Bank Hapoalim in Israel.
Bank Hapoalim in Israel.Israel news photo: Flash 90

Bank Hapoalim's decision to honor small businesses on Small Business Day launched a political debate as left-wing groups called to exclude several businesses from the Samaria (Shomron) and Binyamin regions.

The Samaria and Binyamin Regional Councils had worked together to connect regional businesses to the bank in order to get them exposure under the bank's planned program. Dozens of small local businesses plan to take part, among them vacation spots, vineyards, and organic food suppliers.

The plans were thrown into question when a group of left-wing activists headed by Meretz candidate Motti Raz wrote a letter to the bank asking it to exclude the Binyamin and Samaria businesses.

In the letter, activists claimed that some businesses were located in "illegal settlements," adding, "There is no reason whatsoever for Israel's largest bank to encourage organized crime."

The bank stated that it would not change its policy, and will allow the businesses in question to remain part of its program. "All small businesses in Israel are invited to join Small Business Day," a spokesperson for the bank said.

Benny Katzover, head of the Samaria Residents' Council, welcomed the bank's decision. The battle for inclusion in such initiatives is as important as many more visible ideological struggles, he said.

"Each flourishing business, each vineyard or shop that provides its owner with an income is another sign of our firm hold in the land of our fathers, and a sign of the normality of the community," he added.

Binyamin Residents' Council head Itzik Shadmi said the protest letter proves that "the Israeli left has not yet internalized the fact that we are here to stay… all it does is to fight the settlement enterprise, which just grows stronger."