Holocaust survivor
A Holocaust survivor protesting in Jerusalem in 2007. Photo by Tess Scheflan
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It was in the summer of 2007 that we met in the spacious Tel Aviv headquarters of Bank Leumi so that the bank could prove to us that it didn't owe a shekel to Holocaust survivors and that the Parliamentary Inquiry Committee for the Location and Restitution of Property of Holocaust Victims had labored in naught for five long years. The subcommittee charged with determining the exact amounts still languishing in the banks, in dormant accounts opened by Jews who later died in the Holocaust, was still convening. It was clear to everyone, with the exception of Leumi officials, that the bank must return hundreds of millions of shekels.

In walked a famous lawyer in a smart suit. "Leumi is willing to give 20 million shekels as a goodwill gesture and no more," he said. "You know what, if you can manage to get the money to the survivors rather than the Company for Location and Restitution of Holocaust Victims' Assets, we'll throw in another two million shekels, for the road."

Only God, that lawyer and Leumi's management know how much he earned from that war against the Knesset, the subcommittee and the company for restitution.

So much money and waste, so much cynicism. In the first half of 2010, Leumi's profits jumped to more than NIS 1.2 billion. How terrible would it have been had the bank handed over the entire NIS 300 million demanded in the suit before the settlement was reached? After all, the money belongs to the victims. Fewer than 100 of their living relatives have managed to prove that their parents had accounts at the bank, so nearly all of the money will go to aid needy survivors.

The arbitration agreement reached on Sunday may be a case of too little, too late, but it's a big improvement on what was. That, too, is a victory.