One man's family
The underfunded Rabin Center, a series of business disputes, a new peace initiative and more are keeping Yitzhak Rabin's son and daughter very busy of late; the annual memorial rally, meanwhile, will be a private project this year.
"Children of the Prime Minister," the television series created by Noa Rothman, Yitzhak Rabin's granddaughter, presents the family of its fictitious prime minister Shaul Agmon as being in a state of continual crisis, culminating in a dramatic explosion. As the anniversary of the Rabin assassination approaches - 16 years since Rothman warmly eulogized her grandfather - the relationship between Noa's mother, Dalia Rabin, and her uncle, Yuval Rabin, the real prime minister's children, could surely provide material enough for a few juicy episodes.
Conversations with family members and associates indicate that Yuval Rabin's relationship with his sister Dalia has run aground, as has his relationship with his cousin Yiftah, the son of Yitzhak Rabin's sister Rachel Yaakov. A legal dispute involving business matters has been ongoing between Yuval Rabin and Yiftah Yaakov and is now in arbitration. He has hardly any contact with his sister, Dalia, say people who know the family.
"I don't push myself in where my brother is starring," says Dalia Rabin. "There are things I've decided to keep silent about," responds Yuval Rabin.
The background to the conflict between the siblings, say some who are close to the family, is the Yitzhak Rabin Center, established according to a 1997 law providing for a Memorial Center for the Perpetuation of Yitzhak Rabin's Memory 1997 - 5757. Its permanent home was dedicated in Tel Aviv in November 2005, a decade after the assassination. The Rabin Center, headed by Dalia Rabin, receives an annual budget from the state (NIS 6.5 million in 2009, NIS 10.3 million in 2010 and NIS 4.5 million transferred so far this year, for 2011 ), but its financial situation is problematic, in part because of the enormous investment in its building, amounting to about NIS 110 million. This, by the way, is one reason the center decided not to hold a Rabin memorial rally this year. The rally will take place, but is being organized by a new foundation that has no connection to the center (see box ).
In addition to the center, there are two other organizations in which Yuval Rabin has played a role in recent years. He serves as a board member of the Association for the Establishment of the Yitzhak Rabin Center for Israel Studies (which worked to raise funds to build the center and support its activity ), and was a member of the administration of the American Friends of the Yitzhak Rabin Center (from which the major portion of the foundation's donations were received over the years ).
The Rabin Center, which wins high praise from visitors, is Dalia Rabin's life project. But while her work for the center is admired, some who have worked alongside her for years say that she tends to take sole command and that all goes according to her word.
"Look how many people were there at the start and how many there are today," says one. "A lot of people did not stay with her." Her associates say that she felt like her brother left her alone on the battlefield, citing relations with the Friends Association. "There was an argument as to how much money the American association would keep to fund its activities and how much it would transfer to Israel," says a member of the center's administration. "Yuval took the side of the association and this was the backdrop to an argument that had a negative effect on relations between Dalia and Yuval."
The Friends Association did not respond to inquiries from Haaretz, but data in our possession shows that in 2009 there was a drastic decline in the amount of donations collected. In 2008, the Friends Association raised $4.8 million, $4.2 million of which was transferred to Israel; in the following year, only $700,000 was raised, and about a million dollars was transferred to Israel. Dalia Rabin says: "This year, if I see a quarter or a fifth of what we saw in the past from the association, I'll be happy. The last report talks about a million dollars, out of which I receive half, because the rest is kept for their expenses."
According to the information we have, there was some debate about this.
"As in any organization or foundation, there have been arguments over the years. All of the 'Friends of' abroad - at a certain point, when they see a lot of money, they get a little confused. There were some tougher periods, but now things are smoothed out. And as it is, they aren't managing to raise that much money."
Do you feel that you were left alone?
"No, I have a large team with me, who are incredibly dedicated, and together we are doing a nice job of getting the project off the ground. At one point, Yuval decided that the center was my territory and he didn't want to be involved, and that was it. We each went our own way, but there isn't any friction between us."
But the events surrounding the Rabin Center's functioning are not the only reason for the rift between the siblings. People in Dalia Rabin's circle recall as a breaking point her brother's meetings with Benjamin Netanyahu on the eve of the last Knesset elections, culminating in the joint press conference the two held in February 2009, when Netanyahu was the head of the opposition.
