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Shamir Describes Maxwell as Friend of Israel

November 5, 1991 GMT

JERUSALEM (AP) _ Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir expressed deep sorrow Tuesday over the death of British billionaire Robert Maxwell, describing him as a friend who had offered to put his foreign contacts ″at Israel’s service.″

″With great sorrow, I heard about the untimely death of my friend Robert Maxwell, God bless his memory,″ Shamir said.

″I knew him, especially in recent times, as a person who was greatly interested in the Israeli economy, invested money in Israel and offered to put his wide contacts on the international arena at Israel’s service.

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″Maxwell was a passionate friend of Israel and we are sorry about this heavy tragedy,″ Shamir said in a statement.

Former premier Shimon Peres, of the opposition Labor Party, also sent a telegram of condolences, saying Maxwell ″was one man, but actually a whole empire of thoughts, deeds and enterprises.″

Maxwell had large financial holdings in Israel, was active in Jewish immigration issues and had close ties with many of the country’s leaders. News of his death dominated Israeli radio and television.

Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh reported in his recent book ″The Samson Option″ that Maxwell had close links with the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency. Maxwell and the Mirror Group newspapers filed libel suits against Hersh and his publisher, Faber and Faber, who in turn countersued.

Shamir’s spokesman Ehud Gol, asked about the reports, said: ″This is not the time to deal with such nonsense.″

Hersh said he hoped there was a full British investigation into Maxwell’s death, ″and into the circumstances of what he was doing with the Israelis.″

According to Israel army radio, the total volume of Maxwell’s holdings in Israel is estimated at $300 million.

Last May, the Arab League boycott office clamped a boycott on 104 Maxwell subsidiaries for the publisher’s dealings with Israel.

In June 1986, Maxwell bought a 33-percent share in the Israeli daily, Maariv, reportedly paying $9 million. He later enlarged his share to about 70 percent, Israel radio said. Using Maariv facilities, he has also launched a Russian-language weekly, Vremya.

In October, the Israel Commercial Economic Newsletter reported that Maxwell sold his shares in the Scitex Corp. for $248.5 million, said to be the biggest sale in the United States of an Israeli company.

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It also reported that Maxwell had planned to sell a 19-percent share of the Israeli Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, and to increase his investments here.

Shaar Yishuv Cohen, chief rabbi of the Israeli port city of Haifa, said Maxwell was recently in the process of returning to his Jewish roots.

″I was surprised to discover that behind the hard front of a seemingly aggressive and secular businessman, there is a sensitive Jewish soul, full of nostalgia for the tradition of his ancestors who perished in the Holocaust,″ he said.