Israel: Steps Toward Cryptocurrency Support?

In terms of technological innovation, Israel has been labeled by some as “The Startup Nation” with Israeli ventures raising over $5 billion in capital in 2017. This is almost 10% of China’s yearly fundraising total. While there’s a number of popular applications, platforms, and products including USB flash drives, the Waze navigation app, SodaStream carbonation machines, the country has set its foot in the crypto industry as well.

Back in 2017, Hapoalim, Israel’s largest bank, partnered with Microsoft to create a Blockchain-powered platform to “make the process of signing up guarantors simple and quicker.” And in February 2018, the Israeli Tax Authority (ITA) stated that cryptocurrencies will be taxed by the capital gains as properties.

On February 26, 2018, the country took it even further, when the Israeli Supreme Court handed down a decision that would temporarily block Leumi Bank, limiting a local broker, Bits of Gold, from facilitating the sale of cryptocurrency.

Though many were quick to laud the temporary ruling as ‘precedent-setting,’ it still leaves ample room for further developments. The judge ruling the case, Anat Baron, said that her decision was “not intended to harm the bank’s rights to analyze with specificity every transaction that takes place with the bank account or to take any actions that are related to minimizing risks.” This likely means cryptocurrency brokers and exchanges putting transparency first will be regarded as lawful—for now.

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The Supreme Court of Israel in session (The times of Israel)

Founder and CEO of Bits of Gold Yuval Roash sees this decision as justified, saying,

“Regulation is one of the things that has been important to us since the beginning. From the very beginning, we saw the problem with Bitcoin in terms of its anonymous characteristics, and we wanted to receive a currency service certificate—and we received it in August 2013.”

This is significant progress from December of last year, when a Tel Aviv district court ruled in favor of Leumi Bank, who had refused service to Bits of Gold because of Bitcoin’s inability to meet anti-money laundering standards. Bank Leumi had also been piggybacking on the Bank of Israel’s June labeling of exchanges as “websites that facilitate gambling transactions”, which is a sore spot for Israel especially. The country proved to be careful about upsetting the balance within its borders, and even blocked popular ride-sharing application Uber from an Israeli debut.

After examining the last five years of Bits of Golds’ operations, Judge Baron determined Leumi’s previous assumption that violations of the law would occur if Bitcoin were left unchecked were false…

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