Hundreds bid farewell to billionaire Sammy Ofer in TA

Shipping tycoon, 89, spent final weeks embroiled in controversy over allegedly selling tanker to Iran; died of unnamed illness.

Sammy Ofer funeral 311 (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Sammy Ofer funeral 311
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Hundreds of relatives, colleagues, and loved ones gathered at Tel Aviv’s Trumpeldor Cemetery on Sunday to bid farewell to Israeli billionaire shipping magnate Sammy Ofer, who passed away on Friday at age 89 following a long battle with an unnamed illness.
Ofer left behind his wife Aviva, his sons Eyal and Idan, eight grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.
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Idan Ofer spoke of his father as a gracious man and a pioneering businessman, and spoke warmly of spending Shabbat afternoons with him at his office, before he broke down in tears and his brother Eyal finished his speech for him.
Eyal said his father went into the shipping business “with the dream of owning a boat. He had the talent to lead and to create a feeling of security among those who followed him – he never bought their loyalty.” He added that his father, who had an estimated net worth of $10.3 billion, “never forgot where he came from” and always lived as a modest man.
The crowd at the central Tel Aviv cemetery included members of Israel’s business elite and current and past politicians like Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai. There was also a noticeable contingent of officers from the Israel Navy’s elite “Shayetet 13” unit wearing their dress whites to pay respect to a man who had for years paid for the college educations of former Shayetet 13 fighters.
Many of the speakers seemed to have a defensive tone when eulogizing Ofer, who along with his sons became the subject of heavy controversy after a US State Department nam\ed Ofer Brothers, which Sami founded with his brother Yuli in the 1950s, as one of seven companies to face sanctions for trading with Iran. The State Department accused the company of selling an $8.65 million tanker to Tehran last September in violation of international sanctions.
The Ofer family has denied that the company, one of the world’s largest in the shipping industry, was guilty of any wrongdoing but the “Ofergate” allegations dominated headlines in Israel in the final days of Ofer’s life.
The media circus kicked into high gear after a meeting at the Knesset Economics Committee on the scandal was halted live on television when committee chair MK Carmel Shama-Hacohen (Likud) received a mysterious note, the contents of which have not been disclosed. That incident, as well as the statement last week by former Mossad Chief Meir Dagan that the Ofer’s alleged dealings with Iran were “being exaggerated” led to speculation that the shipping firm was working in cahoots with Israeli intelligence against Iran.
Perhaps owing to the recent controversy surrounding the family, nearly every eulogizer Sunday spoke of what they described as distortions in the media, meant to blemish a man they said was a model Zionist and a humble and charitable man of great wealth.
These included Colonel (Res.) Eli Glickman, head of the Israel Electrical Corporation and the former commander of Shayetet 13.
Glickman said he came to pay his respects on behalf of Shayetet 13 and the “hundreds of fighters who received tuition for their college degrees [from Sami].” Glickman said that Ofer was “more proud of his connection to Shayetet 13 than anything else”, and that he had told him that “one of the things that brought him back to Israel following his business dealings abroad was the fighters of Shayetet 13.”
Ofer was born Shmuel Hershkovitz in Galantz, Romania in 1922 and immigrated to Israel with his family in 1924. During World War II he served in the Royal Navy and then later in the Israeli Sea Corps during the 1948 War of Independence. He went into the shipping business following the war and bought his first ship in 1950 and continued to expand his company throughout his life.