Rani's Complaint

PR people, who prefer to be known as media advisers, often think they are indispensable. Rani Rahav, the biggest fish in the local PR pond, works today primarily with people with capital and has decided to forgo government clients - but still considers them all one happy family

yossi klein
Yossi Klein
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yossi klein
Yossi Klein

G. is asked why millionaires, who have everything, need public relations. Indeed, he seems to have it all. He sits in his office on a brown leather sofa, wearing a blue shirt and dark slacks. He's around 50, tanned, with a wayward lock of hair on his forehead and a receding hairline. He dabbles in real estate and has a fashion business that is thriving both here and overseas. He sits his guests opposite him on identical armchairs; they are promptly served excellent espresso in demitasses on attractive leather coasters.

Rani Rahav

On the wall behind him is a small original work by German Expressionist painter Erich Heckel. G. isn't really an art aficionado, but knows the importance of having an expensive piece on his wall. He can even recite the history of the painter and the painting. The question about its value hangs in the air unanswered. An attempt to estimate G.'s wealth is considered to be tasteless, in this pleasant atmosphere.

G. is a rich man, a millionaire, maybe a multimillionaire, but not a tycoon per se. He pays a monthly retainer for PR services. His personal PR man (who prefers to call himself a "media adviser" ) is responsible for the fact that G. occupies a good place in the local aristocratic hierarchy. Such a position, G. believes, also helps to bring in money. He also pays a PR firm - with no connection to the personal adviser - to send out press releases in the company's name. How does G. know for sure if the adviser has succeeded or failed in his work? He doesn't.

A media adviser understands the media and strives to persuade the client that he, the client, understands nothing about them. A good adviser needs plenty of persuasive ability and cunning. Smarminess also helps. He will likely be a manipulator and maneuverer by nature. Indeed, the art of maneuvering is revered in this realm. And a telephone book is necessary, too; the thicker the better. The road to success passes through such books.

A good media adviser develops a thick skin. He is rarely offended; he knows how to flatter but also how to scare. He knows how to persuade a client that without him he is lost, that the media will eat him alive. Politicians, officials and artists who once managed their lives on their own are convinced that they can't venture into the street without a media adviser. Meanwhile, thanks to such people, the media have swelled to monstrous, multi-headed proportions. Just look, the advisers say excitedly: There are "hundreds of media outlets" and it is "very hard to get control of them." The conclusion is clear: Only they, the advisers, can deal with this ogre.

Until recently, PR people used the press as a conduit by which to disseminate news about the owners of big capital, companies, organizations and products. In part this was important information that served the public; in part it was superfluous information.

"Eighty percent of the information published in the press is public relations," one person who works in the field told me proudly. "Have you ever seen an ad for Google?" he asked. "No. Right? So you should know that it's all PR."

It's nice to know that Google's overwhelming success is due exclusively to that.

In recent weeks Israel's PR people seem to have become intoxicated with power. Once "luxury accessories" of the rich - like a chauffeur, personal chef and private secretary - they are now encroaching on other realms. Apparently, the meetings in their offices no longer focus on the best strategy for marketing baby food, but on getting an army chief of staff appointed. There is nothing new about the involvement of PR people in the army. Three decades ago senior officers used their "court journalists" as media advisers. In return they provided them with exclusive information. Nowadays the officers have PR people and the compensation is financial.

Before Dan Halutz was appointed chief of staff in 2005, he met with Amnon Dankner, at the time editor in chief of the daily Maariv. There's nothing improper about a meeting between a newspaper editor and a high-ranking officer, but that meeting took place in the home of the PR expert Rani Rahav. Rahav insists he left the two alone. So Halutz may have spoken privately with Dankner, but he was probably armed with Rahav's advice with respect to dealing with the media.

This is not a good time for Israel's mass media; the press is in a crisis and is amenable to being maneuvered as never before. The PR people describe the press as a terrifying dragon, but treat it like a purring kitten. Newspaper editors tell stories of how PR people conduct trade in interviews with desirable clients, cruising the different editorial offices with their wares, setting conditions and making demands. Owners of capital, politicians and people in search of high positions of all kinds pressure the editors; the latter, for their part, are also hungry for material. Thus PR people hold secret meetings with senior officers and others, and push the wealthy into the newspapers' weekend magazines.

One thing newspapers know is that readers are curious and like to read about the lives of the rich and famous. After all, we are all human beings, we too have kitchens, but what does Shari Arison's look like? The PR people have their hands on the information faucet. There are some who allow their clients to reveal all. Others throw out crumbs on behalf of those who hire them: a report about one event here, a photo from another there.

