Rahav: If I Had Made a Mistake, I Would Have Admitted It

Who's to blame for Shari Arison leaving Israel, slipping off in the dead of night without notification or media glare? Once the news hit the headlines, blame started flying back and forth. Some point accusatory fingers at her spokesman in Israel, Rani Rahav. He in turn blames the press.

"All along, Shari Arison acted exactly as would have been expected of a businesswoman and owner of a company in Israel today, with no slipups," says Rahav. "That is what I thought then and that is how I still think. In New York I asked Shari, `Would you do everything over again as you did it?' and she, who made all her own decisions, replied, `I would do exactly the same thing today.'"

Rahav is under the gun for the way he handled PR for Arison in the past nine months. But he is adamant that he made no mistakes. If he had to, he'd do it all over again, even more brashly, he says.

Why did you expose Arison to the media after announcing the layoffs at Bank Hapoalim?

"Shari had not planned to face the public regarding her business. She did it because the biased, hurtful placards calling her a money-hungry robber of the workers' wages hurt her very deeply, striking at her personal integrity and her love for her fellow-man. She said, `I, who all my life have done things for people in the streets, for the community, will not let them say untrue things about me.'"

Rahav suggested three alternatives - to do nothing, to release a press statement, or to call a news conference. She chose the press conference.

You could have advised her not to appear. Instead, you only increased her exposure.

"Silence is the policy of a world to which Arison does not wish to belong. It is a dark and gloomy world in which people hide who they are. I do not envy anyone living that way. The world in which she wants to live is a world of justice and integrity, without fear.

"It makes me sick that my colleagues and friends specifically, most of whom are among Israel's wealthy, live in a world of fear and worry just because they are wealthy and successful. The time has come for us to learn how to respect wealthy and successful people, not to hate them, but rather to reconcile with them and not regard them with envy and dislike.

"Enough of hiding. She has money. She did not steal it from anyone. Enough of such this silliness. So she was photographed on a yacht, a modest yacht equipped with very nice, basic white furniture. Anyone who thinks that she has to hide her wealth is infantile."

The exposure for which Rahav is excoriated by his peers actually brought the positive aspects of Arison's personality to the public's awareness, he says.

"From that time, the business press, from the pundits to the writers, discovered her as an economic powerhouse, a strong woman who knows what she wants - to lead and to take responsibility. That is something no one knew before. Everyone thought she was a princess born with a silver spoon in her mouth. They did not know there were times when she had nothing to eat.

"The media discovered a fascinating and opinionated woman with a love of the country and it was natural that since she was a billionaire she became a fascinating topic in the media. Shari was welcomed with open arms as a serious business woman who knows what she wants.

"What interested Shari was bringing the idea of the essence of life to everyone, from Dimona to Kiryat Shmona, hence the big interview she gave to Laisha magazine. She wanted to appeal to the people, not the elite. She wanted to reach everyone, from the hairdresser to the lawyer, to the whole people of Israel."

Why was her wedding so exposed?

"While all this was going on, Arison decided to marry a warm, loving, wonderful man, Ofer Glazer. He wasn't born to riches, he isn't a key businessman or an Austro-Hungarian prince, and nobody in this little country gave her a break about the wedding, and certainly nobody gave Ofer one. That is when the envy started.

"True, there is a legitimate and important investigation [into sexual allegations against Ofer Glazer], which is being done with great integrity in good faith and will lead wherever it leads. But the reports against him in the Israeli media were out of line. If he had stayed in Eilat the complaint would have received at most three lines in the local paper.

"Not one journalist received an invitation to the wedding. Over 100 television journalists were waiting outside, from all the channels. They even had helicopters. The media interest [in the wedding] was completely out of proportion, but we accepted it with understanding because she was a billionaire marrying a regular guy, not another billionaire.

"We are provincial. It is hard for us to accept that she married a down-to-earth man from Eilat and not the son of nobility. We thought it would be respectable to transmit one picture to the press via the Internet, because we were not hiding and did not want to hide anything. Arison does not see the media as an enemy."

Why did you attack Shelly Yechimovitch personally, and fan the flames even higher?

"I regret that a malicious woman like Shelly Yechimovitch said the things she did, which cannot be forgiven even on Yom Kippur. She has no mercy. She portrayed Shari as a noblewoman surrounded by servants and masters. I had a fit. What was I supposed to do, stand there in silence?

"Four years ago I filed a complaint against [Histadrut chairman] Amir Peretz because he said in an interview that the rich shouldn't wonder if the poor attack their homes, rob them and rape their women. I did not drop the complaint until he apologized. There are people in Israel who are not willing to allow just anything to be written about them and not respond - with full force - to protect themselves from the desire to destroy them. Arison is like that and I am proud that she is my friend and a client who speaks what is on her mind and in her heart, even it if is not popular or politically correct."

As for the publicists who say Rahav made every possible mistake, Rahav replied that he will continue to fight for what he thinks is true and just.

"Ninety-nine percent of the things I do are from a gut feeling, and I haven't messed up yet. After the letter to Shelly Yechimovitch, I ordered a survey, which found that 47.3 percent of the public felt I was right and 34 percent felt I was wrong. I felt good about myself.

"If I had made a mistake, I would have had the courage to say so, although I admit it would have been very difficult. This is a company I created practically with my own hands. I am not an aggressive man. I am a strong man and I believe that if justice is on your side, you will win."