terms that they would forget about opening an account at the Jewish bank. This unofficial policy – vigorously denied by the bank, which called it an isolated incident that would be investigated – typifies the racist practices of Israeli society. While it may no longer be politically correct to declare “No Arabs allowed,” it’s still permissible to use subtle expressions like “cousins” to carry out racial exclusion.

These practices have serious economic and social consequences. Based on statistics from the Knesset Research Center, data in the story show that Arab customers - who are mostly, by default, found in only two banks - pay higher bank fees than Jewish customers. Also, their interest spread – the gap between the interest they receive on savings and what they pay for credit – is wider than that of Jewish customers. This principle, which decrees a “tax” or higher tariff for services on the politically weak, is unacceptable and contravenes the principles of social justice.

The biggest problem with routine racism, as expressed in the Bank Mizrahi-Tefahot case, is the existence of matter-of-fact discrimination between individuals - a practice rampant in corrupt societies. Bank Mizrahi, other banks and all public and private institutions must eradicate the prejudgment of people according to their race or origin. This is a fundamental prerequisite of a democratic state.