People who can scarcely make ends meet are jealous and admiring when they see these things. Such envy, interwoven with reverence for the aristocracy, is as old as history. Indeed, the aristocracy always exists; it's those who belong to it who change. At one time they were intellectuals. For instance, people around here once admired Shlonksy and Alterman, and envied those who knew them. Afterward their admiration was focused on singers and actors. These days, the objects of this attention are the wealthy and powerful.

About half a year ago a profile of Nava Michael-Tsabari was published in the economic supplement of a newspaper. Michael-Tsabari, a doctoral student at the Technion - Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, has researched the "emotional profile of employees in family businesses." Sounds interesting, but that is not normally enough, for example, to warrant publication of an item in a weekend magazine. The apparent justification for printing the piece, from the newspaper's point of view, was that Michael-Tsabari is a member of the Strauss family: She is "Ofra's niece," as the subhead noted (Ofra Strauss is chair of the Strauss Group, a giant food and beverage concern ). The article gave readers a glimpse into what goes on in the home of a rich family. Plus, for Michael-Tsabari, it provided exposure for the conference in which she took part a week later. Without her story the conference would have received a four-line report, if anything.

As a researcher, Michael-Tsabari believes that articles like this are an attempt by the owners of capital to ingratiate themselves with the public, to present their human face or even reveal weaknesses. The public doesn't like the wealthy, she says; it feels a combination of hatred and envy toward them. Those who are upset by the jealousy and anger sometimes turn to PR experts to rescue them. The latter hurry to the media and tell about the hard childhood his tycoon had.

Tycoon? Until two years ago we didn't seem to have any of those, only "millionaires." Anyway, the differences are trivial - a million here, a million there. "Tycoon," used also in Hebrew, sounds more "American," more up-to-date than "wealthy," closer to "billionaire" and not necessarily (God help us ) like "oligarch." These reflect class differences, a hierarchy. It's not only the bank account that's decisive, there is also a person's property or art collection. Something elusive, undefined, determines the place of the owners of capital on the social ladder.

There are some 5,000 millionaires in the country, more than 1.5 million poor people and about 1,000 PR people. The private life of the poor is of interest to no one, but most people are interested in the way the millionaires live. The public wants to know. And many wealthy people welcome this interest.

"Even millionaires want fame and recognition," a PR person told me, adding that sometimes they make the mistake of thinking that interest attests to love.

So, standing by the tycoon's side is the gallant knight, preserving his master's honor and rights. This is the PR person, the media adviser, the strategic consultant, the crisis-resolver. All of these functions are embodied in one person - for example, Rani Rahav. He is perhaps the most famous of his kind in Israel, though not necessarily the most important.

Rahav doesn't like being called a "PR person"; in his view, he is more of a "provider of content" than a PR man per se. He himself has money, property and the mannerisms of a rich person, but prefers the term "affluent." Rahav is certainly affluent, but not enough so that he can forgo the need to serve people more affluent than he. One may assume that they, too, want it to be known that the person who serves them also lives in Savyon and has a collection of old cars, plus an art collection which in his opinion is "the sixth largest in the country."

Rahav comes to the defense of tycoons under assault; he misses no public opportunity to rally to their cause. A year ago he took the stage at a conference of journalists to scold the audience in the name of those unfortunates. "The economic press has bashed almost every tycoon mercilessly! Wiped them out! With an axe!" he exclaimed.

In a conversation with Lisa Peretz, then a reporter at Maariv, he was a bit cooler but no less assertive, and declared: "Without the rich people of Israel there is no State of Israel, period."

Rahav's PR firm has been in business for 20 years and is the biggest in the country. Size definitely matters here: It means prestige and prestige can be converted into money. The way the size is determined is complicated, however. Rahav measures it by the number of clients; others look at the income from monthly retainers. Those who have few clients insist that the monetary scope of their business determines the size; others claim that the number of employees is also important. In any event, such information is provided stingily, if at all. As one PR person told me, everyone lies.

I ask PR people to rank the three biggest firms. The request makes them squirm uncomfortably. It's tough, and there are various types of specialization. Eyal Arad, for example, has relatively few clients, but in one election campaign he earns more than all his competitors. The rumor about my request spreads quickly: PR people squabble over a place in my meaningless ranking like chickens over a grain of wheat. In my presence one PR powerhouse calls another and demands that he change the order he has given me.

