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Israeli businesses decry calls to revise anti-discrimination law

JERUSALEM – Several leading Israeli businesses pledged on Monday to strengthen their internal anti–discrimination rules following remarks by hard-right members of Israel’s incoming government seen as undermining gender equality and minority rights.

The remarks, including a call to scrap the Jerusalem gay pride march and another to ease a ban on individuals who support terror or racism from running for parliament, have alarmed many Israelis and drawn a warning from the country’s president.

On Sunday, a member of the far-right Religious Zionism party – one of the parties in Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu’s new coalition – 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, 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, valued at $6 billion, 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.

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, who intends to hold a confidence vote in parliament on his new religious-nationalist coalition on Thursday, has vowed to preserve principles of tolerance. 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, warned on Sunday against causing potential harm to individuals’ rights.

Netanyahu drew 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. – Reuters

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