"I was a kid from Kiryat Ata. Today I'm Gaydamak's neighbor. Bibi's neighbor. I live in Caesarea. I drive a car that costs as much as a house. Anyone who listens to me will succeed the way I did. Put some money in. You don't have any? Get a loan from the bank. Bring your discharge payment from the army. Don't listen to your parents. They're dream-stealers. They don't want you to succeed because they didn't succeed. All the people on the outside are miserable and unhappy. They make NIS 5,000. Only those who listen to me will achieve success. What's up with your friends? Why aren't they here? Friends that aren't involved in this aren't true friends. Erase them. If someone has the flu - don't you stay away from them? It's the same thing. This organization is your only family. You have no true friends. I care about you more than your parents do." - Tzachi Gozali, in the mantra he delivers to members of his organization.
In the early 1990s, Herbalife – the huge American company that manufactures nutritional supplements and diet products, and operates by the network marketing method – arrived in Israel. Many locals joined its ranks.
Herbalife distributors' profits are based not just on sales but also on bonuses for recruiting other sales agents, in a pyramid structure. The broader and deeper the organization that a distributor builds, the bigger his profits. Distributors at the highest levels of the company, who've managed to construct a large organization for themselves, can earn hundreds of thousands of shekels a month.
Tzachi Gozali, a young man from Kiryat Ata who was working in an electronics shop, discovered Herbalife shortly after it began operating locally. Gozali, a highly charismatic fellow and talented salesman, had told people he knew that he always dreamed of making lots of money. The network marketing business opportunity appealed to him. He started selling company products and recruiting more people below him. In 2003, Gozali founded his own organization for selling Herbalife products: GTEAM.
Initial entry into GTEAM costs NIS 18,000, an investment that earns a person the rank of "supervisor." How does one persuade people to invest such a hefty sum in a business whose potential for success is uncertain?
According to a Haaretz investigation, the method involves, among other things, humiliation, threats, incitement against friends and family, insistence upon celibacy, total control of members' lives, efforts to persuade people to invest more and more money, and even sexual relations with some of the female members of the organization.
One method is to appeal to a relatively naive and gullible target audience - i.e., recently discharged soldiers - and to dazzle them with promises of big money, without elaborating on what exactly has to be done to earn this money. And then apply intensive pressure.
Ella ?(all the names in this article, except for Gozali and Liran Kettler, are pseudonyms?) was 23 and working as the manager of a clothing store. An acquaintance by the name of Aviv, who later became her boyfriend, brought her into Gozali's "company."
"He told me he worked for an American company and that he couldn't elaborate," she says. "I asked him if they needed workers. He said he didn't think so and also that it cost money. Right away I said, 'I'm coming.' I'm a person who's always looking for opportunities. I went to Zichron Yaakov [for an organization seminar] and had to pay NIS 100 for lunch. Aviv said, 'Don't look now, but that guy' - he pointed to Tzachi - 'is someone who changes people's lives. If you're accepted, but only if you're accepted, I'll introduce you to him.' My curiosity was piqued. I went through the interview. I was told to come to a meeting, where they explain how the business works. It was at the Check Post [in Haifa?]. Everyone there seemed high.
"'Why aren't you smiling?' they asked me. They explained how to get ahead in the business. There's a fast way and a slow way, and those who move ahead slowly usually drop out. I asked what it takes to get ahead fast, and they said: 'You have to put in NIS 17,000.' 'And what happens if you don't succeed?' 'There is no such thing. You're under the command of the No. 1 Herbalife person in Israel, Tzachi Gozali.'
"At this point, Aviv and I had started to be a couple. It was hard for me to say no to him. He came with me to take the loan from the bank, to make sure I didn't back out. And I myself, later on, when I started to work in the organization, went to the bank with other recruits. So I go to the bank, a 23-year-old girl who knows nothing about money, the daughter of divorced parents. I have a mother who had a kidney transplant and I help her, and of course I've got an overdraft. The bank manager says to me, 'There's no chance of you receiving a loan.' Aviv tells me, 'Go back again, and don't leave until you get one.' And that's what happened. I went back, and I got the loan. That's how it started."
NIS 17,000 is a lot of money for a 23-year-old.
"Two days later I realized what I'd done. I told Aviv it wasn't for me. And he said, 'Trust me.'"
"Tzachi knows how to recognize people's vulnerable points," says Tomer, a former member of the organization. "I got to it after my business partner cheated me out of a lot of money. I was a wreck. I had to sell my house. We'd just had a baby. I was very vulnerable, financially and emotionally. I didn't even have NIS 100 to pay to enter the seminar. He ?[Gozali?] took me for a spin in his nice car and told me, 'I was like you and look where I am now.' I was invited to a party of the organization. I went. I'd been with three women my whole life. And I married two of them. All of a sudden, at this party there are all these good-looking people, lots of girls, alcohol flowing like water. All very glamorous.