Indeed, collegiality is rare in the public relations world. A month ago, Ronen Tzur sent a letter to commercial companies offering his services, "should you wish to refresh your ranks." Tzur did in public what his colleagues do quietly. The outraged colleagues shrieked like nuns whose robes are lifted by a sudden gust of wind. "A pitiful move," PR expert Yaffa Efrati commented.

In any event, my conversations with people in the field resulted in the following ranking: Rahav was first (120 clients ) and then came Amiram Fleisher (55 clients according to his website ) and Zamir Dahbash (30 ).

Rahav is appalled and offers his own list: After him (of course ) is: Fleisher, Irina Shalmor and Moshe Debi. Wait a minute, what about Dahbash? Rahav deports him "to the bottom of the top 10." What's the reason behind this fall from grace? Dahbash's list of clients irks Rahav. It reflects the despicable, in his view, connection between "big capital and government." Rahav means that Dahbash represented both the Securities Authority and a company listed on the stock exchange which the authority investigated. (When the investigation started Dahbash transferred the client involved to Fleisher. ) The allegations were made public. Dahbash's firm issued a statement to the press: "I compartmentalized myself from issues which have a conflict of interest," the communique quoted him as saying. "The criticism sharpens our high norms, which will prevent conflicts of interest in the future as well."

The more clients there are, the greater the risk of conflicts of interest; governmental interests get mixed up with interests of private bodies. The PR person can talk until he is blue in the face about the "great wall" that separates his clients, but everyone knows the wall is barely a decorative plaster divider. Rani Rahav can grumble, too, but he also knows that ties between interest-conflicted clients strengthens the PR person, who is able to maneuver between them.

Rahav sends Zamir Dahbash to the margins and condemns the mix of big capital and government. This turns out to be a turnaround: Three years ago, Rahav sounded very different. "I am big capital and government," he told Lisa Peretz, and added, "I am connected to big capital and government alike." Afterward he explained that a fusion of the two is positive, provided "there is no theft or bribery involved."

Rani Rahav, then, makes his big capital-government omelet using his own distinctive recipe, and he's one of the best there is at doing this. True, there are no governmental institutions or authorities on his client list today, but they are all on his list of invitees to meetings and other events; there, he says, they can mingle as they like - it's none of his affair.

"He has 5,000 friends, from the country's president down, he is happy with them and they with him," columnist Nahum Barnea wrote in the newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth three years ago.

In the meantime, that list has swelled to 15,000 potential guests, including influential decision-makers, regulators and franchisees, MKs and lobbyists, as well as judges, police officers and people suspected of various misdeeds. Many come to his place for unofficial, undocumented conversations. In such encounters, not so much as a stone remains from the so-called great wall that is supposed to separate these people. Says Rahav: "I rely on them to keep their distance from one another. If you are being investigated, you will not speak with a judge."

A person of means is engaged in promoting his business even when he is at his leisure. By his very presence, he reminds the world of his pedigree, he comes across as human and affable, wearing a shirt without a tie. Sometimes he will deign to honor by his presence a celebration of one of those to whom he pays a salary. And most important, he will meet politicians there who, in a relaxed conversation over stuffed grape leaves or sushi, might bend regulations and be flexible about legislation. The MKs who are invited to such events are also grateful: They rub elbows with the moneyed class. In other circumstances they would not get past the secretary at the reception desk.

It always pays to be nice to the people of big capital. Who knows where things might lead? Ask movers and shakers like Eli Goldschmidt, Yossi Kuchik, David Milgrom and Galia Maor. It's long been known that only special people can breach the circle of those with connections, who watch each other's backs.

Even fewer manage to create their own reservoir of high-ranking contacts. One who has done so is Rahav. He's proud of the fact that he is at his clients' disposal, 24 hours a day. And it's not only himself whom he places at their service, it's also his family. His competitors are less eager to share their private life with their clients. Amiram Fleisher, whose clients include international corporations, replies to them also "in hours convenient for them." Zamir Dahbash is at his clients' disposal, he asserts, "anytime they need us." So, one malicious PR person told me, call them now and see if they answer.

In any case, a "family event" assumes a different meaning if the host is from the world of PR. Some of the latter maintain certain boundaries between privacy and business, but not Rahav. His guests, in his eyes, are one big happy family. His son Roi recently celebrated his bar mitzvah with 5,000 members of that family. The party was delightful and amazing, but there will always be a party pooper or two.

For example, Matti Golan scolded Rahav in the financial paper Globes: "What you did was throw a business reception. In fact, every event - family, personal - becomes a business event. It's all public relations. Yours and your clients'. I'm not sure you have close friends who do not work for you or you for them."

