Bank Hapoalim, Israel’s largest bank, and one of five major Israeli banks found to have profited from the Holocaust by an Israeli government investigation last year, said on Sunday it is establishing an American depositary receipt program in the United States to allow U.S. citizens to open accounts in the Bank.
Last year’s investigation, conducted by the Knesset Inquiry Committee for the Location and Restitution of Assets of Holocaust Victims, found that NIS 1 billion (about $220 million) deposited in the banks by European Jews in the late 1930s was stolen by the banks when the depositers perished in the Holocaust.
Said the Israeli government report, "It is known that people who perished in the Holocaust deposited money, purchased securities and rented safety deposit boxes in banks that existed in Palestine during the period of the Mandate [1917-1948]", adding that, "The banks have never published information on the dormant accounts they hold."
The committee found that five banks — Bank Leumi, Bank Hapoalim, Bank Mizrahi, Bank Mercantile and Israel Discount Bank — owe money to Holocaust victims. Labor Knesset member Colette Avital, who chaired the committee, said, “We expect the Israeli banks to meet the same standard of restitution that Israel and Jewish groups have demanded from Switzerland and other countries that held Holocaust victims’ accounts, “ she said. The calculations used by her committee are similar to those adopted by the Volker Committee, which examined Swiss bank liability to Holocaust victims, she added.
In the years leading up World War II, thousands of European Jews transferred savings to Bank Leumi, then Anglo-Palestine Bank, and other banks, including Bank Hapoalim, based in what was then Palestine [soon to become the state of Israel]. Many of the depositers were murdered in the Holocaust.
During the war years, this money was transferred to the British Custodian of Enemy Property in accordance with a British decree. Avital said that in some cases no evidence could be found that the accounts were ever transferred.
In March of last year, Bank Hapoalim was accused, in a separate controversy, of issuing oversubscribed bonds, which allowed it to receive $1.4 billion in un-earned profits.
Israel’s ‘special relationship’ with the United States allows U.S. citizens to conduct business with Israel that is not allowed with any other country – including opening Israeli bank accounts, donating money to the Israeli army, and even serving as combatants in the Israeli army.
Bank Hapoalim says the move will allow it to "to broaden its shareholder base and raise its global profile", by allowing Americans to buy shares in Hapoalim.