A private investigator retained by Rami Levy alleges that a key rival orchestrated a negative media campaign against the discount supermarket chain and its eponymous founder in recent months.
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The chain says it will file a lawsuit over the incident in coming days.
In recordings of a meeting between an undercover investor for Black Cube, which was retained by Rami Levy, Gal Baysberg – a public relations man working for the rival Victory supermarket chain – recalled a series of campaigns aimed at damaging Levy’s public reputation.
Speaking through a translator to the female investigator, who was posing as the representative of a British retailer seeking a PR firm before entering the Israeli market, Baysberg initially hesitated to talk about negative campaigning. However, when the investigator persisted, Baysberg said, “Tell [her] a little about what we did to Rami Levy. What he did to him. Give an example of the traps we set.”
The translator explained that Baysberg wanted his client, Eyal Ravid, the controlling shareholder of Victory, to enjoy the same status as Levy as “No. 1 in the country.” In order to do that, they launched a campaign in the farm sector against Rami Levy, asserting that the chain wasn’t paying enough for its produce.
Giving one example, Baysberg went on to explain a trap he set for Levy himself at a growers’ conference last December, where there was a major media presence. The conference was organized by Haim Elush, CEO of a conference-organizing firm and a client of Baysberg’s.
Levy participated in a panel where he came under fire from other panelists and people in the audience, who, among other things, shouted that Levy hadn’t deserved to light a torch at the previous Independence Day celebrations. Baysberg’s office sent the media a summation of the panel’s discussions, including the hostile remarks made about Levy.
In response, Baysberg, whose firm has had the Victory account for the last 18 months, told Haaretz that the tapes were misleading and he was simply attempting to impress a potential client.
“All that happened at the end of the day is a nice lady from England came to hire the firm and really insisted on hearing about any negative work we perform. Since we don’t do that, and in order to impress her, we took a story in which there was no guiding hand and presented it as if it was planned in advance.”
An attorney for Victory, Yehuda Ifergan, denied that the chain had been part of any organized campaign against Levy.
“My client was not involved in the media conduct described, and certainly did not take part in any conspiracy concocting a scheme to ‘bring down’ Levy. The PR firm referred to occasionally provides services for our client [Victory]. The services retained were for branding the chain as a pioneer in parallel imports.”
Others identified in the probe, including Elush, also denied any connection with a campaign against Levy.
The investigation by Black Cube began when Rami Levy retained it amid suspicions that the spate of negative publicity about the supermarket chain – including accusations that Levy overlooked allegations of sexual harassment at his company from female employees – seemed to have a guiding hand behind it.
Rami Levy is the biggest discount food retailer in Israel and its founder has become a business celebrity, portrayed in its advertising and often in the media as a fighter for lower prices and the ordinary consumer.
Black Cube’s probe began with a series of WhatsApp messages cited in a story appearing on the Walla website in March alleging a media campaign against Rami Levy. Among others, Meir Zur, chairman of the Farmers Association, wrote about Levy, “Since we all began working against him, he’s been cut down to his natural size.”
Black Cube investigators linked the Farmers Association to both Elush and Ravid, whose Victory chain is a major rival to Rami Levy not only for customers but in an auction to buy stores belonging to the bankrupt Mega chain of supermarkets. From there, investigators said they made a link to Baysberg.
Black Cube never sought a response from Ravid. In a telephone conversation with him several days after the meeting with Baysberg, the undercover investigator asked Ravid for information about Baysberg and was referred to Arik Golan, Victory’s marketing chief.
Golan praised Baysberg for his work with Victory, and recommended him “big time.” He described Baysberg’s work as building relations with growers, enabling them to buy produce directly from them. Rami Levy’s name never came up in the conversation.