Yuval Rabin’s Fall From Grace

He means well, say his cronies, but the son of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin just doesn’t have a knack for business.

Shuki Sadeh
Shuki Sadeh
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Yuval Rabin at a memorial event for his father, former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
Yuval Rabin at a memorial event for his father, former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Shuki Sadeh
Shuki Sadeh

A divorced man is evicted from his apartment after failing to pay rent and bills, for months. A 48,000-shekel check he wrote (around $12,000) bounced and the bailiffs have been unleashed. That’s hardly rare, but it is the exception in the milieu of Yuval Rabin, son of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and a man thought to do business around the world. Yet Rabin, 59, was kicked out of his luxury digs on Tel Aviv’s trendy Rothschild Blvd., where his rent ran at 15,000 shekels a month.

What happened? How does a man to whom the jet-set of the world opens its doors get into this mess?

Indeed, Yuval Rabin’s friends and acquaintances were shocked to read about his situation in TheMarker. Some shrug that they don’t believe he’s really in financial crisis, saying the amounts involved are picayune for a man of his status. “It happens that a check bounces. Fifty thousand shekels is peanuts for him,” one told us. Rabin himself didn’t respond to our questions.

The reality is more complicated. Behind the check that returned on the grounds of insufficient funds hides a lawsuit filed more than two years ago against Zenit, a company in which Rabin is an owner, over a $2 million loan it didn’t repay.

Zenit, which is registered in the Virgin Islands, famously a tax shelter, borrowed the money to mine for gold in Zimbabwe, a project that failed. Rabin was among the shareholders that piqued the interest of Avner Schneur, diamond merchant and owner of the company Reytalon and the real estate company Kardan, in the project. Rabin’s involvement in Zenit was minimal but like the rest of the company’s shareholders he was personally guaranteeing the loan, which was taken in March 2011.

Yuval Rabin, next to former wife Tali, and their two daughters, at a memorial for his father, Yitzhak Rabin. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Three months ago a compromise was reached under which each shareholder would give money to the company. Rabin was supposed to pay NIS 155,000 in four installments. The first check, issued by another company he owns, Atir Shai, returned, which under the agreement meant the money could be called in immediately. After a number of warnings were sent to him, a collection file was opened against him in late April.

Yuval Rabin speaks at the Israel Peace Initiative, one of the organizations which he became invovled with. Credit: Moti Milrod

Avner Arazi, another shareholder in Zenit, and friend and business partner of Rabin, believes the crisis is a blip. “It’s a very small thing, cash flow that should have come in and gone out,” he says. “Something went wrong but it doesn’t reflect his general situation. This is a person who does big deals and apparently something there went wrong in the last couple of months. He returned the Rothschild apartment and I believe that in a month or two everything will work out.” Rabin is meanwhile apparently living in his new girlfriend’s home in Caesarea.

Relations soured: Yuval Rabin and sister Dalia Rabin PelosoffCredit: Moti Kimche

“He’s currently working on a plan to organize all his business in order to stabilize his financial situation,” says a person who worked with him in recent years and spoke to him this week. The source admits he was surprised by the reports and notes that people in trouble may prefer to transmit a message of business as usual, hoping that things will work out. “You do not want to expose your difficulties to the world.”

On the other hand, in retrospect, there might have been signs of trouble. In 2010, for example, Rabin was forced to close the company Galila-Line ww.haaretz.com/weekend/magazine/one-man-s-family-1.392487, a mobile phone lab in northern Israel, and 30 employees were laid off. Among the firm’s partners were his cousin Yiftach Yaakov (son of Yitzhak Rabin’s sister), with whom he fell out; former chief of staff Dan Halutz, and high-tech entrepreneur Koby Huberman. Another company, Onida, also in partnership with Halutz (and with former Shin Bet officer Ofer Dekel) closed in 2011 as Halutz made a stab at entering politics with the Kadima party. Halutz, like others who worked with Rabin in recent years, declined to be interviewed for this article.

Rabin’s divorce from his second wife, Tali, mother of his two girls, whom he left a year and a half ago, did not help his economic situation. “The people around Yuval have long known times are not good for him. The story on Rothschild is just the latest episode,” says a source who knows the family. He points to another clue that in retrospect, may have been a sign: In 2012 Rabin auctioned off three artworks by Israeli artists from his late parents’ collection. The three sold for $34,000. Yuval and his sister Dalia had shared the collection in advance, the source adds.

Relations between Yuval and Dalia Rabin Pelossof were cool to polite then and now. In October 2011, Haaretz www.haaretz.com/weekend/magazine/one-man-s-family-1.392487 wrote of the deterioration in their relationship, among other things, due to Rabin Pelossof’s complaints about his lack of involvement in the Yitzhak Rabin Center, which she runs. The source doesn’t believe Rabin can now tap his sister for financial assistance.

Rabin had also inherited a 5-room penthouse in north Tel Aviv, which was sold in 2004 for NIS 4.5 million, of which he apparently got half. (In 2014 it was sold again, after renovations, for NIS 18 million.)

From high-tech to lobbying

Today Rabin is chairman of the publicly-traded company WTP, which recycles urban waste and listed for trade by buying the shell of Pilat Group. Its present market cap is 128 million shekels. Rabin is also a partner in Oris Investments, which invests in clean-tech, and in 2013 he joined the Singularities venture capital fund as an adviser.

Looking over his career, Rabin began in computers and is now an independent businessman engaging mainly in mediation, opening doors, and lobbying. At least some of his income depends on income or shares he gets for brokering deals he helps put together. In the Zimbabwe gold story, for instance, according to an associate, Rabin received shares in the company in exchange for introducing the parties.

