Canada also seeks clampdown on Jewish extremists

Israeli bank freezes account of settler Yinon Levi sanctioned by US

Hapoalim also indicates it will comply with US sanctions; Smotrich reportedly seeking to prevent banks from freezing accounts as far-right MK calls move ‘ridiculous’

Illustrative: Israelis walk next to Bank Leumi in Jerusalem, on November 16, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90/ File)
Illustrative: Israelis walk next to Bank Leumi in Jerusalem, on November 16, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90/ File)

Yinon Levi, a settler recently sanctioned by the United States for alleged acts of violence in the West Bank, has been informed that his Israeli bank accounts were frozen.

Bank Leumi informed Levi on Friday that both his private and business accounts are now frozen, in compliance with the sanctions that determine that access to American financial systems or software by sanctioned individuals is a criminal offense, according to Hebrew media reports Sunday.

In its announcement of sanctions against Levi, the US State Department said he regularly led groups of settlers from the Meitarim Farm outpost who assaulted Palestinian and Bedouin civilians, threatened them with additional violence if they did not leave their homes, burned their fields, and destroyed their property.

Levi has denied the allegations, saying in a statement that the sanctions were the result of “appeals by the anarchist, anti-Zionist, Jew-hating left to [US President Joe] Biden” and that the claims against him were “tall tales.”

Three other Israeli settlers were sanctioned by Washington on Thursday.

Bank Hapoalim told Haaretz on Sunday that it will also take action against the two sanctioned settlers who have accounts with the bank, but it was yet to do so.

“Bank Hapoalim respects international sanctions and will implement any legal order. For reasons of banking confidentiality, we cannot comment on specific cases,” it said.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, meanwhile, was reportedly seeking to prevent Israeli banks from complying with the US sanctions.

Channel 12 news reported Sunday that Smotrich had contacted the Bank of Israel and asked the supervisor of the banks to issue a clarification that Israeli law does not oblige banks to freeze sanctioned individuals’ accounts.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich leads a faction meeting at the Knesset, Jerusalem, January 29, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Smotrich was quoted as saying it was “unthinkable” that an Israeli bank should take action against an Israeli citizen over a US decision.

“I will take action as the finance minister and do what I must,” he reportedly said, adding that, “if need be, we’ll advance legislation on the matter.”

A banking source told the network the US could sanction banks who continue to serve sanctioned individuals.

MK Zvi Sukkot of Smotrich’s far-right Religious Zionism party paid a visit in solidarity with Levi on Sunday, calling the sanctions “one of the most ridiculous things that could happen” and casting the allegations against him as leftist “plots.”

“The Israel Police investigated the issue. There is no evidence of the leftists’ plots, he has no indictment, he has no criminal record, he has no record in the Shin Bet. Leftists simply do not like the fact that Jews establish farms,” he said.

“It is not logical that an Israeli bank would freeze the bank account of a person who is the salt of the earth because of leftist plots that got to the Americans,” Sukkot said. “This is illegal. Nobody has the authority to seize the bank account of a citizen, and if this is not corrected we will demand an urgent discussion in the Knesset on the matter.”

On Thursday, Biden signed an executive order declaring a national emergency that allows him to implement new measures to combat settler violence, including sanctions concurrently announced against the four extremists.

The US action was the furthest that any administration has taken to address the phenomenon, which has persisted despite repeated warnings from Washington for Israel to address it, including after a series of first-of-their-kind visa restrictions were announced in December. The announcement also came amid growing heat Biden has been feeling from progressive Democrats over his continued support for Israel in the war against Hamas and his opposition to a permanent ceasefire.

On Sunday, Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly said Canada will also impose sanctions on Israeli settlers who incite violence in the West Bank, while also introducing new sanctions on Hamas leaders.

Canadian Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly addresses a joint press conference with the Ukrainian foreign minister in Kyiv on February 2, 2024. (Sergei SUPINSKY / AFP)

In an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corp on Sunday, Joly said some settlers “will be sanctioned” and “we will also bring new sanctions on Hamas leaders.”

“We’re working actively on it,” Joly said, speaking from Ukraine. “I’m making sure that while I’m in Ukraine, the work is being done in Ottawa and I look forward to doing an announcement soon.”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday said he was considering imposing sanctions on “extremist” settlers in the West Bank.

There has been substantial documentation and reporting on rising settler violence in recent months following Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel, and Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar reportedly warned the cabinet of the repercussions in late October.

The attacks have often targeted property, and have included stone-throwings at passing cars, assaults, and even alleged killings, with the vast majority of cases going unprosecuted, according to rights groups.

IDF soldiers scuffle with settlers from the Einav settlement trying to storm the town of Deir Sharaf in the Nablus governorate of the West Bank on November 2, 2023, after an Israeli was killed when his car came under fire. (Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP)

Israeli officials told The Times of Israel last month that defense officials had taken a number of steps to clamp down on the phenomenon amid repeated US warnings and that there has been a decrease in such incidents in the West Bank.

Washington’s sanctions will block designated individuals from access to the US financial system, blocking them from any type of property in the US and freezing any property that they might already own. The sanctions will also include a ban on entry to the US.

In the 18 months before Hamas’s devastating October 7 attack on Israel, in which thousands of terrorists murdered some 1,200 people and kidnapped another 250, mostly civilians, the West Bank had already seen its highest levels of unrest in decades. Confrontations there have risen sharply since Israel launched its retaliatory offensive on Gaza, aiming to destroy Hamas and return the hostages.

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