"The purpose of the meeting was not to express support for one party or another, and Mr. Netanyahu knows that I will not vote Likud," Yuval Rabin declared at the time, explaining that he supported a unity government. Uri Zaki, chairman of Young Meretz, exclaimed from the audience: "You should be ashamed of yourself. Your father would be ashamed of you, the whole peace camp is ashamed. You are using your name and your father's memory to give the stamp of approval to the worst government in Israel's history."
Opposite sides of the barricades
In the past year, the family rift has grown due to a business dispute between Yuval Rabin and his cousin Yiftah Yaakov, the middle son of his aunt Rachel Yaakov, 87, who lives on Kibbutz Manara. Yitzhak Rabin and his sister always had a very close and special bond that strengthened when they lost their mother at a young age. Associates said this week that Rachel is only in contact with Dalia and that she "is very angry at Yuval."
The background to the rift lies in a business initiative. Three years ago, Yuval Rabin and Yiftah Yaakov got together to start a company called Galila Line Cellular in the Safed-Hatzor-Rosh Pina industrial area. The company made cellular phone repairs and employed 30 workers from the Carmiel, Hatzor Haglilit and Kiryat Shmona areas. "Yiftah is a businessman and he had a dream to bring a cellular industry to the Galilee," says a man who worked at the company. "And so he teamed up with Yuval. Yuval brings the reputation, the connections."
According to data from the Registrar of Companies, half the firm is owned by Yiftah Yaakov's Solidus Technologies, and Yaakov served as CEO of Galila Line Cellular. The other half of the company was held by Galila Technologies, a company owned by Yuval Rabin, former chief of staff Dan Halutz and businessman Koby Huberman.
"The company was supposed to not only deal with cellular repairs, but also with development and manufacturing," says one person who was well acquainted with it. "It started off well, but then it got into financial difficulty." It wasn't long before disputes between the partners followed. Yaakov and Rabin found themselves on opposite sides of the barricades.
"Huberman and Rabin contended that Yiftah was not running the company properly," says someone in the know. "He was tossed out of his various positions and Yuval was supposed to step in and take over his management role." Following his dismissal in May 2010, Yiftah Yaakov sued for NIS 400,000 he claimed the company owed him, and the matter is now in arbitration (Rabin and Huberman declined to comment on the affair ).
In October 2010, Rabin assembled the employees and informed them, to their astonishment, that the company was closing. "Today there's an uncomfortable situation," says an associate. "Yuval is cut off from his sister, from Yiftah and from his Aunt Rachel. It's very painful to Yuval that Rachel is angry at him. Rachel feels that he ganged up with Huberman against her son. Yiftah is very hurt by the way Yuval behaved. In the family, I think, they expected that Yuval would restrain his partners, that he would tell them - Look, we failed at the business, let's close things down and go home. Instead, they developed this theory that Yiftah was the one to blame for the collapse."
Industrialist Stef Wertheimer, who was close to Yitzhak Rabin (going back to the Palmach days ) and his sister Rachel, tried to help. Wertheimer's personal assistant is Zvi Tropp, who was also a friend of Rachel Yaakov, and served as economic aide to Yitzhak Rabin when he was defense minister. Tropp was later chairman of Rafael. With Wertheimer's blessing, Tropp tried to bridge the gap between the two sides. He met with Yiftah Yaakov and with Yuval Rabin, but to no avail.
"This story pains me very much," Tropp said this week. "I tried to bring them together, and I failed."
The business failure had other victims. Dana Yaakobi of moshav Sde Eliezer worked at the company for a year and a half as head of logistics. This week she says that whenever she hears about Yuval Rabin's political activity, she wants to remind him of the people he hired and fired. "A month before the plant shut down," she says, "Rabin assembled us all and asked for full production, for everyone to put in an extra effort and more hours for the sake of the plant's success. The employees were people who just wanted to make a decent living, and I was the only one who asked, what happens if the plant closes? Already there were rumors about it being in bad financial shape. A month later they called us together and announced that it was closing. It was right before the holiday. We were in shock. It was done in a brutal manner, as if no one cared about us at all. At one point they brought in a security company to guard the place - that they had money for. They were apparently afraid that we'd take computers in lieu of our salaries. We received the August wages only at Hannukah."