Rabin began his career in the late 70s, after a stint as an army officer. He lived abroad for several years, in Germany and the United States, and worked for a while in a German company that was later sold to HP. Upon returning to Israel he continued to work in computers, among other things, serving as technology VP for Europe for Sapiens. He was working for Sapiens, which is located in Rehovot, when Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated.

He then moved to become VP Technology at Emultek, which sent him to Washington in 1998. A year later he became VP Technology at a company he founded, BeyondGuide, together with Yechiam Halevy, who served as company president. The company provided tourism content services for mobile phones.

In November 2001 BeyondGuide merged with the German corporation Bertelsmann in a stock swap of undisclosed value.

In 2002 Rabin entered into a new venture, called RSLB, in a new area for him – lobbying. His partners were Gil Birger, who was with him at BeyondGuide, Shimon Sheves, former director-general of the prime minister’s office, and Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, a former chief of staff, now deceased.

RSLB’s purpose was to lobby for Israeli and global companies in the United States. The company received a lot of publicity in Israel by virtue of the big names involved and its pretension of representing big international companies in the United States. Birger and Rabin did the work in Washington while Sheves and Lipkin-Shahak occasionally visited the company’s Washington office, which was near the restaurants where lobbyists meet with congressmen. At some stage the company even represented nations, such as the Ivory Coast, Serbia and Bulgaria.

The four also tried to help Gilat Satellite, where Rabin’s wife at the time, Tali, worked as human resources manager, to maintain its business position in Colombia. According to a source familiar with the company’s activity, Tali had nothing to do with the case. While the RSLB people boasted of their contacts and “moves” in Washington, Gilat’s people solved their problems themselves, the source says.

Ultimately RSLB closed down. In 2008, after returning to Israel, Rabin set up a company named Onida with Halutz, Ofer Dekel and the arms dealer Gabi Levy-Gonen, which among other things worked in defense exports and operated chiefly in Nigeria. This company lasted three years. http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/business/halutz-dekel-and-rabin-in-joint-nigerian-venture-1.277053

Always willing to help

In hindsight, Rabin’s career shift did not do him good, neither economically nor in terms of image. The press, which had treated him as a sort of Israeli prince, started asking questions about his new activity, which relied on exploiting his name to network. In November 2008, he told Maariv, “You ask how I became a lobbyist. The answer is that in November 1995 I was a software engineer. My world began and ended with selling software, okay? But reality changed, completely if not for the murder we wouldn’t be sitting here.”

Later in the interview he said, “When it comes to my business activities, I can only say that as long as my father was alive I never tried to sell something in Israel or in the name of Israel. But 13 years have passed. I live with my name, for better or worse.”

A friend of the Rabin’s feels that Yuval simply never found himself, and if he tried to take advantage of his name and heritage, it didn’t exactly work out. “I don’t know what happened in that company with Lipkin-Shahak and Sheves, but there were no great successes. He’s an honest man but simply doesn’t do well in business.”

Indeed Rabin seems to have suffered from naivete about how business is done in Israel. Avner Arazi says he had difficulty adapting after doing business in the United States. “He’s not like the business people here, in terms of [his] naivete, the desire to help others,” says Arazi. “People ask him to help them start a business, then don’t remember that Yuval helped them. He always lends a hand to anybody seeking it, but sometimes people take advantage of that.”

Welcome in the White House

Rabin had lived in the spotlight from day one. His father, Yitzhak Rabin, was a general in the Israeli army and later its chief of staff; then ambassador to the U.S.; and when Yuval was in the army, his father became prime minister. His bar mitzvah was a news item in the New York Times. Yuval is often described as being like his father in terms of introversion and bashfulness. While Dalia took part happily in family get-togethers, Yuval’s presence was imperceptible, says a family friend.

At age 21 Yuval married Ayelet; they had one son, Michael. In 1994 he left her for Tali and in 1995, his father was murdered.

After the murder, Yuval took up with the group of young people who founded the short-lived Dor Shalom grassroots peace movement, and was appointed its leader. Pundits wondered if Yuval might not be preparing the groundwork for a prime ministerial run some day. But in 1998 he went to Washington for a decade.

Back home, the family rented a home in Tel Aviv and Rabin gradually resumed public activity, but did not become involved in the Yitzhak Rabin Center led by Dalia. Rather, he chose to set up a different foundation, the Israeli Peace Initiative. Again his role seems to have been largely symbolic, while the living spirit behind the project was Huberman.

Rabin also serves as a director or member of various organizations. According to a source involved in these activities, even today, Rabin is an attractive figure in Israeli public life. “You know how many times he received offers all kinds of things, political, public, and commercial? He is very sought-after. Any party would put him on its list in a blink. This is a person who could enter the White House whenever he wants. How many people can pick up the phone to Bill Clinton?”

Despite his past in computers, Rabin was not one of Israel’s high-tech leaders. Joining the Singularities fund doesn’t seem to have strengthened him in that respect either. According to Eddy Shalev, manager of the Genesis venture capital fund, “He doesn’t really engage in high-tech. He’s brought in as a figure, a name.”

Maybe so, but he’s also head of the Beyond Verbal startup, which analyzes emotions in the human voice. So far it’s raised $7 million in investments. Rabin is believed to have mediated between it and Singularities, the investor. Rabin is no longer an advisor to Singularities but remains on the board of directors of several of its investee companies.

Singularities’ chairman had been Ehud Olmert, by the way, and it was run by Adi Sheleg, who turned state’s witness in the Nochi Dankner case. A source in the industry wonders what Rabin was doing there, given that there were plenty of venture capital funds he could have joined. “He knows about computers and technology but apparently they wanted him for his name, to open doors.”

But that’s an odd thing about this fund too, says the source. “They took Olmert, for instance, because they said he knows how to open doors. But when you have money, all doors are open to you.”

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