Gabi Gazit, on Israel Radio, was more blunt, describing Rahav as "an uninteresting person who is busy mostly with cocktail parties." Rahav responded with a lawsuit. Gazit preferred to apologize on the air, in his inimitable style: "I said that Rani Rahav's clients suffer from shocking public relations, that he is of no use to anyone ... That is what I said and I should not have said it. I apologize."

Golan is still a friend; Gazit is not. For Rahav the concept of "friendship" has undergone an up-to-date face-lift. The boundaries are blurred between employers and employees, owners of capital and the just plain affluent. All, according to him, are friends. Rahav explains these surprising friendships "in the Israeli spirit of togetherness." After all, he knows his employers' secrets; how can anyone think he can work so closely with someone without forging ties?

The owners of capital, for their part, respond with polite silence. It's always the PR person who is in charge of the display of "mutual" friendship; you won't catch the employer making declarations of love to his media adviser. After his dismissal by Bank Hapoalim, Rahav declared more than effusively, "My close friendship with Shari Arison [the bank's owner] will continue eternally." Arison responded coolly. The announcement that Rahav was being cut loose appeared "on her behalf" and not in her name. It contained not even an iota of eternal friendship. He, for his part, is ready to sacrifice himself for her even now.

The boundaries between employers and employees are not the only things that are blurred in Rahav's world. Sometimes the clients' vision is a bit blurred. Nochi Dankner, the famous tycoon, has a friend who is famous in his own right: Rabbi Yaakov Ifergan, the so-called "Rentgen" (X-ray ) rabbi, who is said to be able to diagnose illnesses with a gaze of his piercing eyes alone. His friendship with the tycoon seems a little odd. Someone like Warren Buffett, I imagine, would keep relations with people with ostensibly supernatural powers a deep secret. But Dankner is not Buffett.

My questions about Dankner's ties with the Rentgen have on more than one occasion prompted people to call me "naive." It's clear, I was told, that this is all a public relations ploy. What kind of PR can a wealthy person get from the rabbi, I asked. PR is a mutually beneficial thing, it was explained; the rabbi adds a feather to his cap in the form of his friendship with the rich and the powerful, while Dankner is perceived as a warm, simple Jew.

There are various versions regarding the fees demanded by PR firms. The standard seems to be a monthly retainer of between $2,000 and $4,000. Not a vast amount. But not a small one, either, considering that its purpose is to make someone look good in public. And there is no shortage of people willing to pay. Media adviser Motti Morell announced that he turned down a request to work on behalf of a crime family. Rahav, Fleisher and Dahbash will also not represent criminals. A colleague who asked that his name not be used declared that he will not represent an oligarch, either.

Charitable donations sometimes look like a skullcap on the head of a felon, a trick designed to improve the donor's image. Yes, we must not forget that there are people who owe their existence to such donations, some of which are controversial. The Ofer family's donation to a museum, for example. But then not every contribution is earmarked for a museum.

Women with capital often find the time to adopt charities, somewhat like pets. These activities are intended to soothe the conscience of their husbands - people who have guilt feelings for exploiting the system to consolidate their wealth, one PR person told me. "The system" usually means cabinet ministers and MKs. Public opinion influences them very much, and public opinion in their eyes is also exposure in the press. An event is organized, the aristocracy of capital is invited. Photographers, too. The charity benefits. The rich give, the needy get, photographers take pictures, and PR people hit the jackpot.

First-generation wealthy people, says researcher Nava Michael-Tsabari, like to remind everyone that they made their big money "with their own two hands." In other words, by themselves, without the help of rich parents. Yitzhak Tshuva worked in construction; Stef Wertheimer was a metalworker. Rahav too likes to talk about using his own two hands to create everything he has, by himself. He did not come from a disadvantaged neighborhood and doesn't have eight siblings. His father, Yitzhak, is responsible for the rather grandiose name "Rahav" (from the Hebrew root for "spectacular" ), having Hebraicized the nondescript "Shmuelevitz." He was deputy COO in several companies; Rani's mother, Rivka, was a senior administrator in the Defense Ministry. They are a bourgeois family. Rahav prefers to say "bourgeois with a socialist background."

The story of his rise thus does not begin in a poverty-stricken home. He did not complete his matriculation certificate in high schoo, but excelled in the army in the Education Corps, was the spokesperson of the Dan Hotels chain and in 1991 established his own PR firm. For the past three years he has been proud to be the honorary consul of the Marshall Islands in Israel.