Yaakobi says that most of the other workers "don't have the power or money to try to sue." Through the Histadrut, she appealed to the Labor Court, which ruled that she should receive a payment of NIS 6,000 (holiday fees, balance of severance pay and compensation for its delay, and repayment of legal expenses ). But then a surprise awaited her. "It's registered as a limited company and the Histadrut listed Yuval Rabin's name as the defendant," she says. The owners of a limited company are protected from personal lawsuits for company debts. "He sued me over it, and the court ruled that I had to pay him NIS 850. I gave him a check, and he cashed it."
Koby Huberman, 55, a former senior vice president of strategy in NICE Systems, is involved in various start-up companies. His partnership with Yuval Rabin goes beyond the business sphere. Nearly a year ago came the first media reports of the Israeli Peace Initiative, a new movement formed by the two with the aim of offering an Israeli answer to the 2002 Arab peace initiative. Over the past year, Rabin and Huberman have been able to gather an impressive group of people to sign an outline proposing that the Palestinian state would be declared the Palestinians' national homeland; Israel would be recognized as the Jews' national homeland, in which the Arab minority would have full and equal civil rights, as proclaimed in Israel's Declaration of Independence; the 1967 lines would serve as the basis for borders, with agreed-upon territorial swaps. The list of signatories to the initiative includes former Shin Bet chiefs Jacob Perry and Ami Ayalon, former Mossad chief Danny Yatom, former IDF chief of staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, former Labor party chairman Amram Mitzna, former minister Moshe Shahal, businessman Idan Ofer and Dalia Rabin.
The organizers of the initiative registered it as a nonprofit organization, whose shareholders include Yuval Rabin, Huberman, Jacob Perry, businessman Avraham Bigger and journalists Akiva Eldar and Merav Michaeli. A person very familiar with the organization of the peace initiative says that obtaining Dalia Rabin's signature was no easy feat: "When they wanted to get Dalia on the list Yuval told one of the other partners to go speak to her."
Dalia Rabin recently declined a proposal to be interviewed together with her brother to promote the initiative. "I don't push myself in where my brother has the spotlight," she explains.
But you did sign the initiative.
"At their request I signed the initiative, but I don't take part in their meetings or their publicity campaign and I put that on the table from the start. I'm in favor of this initiative, because I was behind it five years ago, but then it didn't take off, and they really were able to recruit more people and a lot of partners and I think it's a welcome thing, but I'm not a part of it. I'm at the Rabin Center, so I refrain from getting involved in political initiatives."
Yuval Rabin has since lowered his profile. For example, he did not participate in a meeting of people from the initiative with PA Chairman Abu Mazen last April. "He still comes to meetings and keeps up with what's happening," says the person familiar with the situation. "I think he is committed to it, but today there are some much bigger guns involved."
But Yuval Rabin did not abandon public activity altogether, even if he is going about it without any media coverage. Uri Amedi, chairman of the Lev Ha'ir community council in Jerusalem, which includes the city's Mahaneh Yehuda market, said this week that their connection originated after Leah Rabin came to tour the market at the height of the second intifada, after a number of terrorist attacks in the area. "It was a very highly charged visit," says Amedi. "I came out of it black and blue."
Amedi says that Leah Rabin was impressed with his efforts to encourage the growth of local leadership and told him he had to meet Yuval. Soon afterward, Yuval Rabin also came to tour the market with Amedi. "It was one of the most profound encounters I've had," says Amedi. Rabin viewed the market, considered a right-wing stronghold, as a symbol of the antagonistic feelings that were directed against his father, Amedi explains. "He came here to search for answers to very painful questions that were preying on him."
The relationship between the two has lasted until today. Rabin visits various places in Jerusalem with Amedi and sometimes brings guests from abroad to show them the activity in the market and the projects Amedi is promoting among the Arab residents of Silwan.
A name that opens doors
About two years after his father's murder, Yuval Rabin went to America and remained there for nine years. In 2002 he went into a business partnership with former PMO director-general Shimon Sheves, former IDF chief of staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak and former Israeli economic attache in Washington Gil Birger. The four founded RSLB Partners (taken from the initials of their surnames ), a lobbying company that worked on behalf of Israeli and foreign companies in the U.S. capital. The company is still listed as active, but someone familiar with its history explains that it is no longer recruiting new clients, and only attends to previous commitments it had taken on.
