Leumi Cancels Charity Project After Public Outcry

Bank Leumi has halted its annual "Two Million Good Reasons" charity project this year, due to public pressure over the participation of the rightist Im Tirzu group. The project allowed Internet users to vote via the YouTube video-sharing website on which philanthropic organizations should receive charitable donations from Bank Leumi. The winning organization was to have received NIS 225,000 out of the total of NIS 2 million.

The bank was criticized on two levels: The first was political. The addition of Zionist organization Im Tirzu this year (it did not compete last year ) seemed to many to violate the terms of the competition, which was supposed to prevent the participation of politically oriented groups.

leumi - Ofer Vaknin - December 12 2011
Ofer Vaknin

The second main criticism was that the competition had turned into a "reality show of beggars," in which NGOs put up video clips to beg for contributions. In addition, many people complained that the sum Leumi was contributing was laughable considering its enormous profits.

A statement released by the bank yesterday said the project "was successful and achieved its goal. We had good intentions but found ourselves the target of public criticism, which also hurt NGOs. A number of the participating NGOs approached us and said that the atmosphere surrounding the project was overshadowing them and was even harming them.

"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."

Bank Leumi said the 139 NGOs that had participated in the project will each receive NIS 10,000 to cover their expenses. The remaining NIS 600,000 will be earmarked for initiatives and projects promoting education, community and welfare in Israel.

Public outcry arouse last week after the head of Peace Now, Yariv Oppenheimer, criticized the project over the participation of Im Tirzu, announcing he was closing his Bank Leumi account.

In recent days, a Facebook group called "Two Million Reasons to Leave Leumi" was founded. Group members said they intended to leave the bank over the participation in the project by what the group called an "extremist right-wing" organization.

The Facebook group stated that "Bank Leumi is a private, nonpolitical body. Our money cannot be used to fund political groups."

The cancellation of the Leumi charity campaign may not have ended the media storm. Hundreds of consumers are continuing to protest in social media such as Youtube and Facebook. In fact, right-wing customers have responded to Leumi's cancellation in anger - and this may do no less damage to the bank's image and business than the original decision protested by the left.

The campaign, and the response to it, is certainly a watershed moment in Israeli advertising, especially for social media - and such advertising has taken on a new dimension since the summer's social protests.