"I thought to myself: This is a dream job. If you'd have been at the seminar, you'd have felt the same way. Everybody is nice-looking and healthy and happy. Clapping, dancing. So much fun. And on top of that, you'll make millions. People from the organization are sitting there, having a great time. Everything is orchestrated. The songs are orchestrated. The jokes are orchestrated. It all works like clockwork."
"I was 21," Tamar recalls. "I answered an ad on the Internet. I came to this event, a seminar, it lasted five hours. They didn't explain anything about the job. I asked questions and got no answers.
"It's intriguing - you see people there in suits, they talk to you about big money. A lot of waiting and a lot of applause. I was asked over and over how badly I wanted it, and all this was before I even really knew what they were talking about. Everything there is very dazzling. I came back dazzled. I couldn't fall asleep that night. They steamroller you.
"On Thursday I was at the seminar, and the next day I already brought the money. They tell you to come with NIS 18,000 and you don't even know why."
Where did you get the money from?
"My army payment, and I broke into savings."
A sum of NIS 17,000-18,000 is approximately what the Israel Defense Forces gives soldiers upon discharge from compulsory service, a fact not lost on Gozali and others on his team. "It was the trick of someone in the organization," says Tomer. "People from the organization would ambush people as they left the IDF release center. They stand there in their suits, acting like millionaires."
Michal joined the organization together with another friend. Both women were told that if they brought in their grant payment, they'd get a discount. Na'ama, another former organization member, was recruited at a convention for discharged soldiers. Once she had joined, she was directed to go and recruit at such events herself.
Gozali avoids direct contact with new recruits when they're just starting out in the organization. If they see him at all, it's on stage. Meanwhile, his close circle works hard to foster an extreme cult of personality.
'You're a robot'
"In this life I've been privileged to meet an angel of justice who watches over me," writes Liran Kettler – considered Gozali's right hand in the organization – in its newsletter. "I've met a lot of people who think I'm blindly following a charismatic leader and 'forgetting' myself. For seven years I've been walking with wide-open and appreciative eyes after a great man ... Whenever the leader experiences personal challenges, the wolves, the vampires and the monsters come to life and search for every possible way to reach the flock and breach the fence."
Ella describes how this approach is manifested. "Sitting in the first rows at the seminar are Aviv [her boyfriend at the time] and another aide named Oren, and they go wild over everything Tzachi says," she relates. "For the new supervisors in the audience they play a song called 'Oh How I Love You.' Tzachi stands in the middle and everyone bows to him. Two of the women in his circle, Riki and Tal, are so overcome with admiration that they cry. They really cry."
Michal: "The first time I saw him on stage, he was funny, charming, charismatic. You fall in love with the guy, with his abilities. At first I had no connection with him. Only with the tutor. And once in a while there's a committee thing, sort of like on 'Kochav Nolad' [the Israeli version of "American Idol"], where judges sit and tell you what you need to do to be better and improve. And then you hear his opinion. At the end of every seminar, we would go up to him to ask him to sign our notebooks."
Like an autograph?
"Yes. You do it because the tutor says to and it's what everybody is doing. You don't think. If you ask me about it now, I say it doesn't make sense. But you just don't think. There's no place for rationality at all. You're a robot."
Tomer: "At the seminar, people go up on stage. They say, 'I made NIS 70,000 or 20,000.' In fact, as far as I can tell, very few people in the organization really make anything. All the rest lose their shirts. Then at the very end the big star of the night appears: Tzachi Gozali. Everyone dances and sings and applauds."
Ella: "At first you fall in love. With the show. He's a manipulator. He's the Kiryat Ata boy who came from nothing and became No. 1. His car. His watch. He made me see there was a quick path to making it big. At the meetings they do all this promotion about him, "Don't sell him cheap, say fancy things." And you can't just say 'Tzachi.' You have to say 'Tzachi Gozali, No. 1 in Herbalife.' It will be a great privilege for you to meet him. He says all the people on the outside are pathetic and miserable. Only those who listen to him will achieve success. And he's the king - you have to tell him that, of course.
"There's this one woman in the organization, his right hand. Her name is Riki, and she sleeps with his picture under her pillow. She slept at my house like that. And then she even says to me - 'What, you don't kiss his picture? Tzachi is the king.' I said, 'Riki, cool it.' She told him [I said that]. You don't want to know what he did to me after that."
