Old presidents never lose their allure

By Yossi Verter Former U.S. president Bill Clinton has been involved – presumably unwittingly – in an ugly power struggle between the heads of the Yitzhak Rabin Center for Israel Studies and representatives of The Saban Center for Middle East Policy, at the Brookings Institution, Washington. The bone of contention was: Where will Clinton spend the night of November 12? Would he attend the mass rally in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv to mark the 10th anniversary of the late prime minister’s assassination, or at a fancy dinner with all the country’s leaders that is to be held by billionaire Haim Saban in Jerusalem at the same time? The quarrel between the two organizations ended in a victory for the man with the money: Saban. As a result, the mass rally in Tel Aviv has been rescheduled for November 5, without Clinton as the guest of honor. The two organizations actually kicked off their contacts in a spirit of cooperation and unity. Saban, a close associate of the Clintons, decided to finance, to the tune of some $600,000, the former president’s trip to Israel so that he could participate in the event being organized by The Saban Center. In light of the fact that the Rabin Center is slated to open on November 14, and at the request of Dalia Rabin, the president of the center, Saban arranged for Clinton to arrive in Israel a few days earlier, on November 11, to allow the former president to participate in the official commemoration events – on Mount Herzl, in the Knesset, at the the Rabin Center – all of which are scheduled for November 14. The date of the mass rally in Rabin Square, as is the case every year, was set for the Saturday night closest to November 4, the date of Rabin’s assassination, which this year would be Saturday, November 5. At the same time, the heads of the Saban Center scheduled the dinner in Jerusalem for exactly a week later, on November 12. All appeared well and good; that is, until a number of the people responsible for organizing the Rabin Square event came up with a brilliant idea, to move the rally to November 12, „steal” Clinton away from the dinner, and thus upgrade the event. The rally organizers thought – and probably correctly so – that Clinton would rather be at the Rabin Square event to fire up the crowd than attend the formal dinner. Dalia Rabin, however, opposed the idea, as she had already arranged with Saban that the rally would take place on November 5. But Rabin found herself in the minority, and the organizing committee informed Saban of the change in arrangements. Saban responded harshly, said sources at The Rabin Center, and the two organizations began exchanging harsh words and mutual accusations. According to a source affiliated with The Saban Center, „They [the organizing committee members] wanted to defeat us, but we defeated them.” In the end, The Rabin Center people capitulated, and the rally was moved back to its original date of November 5. „From the outset, the memorial rally was supposed to take place on November 5,” said Moshe Debi, media consultant for The Rabin Center. „Nevertheless, the option of moving the rally to November 12 was indeed examined so as to facilitate the participation of president Clinton. After it emerged that such a move was impossible, it was decided to hold the rally on the original date. The Rabin Center thanks Haim Saban for his assistance in bringing Mr. Clinton to Israel.” BPI-info