Ted Arison, worlds wealthiest Jew, dies in Tel Aviv

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Israeli billionaire Ted Arison died last Friday of a heart attack at his Tel Aviv home. He was 75.

Born in Zichron Ya'acov in 1924, Arison moved to the United States in the 1950s and made his fortune through Carnival cruises.

He was reportedly the world's wealthiest Jew and made Forbes magazine's list of the world's 400 richest people with a personal fortune estimated at $6 billion to $10 billion.

Arison gave up his American citizenship and returned to Israel in 1990, where his investment group became a leading economic influence.

Arison, who fought a long battle with throat cancer, was chairman of the Arison Investments consortium that in 1997 purchased a controlling share in Bank Hapoalim, Israel's largest bank.

He entered the American University in Beirut in 1940 to study engineering before joining the British Army in World War II. He fought in Israel's War of Independence as the Seventh Brigade's communications officer.

In the early 1950s, however, a bitter Arison immigrated to the United States, saying the Israeli government was obstructing free enterprise.

Within two decades he became a world-class shipping tycoon, entering the holiday cruise business with his 1972 launch of Carnival Cruise Lines.

He returned to the Israeli business scene in 1994, when he purchased from the Histadrut a controlling share in the Shikun Ufituah construction company, now the largest such firm in Israel.

Two years ago, his investment group purchased a 43 percent stake in Bank Hapoalim for more than $1 billion — the largest privatization deal ever done in Israel.

The purchase of Bank Hapoalim, Israeli socialism's flagship and largest business entity, by a man who at least in his own view had been a victim of an anti-capitalistic government was a rare kind of poetic justice.

His road to purchasing the Shikun Ufituah construction firm is believed to have been at least partly paved by a close relationship with then-Histadrut Chairman Haim Ramon.

Though a natural ally and close friend of free-market champion Benjamin Netanyahu, Arison recently told the Jerusalem Post he was careful to contribute to Labor-associated causes no less than to ones identified with the Likud.

Arison's business activities will be inherited by his son and daughter, Micky and Shari, with the former heading the Miami-based Carnival, and the latter, who is a Hapoalim board member, taking over the Israeli operations.

Arison was extremely active on Israel's philanthropic scene, donating among other things Ichilov Hospital's helicopter landing pad.

Prime Minister Ehud Barak and his wife, Nava, sent a condolence telegram to the Arison family, in which Barak praised Arison as an example to Jews across the world for returning to Israel and investing in its economy and culture. He also remembered Arison as a commander in the War of Independence.

"Arison's contribution shall be remembered for generations," Barak wrote.

Likud leader Ariel Sharon mourned Arison as "a precious human being, a proud Jew and Zionist, who connected his own lot with that of the state of Israel and the Jewish people in all walks of life."

In addition to his two children, Arison is survived by his wife, Lin, and nine grandchildren.