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Frank Lowy, the Australian shopping mall magnate behind the establishment of the new Tel Aviv University-affiliated Institute for National Strategy and Policy, is no stranger to Israel nor think tanks.
Touted as the second wealthiest Australian, and ranked 174 in the Forbes 2006 list of the world's wealthiest 500, the Czech-born Lowy's history with Israel began in 1946. One of 750 passengers who after World War II left France on board the illegal immigrant ship Yagur, Lowy was caught en route by the British and deported to the detention camp in Cyprus.
After a few months, Lowy was allowed into Palestine and was brought to the detention camp in Atlit. "It wasn't exactly the Hilton," Lowy said at a press conference at TAU Monday, launching the new policy center.
"Look how far we have come in 60 years," Lowy said. "It has been an unbelievable experience."
From Atlit Lowy eventually joined the Hagana and then the Golani Brigade, fighting during the War of Independence in the Galilee and in Gaza. He was seriously wounded during the attack on the village of Sejera in the lower Galilee.
In 1952 Lowy left Israel and joined his family, who had left Europe for Australia. He arrived in the country as a penniless immigrant, and worked his way up from delivering deli sandwiches in Sydney to heading a shopping center empire. According to Forbes, Lowy has amassed a fortune estimated at $3.8 billion.
Lowy is best known as co-founder of Westfield Holdings, a retail giant that owns 130 malls in Australia, New Zealand, Britain and the United States. In the US alone he owns 67 shopping centers.
Westfield paid $127 million in May 2001 for a 99-year lease on the retail area beneath the World Trade Center. In September 2003, the property was part of a $3b. insurance claim following the 9/11 terrorist attack that brought down the Twin Towers.
Lowy said that while his son David will be coming to Israel in June to look at various investment possibilities, building shopping centers isn't one of them.
The shopping mall market is covered in this country, Lowy said.
Lowy's connection to think tanks was clearly demonstrated in 2003, when he established the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Australia, a non-partisan center that looks at various political, strategic and economic issues "from an Australian perspective."
Lowy, who termed think tanks "policy factories," said he viewed the role of his new center as "thinking out of the box, putting issues on the table and creating a public debate."
He is also a founding member of the International Advisory Council of the Brookings Institute in Washington, DC.