'Like a wanted man'
Who is this man who has crowned himself king? Gozali, 46, was born and raised in Kiryat Ata, the eldest of six siblings. "He comes from very modest means," Tomer explains. "He told me that every night, when he went to sleep, he would promise himself that one day he would be a rich man. He told me he was oppressed and bullied as a kid. He had a problem with the color of his skin, which is brown and not white. He had a problem with the fact that he was from Kiryat Ata and not someplace posh."
"Tzachi said he was the ugly duckling when he was younger," says Meital, another young woman who used to work in the organization. "He said his brother was the hunk and always had lots of girls, and Tzachi was the kid who always got beat up. He said he also had a problem with his weight. That he lost weight thanks to Herbalife. He once told me that when he was fat, he had friends who would drink and smoke and tease him. And that since he's been in Herbalife, he's no longer in touch with them. That now he has smart, beautiful and rich friends."
When Gozali got out of the army, he started working as a salesman at an electronics store in Kiryat Bialik. Tomer says Gozali's uncle, Yishai Gozali, a Herbalife distributor abroad, is the one who suggested that Tzachi try it in Israel. In 2003, Gozali founded GTEAM, short for Gozali TEAM.
Gozali now lives in Caesarea. He has two children. He was widowed a few years ago, after his wife died from an illness. All attempts to reach people who know him end with the phone being hung up. No one wants to talk. Even anonymously. He barely has any presence on the Web. "Don't bother trying," one of the interviewees for this article told me. "He's been living in hiding like a wanted man for years now. He works at hiding things and hiding himself."
"He has no friends," Meital explains. "He always said he was in conflict with his family. He also always said, 'There is no such thing as friends.' He had another saying about family: 'Your parents are your dream-stealers, and the fact that they're your parents and you have a blood tie doesn't mean they have to be part of your life.'
"He said his parents stole his dreams. That his father worked in a factory and his mother was a cleaning woman or a housewife, and that his father didn't believe in Herbalife. He wanted him to learn a profession."
Ella: "He used to say that none of his siblings ever encouraged him, but that it was okay, because we were his family."
There's one thing everyone agrees on: Anyone who ever met Tzachi Gozali will never forget him. Even now, years after leaving the organization and starting new chapters in their lives, most dropouts are afraid to talk. Most have changed their phone numbers and moved to new addresses. Some even left the country.
Gozali himself declined to personally respond to the charges made in the article and refused all offers to meet. He referred Haaretz to his attorney, but a response eventually came from Tami Ulman, one of the country's leading criminal attorneys (see box at end of story).
'Now it sounds crazy'
New recruits very quickly discover that the road to becoming a millionaire is not paved with good intentions, and to become full-fledged members of Gozali's team, they need to do a little more than just sell vitamins and diet shakes. Testimonies from former members show that as part of the coaching plan for quick success that Gozali developed, they are forced to disconnect completely from the outside world. They are persistently and systematically incited against families and friends.
At the same time, they are forbidden to maintain ties with other members in the organization. Gozali does not suffice just with warnings: He has also established mechanisms for oversight, enforcement and punishment that come in the form of weekly meetings and marketing seminars.
"They tell you, 'If your friends don't come into Herbalife, they're not really your friends. Stay away from them,'" says Meital. "They tell you that because your parents didn't succeed themselves, they're afraid that you will succeed. And then you start to hate your parents and the people around you. After that, they start to inculcate other lines, like: This organization is your only true family. But the amazing thing is that you're forbidden to talk to each other. It's forbidden to form social ties. If you want to talk to someone, you can only go to someone who's above you. So then you end up disconnected on the inside, too. They teach you that Tzachi is the only one who can help you in life - romantically, financially, in business. In every way. If you don't listen to him, you shouldn't be here. This is your father in this organization."
"There was no one to talk to there," Michal adds. "You're not allowed to talk to anyone. You don't have anyone's phone number."
How is that possible? Say we met in the organization and hit it off, and I want to go out for coffee with you - who's going to stop me?
Michal: "They'll ambush you. There are spies everywhere who are part of the organization. If they see you talking with someone, the report will get to where it needs to get to. If you sat next to someone at the parties they throw, or danced with someone - they pass on the reports. The isolation is terrible. They teach you how much your family doesn't have your interests at heart, how they're against you, and that only the people here are good for you."
"I was in a state where if anyone said one word against Tzachi, they'd better watch out," says Tamar. "At meetings they badmouthed my family; they said they were dumb and didn't really care about me. One day Liran said to me, 'Tell your parents that if they love you they'll come ?[to the organization].' I told them, in those words. And they came. I was torn. On the one hand, I had to bring people; on the other, if my father were to invest NIS 18,000 right now, in his condition, I would die. You see the frustration? I bring my parents, I bring my sister, I recite to them the words that I learned, but I'm scared to death that they'll really go ahead and do it."
