Israeli businesses decry calls to revise anti-discrimination law

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Calls by far-right members of Israel’s incoming government to revise anti-discrimination laws have triggered criticism from some of the country’s leading businesses and prompted them to announce new policies of their own to combat discrimination.

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On Sunday, Orit Struck told public radio that hotels and doctors should be allowed to refuse services to people on religious grounds, provided others are available.

Leading hospitals and healthcare providers, apparently in response to that suggestion, then put out a video declaring: “We treat everyone.”

On Monday, Israel Discount Bank, the country’s fourth largest bank, updated its credit policy and said it would not lend money to groups that discriminate against customers on the basis of religion, race, gender or sexual orientation. Its chairman said the update “officially formalizes the obvious”.

Cyber security firm Wiz, which is valued at $6 billion, also said on Monday it would work only with companies committed to prevent such discrimination and said it would terminate its business relationships if this was violated.

“Recent calls for revoking basic rights heard in the political arena in Israel are of grave concern to our society,” Wiz said in a statement.

Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu, who intends to hold a confidence vote in parliament on his new religious-nationalist coalition on Thursday, has vowed to preserve principles of tolerance.

But his political rivals have accused the veteran conservative leader of being vulnerable to his far-right allies’ policy demands.

Israel’s president, Isaac Herzog, whose role is largely symbolic, also warned on Sunday against causing potential harm to individuals’ rights.

The head of Microsoft’s R&D center in Israel also waded into the debate on Monday.

“Israel is a democratic and moral country and it must remain so if it wants to stay alive,” Michal Braverman-Blumenstyk posted on LinkedIn.

“A discourse that encourages racism and discrimination of any kind has no place in a proper society.”

Netanyahu has already drawn criticism from scores of local authorities after naming a far-right politician with a history of anti-LGBTQ speech, Avi Maoz, to head a new “National Jewish Identity” authority with powers over some school activities.

Maoz says he is not anti-gay but is opposed to the LGBTQ movement and has called for the cancellation of the annual Jerusalem gay pride march.

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