Following protest, bank freezes support for anti-democratic group

Im Tirtzu, the nasty little organization that has ushered in some of the more dangerous trends in Israel – policing academic thought, turning Zionism into a sort of raison d’état – has suffered a powerful blow issued with swift and impressive precision by an apparently lethal force: consumers.

Bank Leumi, one of the country’s oldest banks, was forced to freeze a new charity program on Sunday when customers discovered that money they raised could have gone to Im Tirtzu, along with other social welfare organizations.  It probably took the enterprising folks no more than a few minutes to check the rules of the program, before they quickly mounted a largely virtual protest.  Bank Leumi’s decision to reassess the program came in a matter of days.

The campaign was called “Two million reasons” and the idea was to give away two million shekels to 60 philanthropic organizations. Political organizations were not allowed. About 140 groups were to post a short internet video about their group on the bank’s website, and consumers would “vote” – and funds would be distributed in descending order of popularity. A worthy cause.

But Im Tirtzu (literally, “If you will it” – half of Herzl’s “If you will it, it is no dream”) of course, is an exclusively political organization that has no social welfare aspect whatsoever, except for domination of the minds of Israelis and the extinction of free, independent and critical thought.

And so consumers, apparently, revived a little of the old cottage cheese spirit. In a flash, various campaigns were set up on social networking sites: “two million good reasons to leave Bank Leumi,” appeared on FB, where I also found one called “two million reasons to hate Bank Leumi,” which I avoided, since I don’t approve of hate; another FB page stated cheekily, “If you will it, they can cancel your transaction fees!”  I was particularly pleased when Haaretz reported (Hebrew, in the headline) that both right and left-wing protesters mounted the boycott (although the article gave no examples of right wingers, while it did point out the active participation of Yariv Oppenheimer from Peace Now). The bank’s regular Facebook page filled up with comments, and when I checked yesterday, the bank’s site administrators were desperately trying to provide soothing responses: “we’re listening to our customers…” and the like.

After calling, but failing, to reach my Leumi branch manager on Thursday, I found the easiest and most efficient tool to be a link sent by a friend on Facebook with a petition stating that Bank Leumi is free to do what it wants with its money, but that if a single shekel of mine goes to this fear-and-hate spewing organization, I will close my account and transfer my funds to another bank. I signed my name, wrote my bank branch number, and off it went. As of today, there are 2,918 others who signed. It’s not a huge number, but hey – now that the summer social protests over, I’m no longer embarrassed to announce that I am not in overdraft and apparently Leumi isn’t ready to let our cash go.

Not to overstate the case, but this is the first time that Israel’s newfound civic-consumer muscle has been put to use for an overtly political cause that involves standing up to protect Israeli society from its dangerous anti-democratic elements. I wish this would be a turning point.

For the record, I do not deny the right of any group to speak out. I am far more repelled by Im Tirtzu than by any typical right-wing group with whom I disagree – because its main mission is to cut off the oxygen to the Israeli mind and impose its dictatorial, supremacist vision of “Zionism” on everyone. I’m against overuse of the term fascism, but if anyone comes close, it’s them.

Still, I wouldn’t advocate outlawing or shutting down Im Tirtzu. Actually, I get much more pleasure watching the people of this country who still believe in a sane, salvageable society, taking such immediate action and winning this battle with our own hands. My pleasure is surely magnified by seeing us hold a bank by the…well, I’ll leave it at that.