Buoy­ant Is­raeli econ­omy fails to dent fury at banks

The Jewish Chronicle - - World News - BYBENHARTMAN AND NATHAN JEFFAY

THE IS­RAELI econ­omy con­tin­ued to grow in 2011 and un­em­ploy­ment was at its low­est level in three decades over the course of the year, ac­cord­ing to the Bank of Is­rael an­nual re­port re­leased last Wed­nes­day.

The re­port found that, in 2011, the Is­raeli econ­omy grew by 4.7 per cent, more or less the same as 2010, while un­em­ploy­ment dropped to 5.6 per cent. At the same time, the con­sumer price in­dex climbed by 2.2 per cent and en­ergy prices went up by 9.2 per cent.

Along­side this rosy picture, the re­port also high­lighted that so­cial in­equal­ity in Is­rael re­mains higher than in most Western coun­tries.

Is­rael still faces a se­ri­ous wealth gap and eco­nomic risks re­lat­ing to se­cu­rity, de­mo­graphic changes, and prob­lems in the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem, ac­cord­ing to Bank of Is­rael Gov­er­nor Stan­ley Fischer who pre­sented the re­port last week.

Mean­while, anger is grow­ing in Is­rael to­wards the coun­try’s banks, with cus­tomers fu­ri­ous that they pay higher charges and re­ceive less in­ter­est than peo­ple in many other coun­tries.

Bank prof­its have long been a sore point for Is­raelis. But, as last week was the first time that banks pre­sented their an­nual re­ports since the coun­try’s so­cial protest move­ment was born — and since the gov­ern­men­tal com­mis­sion launched in re­sponse found in­di­ca­tions that banks “charge house­holds a higher price than the com­pet­i­tive price” — hos­til­ity was par­tic­u­larly high.

Bank­ing ex­ec­u­tives were forced on to the de­fen­sive as they re­vealed their prof­its for 2011, up on av­er­age 10 per cent on 2010.

“The other day I was told that, if I wanted to slightly in­crease the sums I pay back on a small loan, there would be a 350 shekel (£60 fee),” said Dana Gil­son, a 32-year-old de­signer from Jerusalem. “And the banks charge for ev­ery lit­tle ser­vice, even for de­posit­ing cheques.”

In Tel Aviv last week, 150 peo­ple, in­clud­ing Labour politi­cian Avishay Braver­man, held a so-called “day of rage” protest against the banks. “The main de­mand is for the Bank of Is­rael to mon­i­tor and reg­u­late the banks,” said protest leader Regev Con­tes.

“My plac­ard’s blank be­cause I’ve heard that the banks charge for let­ters”

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