The Jewish Colonial Trust was the first Zionist bank. It was founded at the Second Zionist Congress and incorporated in London on March 20, 1899. The JCT was intended to be the financial instrument of the Zionist Organization and was to obtain capital and credit to help attain a charter for Palestine.
It quickly became clear that the amount of capital raised by the JCT was far from sufficient to attain this goal; the sum raised was only £395,000 of the £8 million target.
The JCT’s main activities in Palestine were carried out by the Anglo-Palestine Bank, formed as a subsidiary in 1902. Its seed capital was only £40,000. The bank opened its first branch in Jaffa in 1903 under the management of Zalman David Levontin and quickly made a name for itself as a reliable and trustworthy institution, which did not consider business transactions and profitability its only goals. In its early years, the bank conducted transactions in support of the Zionist enterprise such as land purchases, imports, and obtaining concessions. Branches were opened in Jerusalem, Beirut (then the region’s main commercial center), Hebron, Safed, Haifa, Tiberias, and Gaza.
The Anglo-Palestine Bank established a network of credit unions in the moshavot and gave farmers long-term loans. It also helped with the construction of the first 60 houses in Tel Aviv. During World War I, when the Zionist enterprise faced severe difficulties, the bank managed to keep its funds intact, transferring them to safe locations. The Turkish government, considering the bank an enemy institution because it was registered in Britain, ordered its branches shut and its cash confiscated. The liquidation of the bank’s branches proceeded very slowly and business continued surreptitiously. After the war, the operations of the bank expanded, and other banks were founded in Palestine. In 1932, the main office of the Anglo-Palestine Bank was moved from Jaffa to Jerusalem.
In 1934, the JCT terminated its banking activity and became a holding company for Anglo-Palestine Bank shares only.
During World War II, the Anglo-Palestine Bank was able to use the large reserves it had built up to finance the developing industries that supplied provisions to the British army. When the State of Israel was established, the bank was given the concession to issue new banknotes and became the government’s banker and financial agent. In 1950, the bank’s registration was transferred from Britain to Israel, and it was renamed Bank Leumi Le-Israel (National Bank of Israel). When the Bank of Israel was founded as Israel’s central bank (1954), Bank Leumi became a commercial bank.
In 1955, the Jewish Colonial Trust became an Israeli company, and in the late 1980s, it was sold to private investors.
Source: Israeli Foreign Ministry.