A threatened boycott of Bank Leumi by settlers was called off on Tuesday after the bank accepted a new financing offer from supermarket mogul Rami Levy for the struggling Nof Zion complex in east Jerusalem.I'm sure we can all hear the sighs of relief. In any case, I'll admit that Bank Leumi's near renege has insulted my intellect, and they're going to have to really do a lot more now if they want to prove they won't sink to dhimmitude.
For the past few months, residents of the Jewish complex in the Jebl Mukaber neighborhood have fought against a business takeover by Palestinian- American businessman Basher Al-Masri, who has said he wants to sell the 300 apartments yet to be built to Arab families.
Digal Investments, whose primary project is Nof Zion, is more than NIS 100 million in debt, of which at least NIS 80 million is to Bank Leumi.
Masri, the businessman behind the planned Palestinian city of Rawabi, had made the highest offer to bail out the company, but in January the bondholders rejected it in favor of a significantly lower offer from Rami Levy and his Australian Jewish partner, Kevin Bermeister, the inventor of Kazaa music downloads.
On Sunday, Bank Leumi informed Digal that their debt repayment plan was not sufficient and it would take the company to court if Digal didn’t find a higher bid that would enable them to repay more of the debt. This opened the door for Masri to resubmit his offer for the company’s debt.
In response, Nof Zion residents, assisted by the Israel Land Fund’s Aryeh King, began to organize protests outside of Bank Leumi branches and threatened that all of the settlers in the West Bank and east Jerusalem would withdraw their funds from Bank Leumi.
Late on Monday, Bank Leumi announced that it had accepted a higher offer from Levy and Bermeister and was no longer considering court action.
“Now everything is an oral agreement, only when it’s done and signed will it be finished,” said King. “It’s not over till it’s over, as they say. We’re waiting until the negotiations are finished.”
Resident Shai Cooperman, who bought a small number of bonds in Digal Investments in order to attend the bondholders’ meetings, as did dozens of other residents, expressed relief that the latest upheaval was over.
“We really hope this time there won’t be other crises and they’ll sign the contract,” he said on Tuesday. “We’re just residents, we didn’t know much about bonds and about companies. We just got into this situation that no one thought it would come to.”
Digal Investments declined to comment. A Bank Leumi spokesman said they do not discuss specific cases to protect their clients’ confidentiality.
Again, I'm glad that Levy has been a big help, and will continue to expand his business ventures.