A year after the company's founding, it was reported that RSLB helped the Israeli company Gilat Satellite Networks win tenders worth tens of millions of dollars in Brazil and Colombia. But relations have since gone sour. Last year, RSLB filed a NIS 2.5 million suit in Central District Court against Gilat, claiming Gilat did not meet its financial commitments to it. A defense brief was filed by Gilat; the case is still pending.
In 2007, Rabin returned to Israel with his wife, Tali, and their two daughters. "We came back so our daughters would grow up as Israelis," he told Sima Kadmon of Yedioth Ahronoth. In July 2008, together with Dan Halutz; former Shin Bet official Ofer Dekel; Gabi Levy-Gonen - an arms dealer who operates primarily in Africa; and agricultural affairs consultant Shaul Moran, Yuval Rabin founded a company called Onida, whose activity included work in Nigeria to promote the business of Israeli export companies, and the upgrade of security-related products. A few months ago, the company began a dismantling process, apparently due to Halutz's entry into politics. A businessman in the security industry who had business ties with Unida says of Yuval Rabin: "He's a working man who made reasonable use of his family name. What does this mean? He said, 'Doors are opened to me because my name is Rabin,' but he's not arrogant or hotheaded and never tried to claim that this name had any value beyond opening doors."
Since April of last year, Rabin, together with three others, has been a part of Oris Investments, which invests in green technology companies. On the firm's website, Rabin is described as follows: "Yuval truly espouses a global vision, having led initiatives for manufacturing and service companies, utilities and governments in the U.S., Israel, Europe and the Far East. Yuval is a veteran of the Israel Defense Forces, having achieved the rank of major during his eight years of service. Yuval brings on board deep business experience with governments, state and federal processes, and a remarkably extensive network and contacts around the globe, including Africa, Arab countries, and Eastern European countries."
Around two months ago Rabin was appointed a consultant to the American company PositiveID, which is developing medical products (related to the treatment of diabetes, mostly ) and means to monitor biological threats. The company's website and the announcement of his appointment both mention Rabin's worldwide connections. The site also quotes company CEO William Caragol: "We are very pleased that Yuval has joined our advisory board to assist us with the continued development of our Easy Check product in Israel, as well as our expanding bio-threat detection and homeland security applications both in the U.S. and abroad. Yuval has a vast and strong network and we believe his relationships can help us to continue to grow our business."
About a month after Rabin's appointment, PositiveID announced it had received an order from a partner in Israel for the supply of VeriChip electronic chips that are used for patient identification in emergency situations. This partner, said the company statement, intends to supply the chips to the IDF. Yuval Rabin declined to be interviewed or to comment on his business dealings.
New team for the memorial
On Saturday night, November 5, there will be a memorial rally in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv to mark the 16th anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin's assassination. Unlike in recent years, when these rallies were organized and funded by the Association for the Establishment of the Yitzhak Rabin Center, this year the event will be the project of a new foundation called 4 November 1995, which is still being established. This organization, whose founders include Chemi Sal (the producer of previous rallies ), publicist Reuven Wimmer, Rabbi Michael Melchior and others, began the registration process only in the last few weeks, after Dalia Rabin announced that last year's rally was the last one she would be involved in organizing.
"The rally this year is a private initiative and not being managed, funded or led by the Association for the Establishment of the Rabin Center, which managed all the rallies up to now," says Dalia Rabin. "The center's administration decided that this format has run its course and we are now looking for something alternative. Chemi Sal, who produced the event over the years, decided to do it privately this time."
Is there any connection to the center and the foundation's economic situation?
"Yes, that is one of the reasons. A rally like that cost half a million shekels and that's extra money that has to be raised. The foundation's real aim in raising money is to build the center, which is not yet complete, and to sustain the center, which costs a lot more than the state gives us as a yearly budget. I thought that spending a half-million shekels on a rally that, in my view, has run its course now as a memorial format, was unwarranted, and this view was accepted. Last year, as I was going around scraping together every cent for the rally, I decided that it wasn't the right move and that the money we have should be invested in the center's educational objectives."
Will you take part in the rally this year?
"I don't want to commit beforehand, but if the list of speakers and artists is one that I connect to, then I will participate. I won't speak at the rally, but I'll be in the crowd."
Chemi Sal says he "received Dalia's blessing" to hold the rally. "As long as there are people who want to do it, the rally will take place."
Do you know yet who will perform this year?
"With these rallies, it's never clear until the last week just who the speakers and performers will be."