He co-founded Westfield in the ’50s, took it public in 1960, and then made the Australian shopping centre group an international brand. By 2004, on some metrics, it was the largest retail property company in the world.

In 2018, after selling Westfield’s international malls for $32 billion, he decided to live in Israel, where he had already reshaped an existing think tank into the Institute for National Security Studies.

He continues to chair this independent institute, which focuses on military and strategic issues including terrorism, low-intensity conflict, cyber warfare, and the balance of armed power in the Middle East.

Lowy says he works at maintaining his strong connection with Australia, following its ups and downs, and visits regularly. He still has a house in Sydney and continues to chair the respected Lowy Institute, which he founded 21 years ago.

When foreign leaders or people of influence visit Australia, they often appear at the Lowy Institute, as do local politicians and thought leaders.

Two-state solution

While he won’t be drawn on Australian or Israeli politics, Lowy will talk, in a limited way about the conflict in Gaza.

For example, he fully supports a two-state solution. Asked about a ceasefire, he would welcome one if the terms were fair for both sides.

On the subject of the Israeli hostages he is firm: “Taking hostages is a clear violation of human rights, and they ought to be released forthwith.”

On the destruction of Gaza, he expresses compassion. “How could you not feel sympathy for the distraught people of Gaza, whose homes have been destroyed around them and whose lives are in pieces?


“I understand what they are going through because I was in Budapest in 1944 when it was carpet-bombed. I remember looking through a crack and seeing the sky darkened with planes and later, guiding my mother over the rubble.

“So many have died in Gaza, and when I see their pain, I recognise their overwhelming loss. More than 100 members of my immediate and extended family, including my father, perished in the Holocaust. I have their names, but they have no graves.”

Although he was a refugee almost 80 years ago, Lowy still has remnants of anxiety from being alone, on an overcrowded boat, at the age of 15. “Conditions on board were terrible, but we were hopeful of reaching Palestine. Then a British warship came into view. We were intercepted, disinfected and imprisoned in an internment camp in Cyprus.”

Eventually, he got to Palestine and had just turned 17 when, over a crackling radio, he heard the United Nations vote for the partition of the country. It was November 1947.

Frank Lowy aged 17 in Israeli army uniform in 1948. 

The Jewish people danced in the streets, accepted the decision with joy and subsequently established the State of Israel on the land allotted to them by the UN.

However, the Palestinian people and the Arab world described the decision as a catastrophe, rejected the allotment of territory, and declared war.

Lowy joined the Jewish forces and spent most of his time fighting in the north. When those battles were won, his unit was moved south, and he found himself in the trenches in Gaza, experiencing defeat.

Since then, he has watched closely as Gaza was occupied first by Egypt for 19 years and then, after another war in 1967, by Israel.

He was watching in 2005, when Israel withdrew all its settlers and troops from the territory and handed it back to the Gazans. He was still watching in 2007, by which time Hamas was in full control.


Passionate about business and the broad benefits it can bring, Lowy thinks about lost opportunities in Gaza and how different things might have been.

“Rather than using billions of aid dollars to build an underground fortress and stock the tunnels with armaments, the money could have been used above ground, to build an independent and economically viable state.

“Those funds could have established IT and other industries and provided employment, just as the 40-kilometre stretch of prime beachfront could have housed Mediterranean resorts.

“Others have suggested Gaza could have become a smaller version of Singapore. It’s half the size with half the population,” he said. “But Hamas is committed to the destruction of Israel, and has other ideas.”

A pro-Palestinian protest at the University of Melbourne.  Eamon Gallagher

On October 7 last year, Lowy watched scenes from Hamas’ terror attack in Israel. He has extended family on Kibbutz Be’eri, which is close to the eastern border of Gaza and was subject to a massacre.

“Two children in my extended family, twins of 12, a boy and a girl, were murdered that day,” he says.

Then in disbelief, he watched the “chilling” aftermath of the Hamas’ attack. “Within days, there were anti-Israel protests. In the next weeks, these protests grew ugly and spread, before Israel had retaliated.

“This was driven by social media, but it was not only a matter of people messaging each other, but of hundreds of thousands of posts – in multiple languages – being pumped out by bot farms.

“These posts were designed to reshape Western sentiment. And they did. And with that, the old antisemitism that had been buried for 78 years began to seep out.”


He says as people in the wider world turn against Israel, the implications of Hamas’ terror attack, and its promise of more, are no longer of concern to them.

“What concerns me is that they don’t realise that Israel is not fighting the people of Gaza. It is fighting Hamas, which surrounds itself with the civilian population that then takes the brunt of the attack. Hamas protects itself, but gives civilians no protection.”

Lowy says he never expected to see a return of antisemitism in his lifetime and certainly not in Australia, where antisemitism is now “leaking out of decent people”.

Participants of a Free Palestine rally outside the Sydney Opera House on Monday, October 9, 2023.  Getty

But he is not without hope because he’s seen sentiment change before. After World War II, when antisemitism retreated, he clocked it as a change at scale.

When he was asked to transform soccer in Australia, he changed a divisive ethnic game into a unified Australian game.

It wasn’t that long ago that prominent soccer clubs in the cities clustered around various migrant ethnic groups who expressed their hatreds freely at matches. A game could suddenly become a re-enactment of an old European rivalry and descend into violence.

In 2003, then prime minister John Howard asked Lowy to professionalise the sport. He agreed, creating the A-League with 12 clubs across the country, named after their regions. With this the likes of Adelaide United, Melbourne Victory, Newcastle Jets and Perth Glory were born.

“Fan bases widened, ethnic violence vanished, and families came to the matches – and still do. It’s now an Australian game,” he says.

“Deliberate change requires thought, effort and a willingness to take flak. The challenge for Australia’s leadership is to remind people of the value of fairness, and that it is possible to support the plight of Palestinians without being antisemitic, just as it is possible to support the right of Israel to exist without being anti-Palestinian.

“Antisemitism makes Jews guilty before birth. There should be no room for this in the Australian psyche.”

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