The Muslims and the Banks

“This Obama, is it true he’s a Muslim?” Iris, my bank clerk, asked me this morning. My immediate reaction was to dismiss the charge scornfully. It’s an urban myth of a vile kind, I said. But as the conversation proceeded, I realized that Iris had asked the question because the prospect of a Muslim president of the United States intrigued rather than frightened her.

Not surprising, given the context. Bank Hapoalim’s Talpiot branch, located on busy Hebron road, is a few hundred meters from where the Green Line once ran. It’s short walk there from the Arab section of Abu Tor and from Jabal Mukaber, the Arab village now in the news for being the home of the terrorist who murdered eight kids at the Merkaz HaRav yeshiva last week.

The branch actively courts an Arab clientele. The first thing you see when you go in is a huge poster depicting two young Arab businessmen. (How do I know they’re Arab? It’s not just the olive complexion and slender build. It’s also that they’re well-dressed and waiting patiently.)

This while a wall runs through Jerusalem, and talk of the city’s partition is in the air. What’s Jewish for the Jews and what’s Arab for the Arabs, President Clinton’s formula says. In the meantime my bank’s building up its Arab clientele, and my banker thinks it would be cool if someone like the young, enterprising Muslims in the poster were elected to lead the free world.