Pedestrians are reflected in the windows of a branch of Bank Leumi, Israel's second-largest lender, in Tel Aviv, Israel.
(photo credit: NIR ELIAS / REUTERS)
Dr. Samer Haj Yehia has made history as the first Arab-Israeli to be appointed chairman of Bank Leumi, Israel’s oldest banking corporation. The decision is dependent on the approval of the Bank of Israel’s Banking Supervision Department, according to a statement from the bank.
The announcement came after a meeting of Bank Leumi’s board of directors on Monday, and will come into effect on July 21, when current director David Brodet is slated to retire. On Sunday, Bank Leumi announced that its president and CEO will be retiring after seven years of working in that position.
Now 48, Haj Yehia has been one of the directors of Bank Leumi for five years and has directed other firms in the past, including the Hadassah Medical Center, the Strauss Group, the Council for Higher Education, and the FinTech initiative BondIT. Haj Yehia has also worked for businesses in the United States, including Fidelity Investments and GMO Investments. Haj Yehia earned his PhD in economics at MIT as part of the Fulbright Israel-Arab Scholarship Program in 1996, and he has lectured at Harvard, MIT, Hebrew University, and the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya.
Many people have taken to social media to congratulate Haj Yehia for his position and to congratulate him on his promotion. “Another glass ceiling broken,” tweeted former chairman of the Labor party Isaac Herzog, adding that “He's incredibly talented, globally renown. I had the privilege of mentoring him when he begun his legal career and watching his career bloom. I have every confidence in his success.”
“I bless Dr. Samer Haj Yehia’s appointment to chairman of Bank Leumi and wish him great success in his position!” Prime Minister Netanyahu tweeted.
Some leaders have used Haj Yehia’s appointment as a means of disputing claims that Israel is an apartheid state. “In another blow to the BDS movement and its claim that Israel is an Apartheid state, Israeli Arab Dr. Samer Haj Yihye was just elected as Chairman of the Board of Bank Leumi. How many black South Africans held similar positions in Apartheid South Africa?” tweeted Maurice Hirsch, head of legal strategies for Palestinian Media Watch.
Bank Leumi has its roots in the early Zionist movement, tracing its origins to Theodor Herzl’s article “Jüdische Colonialbank,” which maintained that the Zionist movement needed institutional financial support. With 250,000 pounds that Herzl collected, he jump started the “Jewish Colonial Trust,” and then the “Anglo-Palestinian Company” in 1902 London. By 1903, the APC managed to open a branch in Jaffa, which was then under Ottoman Turkish sovereignty. The APC encouraged industry and construction in pre-mandate Palestine and eventually marked its separation from Britain in 1950, when it transferred its assets to a company called “Leumi Le’Israel.”
Bank Leumi has a market cap above 10.5 billion dollars, and its net income in the first quarter of 2019 was $301 million, a 50% increase from the year before. The bank has 250 branches throughout Israel, with other operations overseas.
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