Baron Edmond de Rothschild, banker, collector, benefactor, 71

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JERUSALEM — Baron Edmond de Rothschild, a prominent French banker and benefactor of Israel, died Monday. He was 71.

Rothschild, whose Jewish father was a senator who voted against the Vichy regime during World War II and moved to Switzerland, died of emphysema in Geneva. He had suffered from cardiovascular problems in recent years and repeatedly underwent surgery, said a spokesman.

Rothschild was president of his Geneva-based bank and financial companies and the Luxembourg-based Leicom Fund. He was former president of the Israel General Bank in Tel Aviv, of the Israeli-based Caesarea Development Corp. Ltd. and the Israel European Company Isrop in Luxembourg, among other concerns. He was also president of the French Hotels Mountain Hotels Co.

The Rothschild family is widely known for its wineries in the Bordeaux region, including the baron's Chateau Clark, where Rothschild is to be buried this week in a private ceremony, the spokesman said. He is survived by his son, Benjamin, 34.

The connection between the Rothschild family and Israel began with Edmond's grandfather, the late Baron Edmond James de Rothschild, who was known as "the well-known benefactor" for his patronage of agricultural settlements in Palestine. He also played a major role in the development of the wine industry and was co-sponsor of the Palestine Electric Corp. His son James followed in his footsteps and headed PICA, the Palestine Jewish Colonization Association.

Edmond was the third in this line to take an active interest in Israel. In the early 1960s he invested some $2.5 million in an oil pipeline and other investments followed. After the Six-Day War he became one of the founders of the Israel Corp., but this stake was sold to Clal Israel in 1983. The last major holding of the Rothschild family in Israel was a 52.4 percent stake in Israel General Bank, which was sold earlier this year to the South African Investec Group. It has been reported that the baron's son Benjamin is not interested in investing here.

An avid art collector, Rothschild donated works to the Louvre Museum in Paris. He was named commander of the Legion of Honor in 1994 and of the Order of Arts and Letters in 1990.

Rothschild was one of the founding fathers of the Israel Museum and one of its most generous benefactors. Among his many contributions, Rothschild, together with Baroness Nadine de Rothschild, donated "the Rothschild Room," a recreation of an 18th century French salon that was the study in the Paris residence of his grandfather, Edmond.

"Baron de Rothschild played an important role in the founding vision of the Israel Museum," Israel Museum Director James Snyder said in a statement. "His generosity over many years enriched the museum, and all of Israel, in a profound way."