Royal invitation for Israeli who gave £20 million to maritime museum

The Duke of Edinburgh has asked to meet Israeli billionaire Sammy Ofer following his £20 million donation to the National Maritime Museum last week.

The Duke reportedly wants to show his appreciation to Mr Ofer for the bequest — believed to be the largest single donation by an individual to any cultural project in Britain.

Mr Ofer, 86, who once served in the Royal Navy, is a close friend of the museum’s chairman, Lord Sterling of Plaistow. He gave the money as a personal gesture.

Lord Sterling, former chairman of P&O, told the JC: “I will take Mr Ofer to see the Duke of Edinburgh, who wants to show his appreciation.

“I have known Mr Ofer for years. He knew I was involved in the museum and one cold, lousy morning in November he came to see it,” added Lord Sterling.

Within two hours, Mr Ofer said he wanted to donate the money. “I asked him if he was sure and he said he was. We shook hands. He obviously has an affinity with the nature of the museum.”

Romanian-born Mr Ofer served in the Royal Navy in the Mediterranean during the Second World War and during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War he served in the Israeli Sea Corps. Following his military service, he became a shipping agent before going on to establish a global business empire that includes industrial conglomerate Israel Corp, Zim, Israel’s largest container shipping company, and a $1 billion stake in the cruise company Royal Caribbean. According to last year’s Forbes World Rich List is worth £3.3 billion.

His donation, praised by Prime Minister Gordon Brown as “a unique gift to the nation,” will go towards a £35-million wing that is intended to revolutionise the museum’s displays at Maritime Greenwich, a world heritage site. The wing will carry his name. In a statement, Mr Ofer said: “I look forward to helping this hugely exciting project and believe it will be a great step forward for the museum.”

His personal lawyer told the JC that Mr Ofer was very pleased to be part of the donation. He said it was very rare that such opportunities come along.

The new wing, which has been 12 years in the planning and will house the museum’s archive and purpose-built exhibition galleries, will be open in time for the 2012 Olympics.

Publicity-shy Mr Ofer made the headlines two years ago when he withdrew a $20-million donation to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art after other donors complained about the museum’s plan to change its name in his honour.

    Last updated: 4:07pm, June 3 2008