JERUSALEM, NOV. 10 -- Publisher Robert Maxwell today was given a funeral befitting a national hero by Israel, the country with which he developed an intimate and sometimes controversial relationship in the last three years of his life.
Maxwell, whose body was recovered from the Atlantic Ocean off the Canary Islands last Tuesday after he disappeared from his yacht, was buried late this afternoon in Judaism's most prestigious spot, the cemetery on Jerusalem's Mount of Olives, facing the Western Wall. His funeral service in Jerusalem's Hall of the People was attended by a host of Israeli politicians led by Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and President Chaim Herzog, who eulogized the self-made tycoon as "a man cast in a heroic mold."
Born into an orthodox Jewish family in Czechoslovakia in 1923, Maxwell made his career and fortune in Britain, where he served in the army and Parliament and once announced that he had converted to the Anglican Church. In recent years, however, Maxwell reembraced Judaism and became a fervent supporter of Israel, investing tens of millions of dollars into the country's troubled economy and serving as an occasional advocate and point man for its governments.
Only a week before his death, the volatile owner of the New York Daily News and Britain's Mirror newspaper group became involved in an exchange of lawsuits with author Seymour Hersh, who accused Maxwell of working with Israel's Mossad intelligence agency. Maxwell's death at sea only intensified the speculation in London, where Hersh promised to produce further revelations of the 68-year-old publisher's clandestine Israeli connections.
So far, the evidence has not been forthcoming, and senior Israeli officials as well as sources in Britain have disputed Hersh's account that Maxwell helped the Mossad find Mordechai Vanunu, the Israeli nuclear technician who was abducted by the spy agency in 1986 after he leaked secrets about Israel's nuclear weapons program to the Sunday Times, a London newspaper.
Instead, Israeli sources describe Maxwell as a Jew who returned to his roots after a life in which he conquered but never quite penetrated British society. He was a tycoon who, in exchange for the pampering and access he was readily granted by Israel's ruling establishment, set a model for involvement and investment here that could be held up to other Jewish millionaires around the world.
"It was the emotional side of this stormy and eminently pragmatic man that returned him -- after achieving honors and success, after reaching the apex in international standing and prestige -- to his roots, that led him to wish to be buried in the soil of the land of Israel," said Herzog in his eulogy. "It is right and proper that he be here at last among us."
Maxwell had almost no connection with Israel until 1988, when he was already 65 years old. In three short years, however, he made a large mark, investing tens of millions of dollars in acquiring a majority interest in the mass circulation Hebrew newspaper Maariv, the Keter publishing house and the high-tech printing firm Scitex.
Maxwell soon became an intimate of Israeli leaders. Official sources said he spoke to Shamir by telephone at least once a week and visited Jerusalem at least once a month, taking the royal suite at the King David Hotel and hobnobbing with politicians as well as his Israeli editors. Although he was friendly with leftist opposition leader Shimon Peres, one official who knew him said Maxwell's favorite was Ariel Sharon, the flamboyant hard-liner who conceived and directed the 1982 invasion of Lebanon and now oversees construction of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories.
One official source, while denying that Maxwell ever had contact with the Mossad or access to sensitive information, said the government did not shrink from asking his help on issues ranging from Soviet immigration to the financing of pet projects. Maxwell reportedly helped arrange the transit of Soviet Jews to Israel through Eastern Europe, where he had extensive contacts and investments. Six months ago, he paid for the transfer to Israel of several dozen Jewish children affected by the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster in the Soviet Ukraine.
Last year, Maxwell even considered purchasing Jerusalem's Betar soccer team, which is closely associated with Shamir's Likud Party, to rescue it from bankruptcy. In the end, Maxwell backed off from the soccer team after studying its books, a move his admirers in Israel say reflected his hard-nosed but constructive approach to business in the country.
"Maxwell showed that instead of providing charity for this country, you can invest in it and make money," said Hirsh Goodman, the editor of the weekly Jerusalem Report. "He set a model for other people: Instead of giving money away, he was creating jobs and insisting that we get away from our socialist practices."
Still, Maxwell's business dealings were motivated by much more than business sense. An Israeli source remembered being present several years ago when Maxwell invited Israeli journalists to a briefing at his suite in the King David. The journalists demanded to know why he would pour money into an economy notorious for its inefficiency and overregulation.
Maxwell, the source said, replied by opening the window and pointing at the nearby walls of the Old City. He told the journalists that he wished his parents, who died in the Holocaust, had lived to see the Holy City. Then he burst into tears, crying for so long that even the tough Israeli journalists were moved.
"Throughout his life, he never forgot his Jewishness," Maxwell's son Phillip said in a eulogy today. "He wanted to close the circle of his life and return in death to his origins."
Reuter reported from Tenerife, Canary Islands:
The judge investigating Maxwell's death has ordered the crew of the newspaper magnate's yacht not to leave the Canary Islands pending further inquiries, a family lawyer said.
Granadilla court Judge Isabel Oliva issued the order to continue investigations into Maxwell's death, which an initial autopsy attributed to natural causes.
Oliva has asked four crewmen of the yacht, moored in Tenerife, to return to ratify their earlier statements. The seven other crew members already have done so.
Maxwell's death has sparked speculation over possible foul play or suicide. But Spanish judicial officials have so far played down such talk, noting there were no signs of violence on the body.
Oliva said earlier this week that she intended to close the case once the final autopsy results had been received. The results are expected in about a week.