Yehuda Ofer, known as Yuli, one of Israel’s richest men, and head of a family-run conglomerate that began on the docks of Haifa, died at 87 on Sept. 12 at his home in Herzliya. His brother and partner, Sammy, had died in June at 89.
The Ofer brothers ran an industrial empire worth more than $10 billion, with interests ranging from shipping to energy, real estate, media, chemicals, property, banking and more. Company brands include Israel Corp., Israel Chemicals, Zim shipping, Royal Caribbean and Mizrahi-Tefahot Bank.
Israeli business and political leaders praised Yuli Ofer’s savvy, tough-mindedness and vision. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took a Zionist tack in his comments, saying that Ofer “made sure to run all his businesses from here” and had “roots deeply planted in Israel.” Netanyahu said he is sure the Ofer family “will continue in his Zionist path.”
Yossi Rosen, who was a top-level CEO at the Ofer family’s Israel Corp. and oil refinery business, said Ofer “was a businessman, tough and thorough,” with a “focused and concentrated” style of management, and a global vision.
Avi Levy, CEO of British Israel, who worked with the Ofer family for 30 years, said that Ofer did not affect the trappings of a tycoon. "He did not come to people from above, but at eye level, making an immediate chemistry."
In recent years, Ofer passed the role of company chairman to his daughter, Liora, but remained in the decision-making loop as recently as the company’s merger with British Israel and purchase of Ramat Aviv Mall, Israel’s most opulent shopping center.
Ofer was 6 months old when he came to prestate Palestine in 1924 with his family. He and his brother started as shipping agents in the port of Haifa, later purchased their own ships and built their businesses from there. They began to invest heavily in real estate in the 1970s.
In recent years, critics of economic concentration in Israel have named the Ofers as among the tycoons who received favorable treatment from the government when it privatized large enterprises such as the Dead Sea Works, but others have said that the Ofers’ willingness to invest and take large risks was laudable and helped Israel’s economy escape its socialist roots and grow exponentially.
In the spring, just before Sammy Ofer died, the brothers became embroiled in a political and media storm over accusations that ships owned by their companies had docked in Iran. The United States said the company had violated sanctions against trade with Iran and put sanctions on the company, but the matter did not cause the company trouble in Israel, and some hinted that the Ofers were helping, in some unspecified way, Israeli secret diplomacy and special operations in Iran.
Israeli business leaders and media will now closely be watching the second and third generations of Ofers as they take control of the companies founded by their fathers.
The Eulogizer highlights the life accomplishments of famous and not-so-famous Jews who have passed away recently. Write to the Eulogizer at firstname.lastname@example.org.