Rani Rahav did not become famous because of his pleasant manners or his soft-spoken style. His behavior is peacock-like, his taste controversial. He is abrasive ("A bad woman comes along and opens a mouth like a sewer," he wrote last year in a letter, attacking Labor MK Shelly Yachimovich in connection with the Bank Hapoalim crisis ). Sometimes he is inarticulate. Sometimes you get the impression that his reservoir of superlatives will disappear if "delightful" and "amazing" are erased from it. His letter to Yachimovich was termed "childish." Rahav himself does not argue with the criticism; in fact, he is pleased: "It was an amazing formulation that swept up a whole nation." And his audience is the whole nation, not a handful of intellectuals.

Rahav's presence cannot be ignored. He is tall, broadly built and his belly precedes him. Two-day-old bristles adorn his face and thick-framed glasses round it off. His mannerisms are ostentatious and his tone of speech soothing, but he can quickly switch to aggressive high gear.

"I am a meterosexual," he explains, but adds that he has not gone as far as sporting nail polish and earrings like David Beckham. Earlier this month he was photographed on the beach in a skimpy bathing suit; the photo was not flattering. What do you want, he told his friends - am I a model or something? The photo was posted on the Internet and eventually got to a late-night program on Channel 2. Rahav was asked to come on the show and respond. (If I were his media adviser, I would have warmly recommended that he avoid this. All they wanted was to poke fun at him. )

But Rahav had a better opinion of his ability to cope with the guffawing anchor, Erez Tal. On Friday evening three weeks ago he went on the show in short pants, his fine belly bouncing ahead of him, holding a beach paddle-ball racket, emitting exuberant calls and firing shots in every direction. I thought he made a fool of himself. He thinks he did great. "Don't ask how many positive reactions I got," he said two days after the program.

Rahav's office, located on the top floor of a handsome building, is an alienated spaceship, somewhat like its owner. It embodies a world that exists by dint of its own power, removed from conventional rules, exaggerated and excessive. On the walls and between the armchairs is a huge collection of paintings. Taste: eclectic. Quality: varying. Density: considerable. One false move and barbed wire from a Tumarkin work will rip your pants. The place has everything. Artwork, bric-a-brac, furniture, computer screens and many televisions. Everything except restraint. A young couple and their two children could live here comfortably.

Someone once said incautiously that Rahav "will be happy if the Internet dies tomorrow." The remark enraged him. He, who is always online, will be happy if the Internet dies? What chutzpah. As proof, he takes me on a tour. Indeed, all the television and computer screens glow in the rooms in a permanent state of readiness. We walk around. His visage is grim, his steps vigorous. He enters an office and points to a screen that has been turned off. The employee is shaken. It's as if a master sergeant has combed through the privates' bunks ahead of Shabbat leave.

His employees have good working conditions. The kitchen is spotless. He nabs an employee in the corridor and orders her to recite to me yesterday's lunch menu. Schnitzel and couscous (also artichoke, I think ). His fondness for small details is legion.

So the Internet is the love of his life, but he abhors the talkbacks. "Instead of going to a psychologist, the talkbackers write moronic responses online. Somebody should find these psychos who spew their malice online, and stop them," Rahav suggested some time ago. Industrious and always available, he told Globes that he sends between 1,000 and 3,000 SMS messages a day. The paper calculated that that would leave him minimal time for work, not to mention sleep.

The word "failure," like the word "dismissal," is not in his lexicon. But in recent years, Rahav has experienced what lay people would call failures: the Shari Arison account was taken from him; the Africa Israel corporation brought in Moshe Teumim alongside him (or above him, depending on who you ask ). In response, Rahav presents the half-full glass. He "accepts with love" the appointment of an adviser along with him, he views it as "a very legitimate second opinion." He also responds to bigger crises with sangfroid. Two years ago the Israel Corporation account was taken from him and transferred to the firm of Morell Tzur. "Nu, so the Israel Corporation went. What of it?" he told Globes serenely.

Rahav has never lied, he declares. True, he notes, sometimes I don't speak the whole truth, but I don't lie. He is a great advocate of using a lie detector to prove his innocence, and has taken 12 such tests after being suspected of leaking information. He always emerged as honest and was fully exonerated.

If I wanted to become popular, I would undoubtedly go to Rahav. I even asked him if in return for a monthly retainer of $2,000, he could make me a beloved, revered person. Rahav's reply was long and unfocused. Yes, he hedged, but there are a great many requests and he turns many down. Fine, I understood. Even someone with 120 clients and 15,000 friends has red lines. W



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