You're very pretty. Were your looks a factor? Was that a subject of interest?
"Tzachi would say once in a while, 'You're making problems for me.' Because relationships within the organization were forbidden."
What does that mean exactly - forbidden? Explain it.
"Forbidden. There are people in the organization who know everything. I don't know how. I had girlfriends whom I was secretly in touch with. When my friend Na'ama and I would meet, we'd go to the beach and be scared to death that they'd see us together. Ella and I became close, too. She was a level above me, so at first they liked that. They thought she would teach me things. Then they decided that it wasn't right. One day my tutor tells me, 'You will not approach Ella or talk to her anymore.' I asked why and was told, 'You don't ask why.' And that was it. I didn't talk to Ella anymore."
Because you were afraid?
How could the head of the organization possibly know everything about all of its members, who come from different parts of the country, and basically, only meet in the context of the weekly seminars and marketing courses?
Tomer: "It's very simple. The idea is first of all to create a very, very small group of loyal people. Six or seven people, out of whom two or three are his ?[Gozali's?] confidants. Through this group he forms subgroups, because each of these people has a group of people below him in the organization. And then each one of the people in the organization is obligated to report to the one above him if he sees someone else doing something. Doesn't matter what. Peeing in the bathroom? He reports it. Sitting in a cafe? He reports it."
But they can't be everywhere all the time.
"They see everything. Say I was walking down the street and I saw you sitting at a cafe with someone I don't recognize. I immediately report it to the person above me. An investigation starts. You get a phone call from Tzachi. 'What are you doing? Why are you not working? Whom are you sitting with? Is it a business meeting? Did you sell him something?' And now, if, heaven forbid, you tell him that you're in Haifa, but whoever saw you said he saw you in Tel Aviv - it's the end for you."
Confession and humiliation
The weekly meetings where Gozali is supposed to teach members the incredible sales methods that made him a millionaire become rituals of confession and humiliation.
"The higher up you get, the harsher the humiliation," says Tomer. "Every week, at the meeting, they take someone and make him stand up in front of everyone. 'Did you put on a little weight? Now go up on stage and lift up your shirt so everyone can see your paunch.' 'Did someone say that she lost a few kilos? Fine, let her get up on the scale now, in front of everyone.' And if it turns out she didn't actually lose weight, then she's really in for it. Girls get abuse for how they're dressed: 'How can you dress like such a slob around me?' Or, 'Look how you're dressed, you slut.' I was shell-shocked in the army: now, in certain situations I can't fully control my bladder. I once told him that, in a very private conversation. He told everyone!"
"He would say to me, 'I ordered you NIS 9,000 worth of products,'" Ella explains. "I'd tell him I didn't need it. He'd say, 'Okay, fine' - and then abuse me at meetings. Everyone was afraid of him. Terrified. These meetings were pure humiliation. One time we were at an event and I dared to remark that somebody I met looked good. You know what they did to me? For an entire meeting they shouted at me that I was a whore and how dare I say some man looks good, a man who isn't Tzachi."
The fear and loneliness leave their mark. The external oversight mechanisms are internalized. The need to please Gozali becomes primal. It dictates the mood of the organization members.
Ella: "It's all about pleasing Tzachi. If he's happy, I'm happy. If he's not happy, I'm in a terrible state of anxiety, afraid that he'll know the truth. That he'll know, let's say, that now I'm goofing off and not working. Or that I'm friends with other girls in the organization. Or just that I go out, that I drink."
And how do you feel while you are doing those things?
"I hear him inside my head all the time. Talking to me. All the time."
Gozali intervenes in every aspect of members' lives. From their daily schedule to their appearance. There is a dress code. With a special emphasis placed on weight. Girls are given a clear target: Get down to a size 34 or you won't be able to succeed. Dalit joined the organization when she had a bit of a weight problem. Within months, she'd lost 26 kilograms. "I got myself into a state of malnutrition," she says. "I starved myself. I lived on 500 calories a day. I wanted to please him."
"You become a puppet on a string," another woman notes. "You have no opinion on anything. Not even what to wear. [They say] 'What's with those earrings? Take them off. What's that nail polish? Take it off.' Colorful nail polish is banned because that's for whores. It's forbidden to open a Facebook account. It's forbidden to go to a pub. At meetings they explain how only whores and rapists go to pubs. People go there to do drugs and have orgies. You're not allowed to go to the gym. That's for whores."
"During the first year, you're in this real state of euphoria, and then your mental situation starts to deteriorate. You start to fear the next day," says Meital. "Because every time you come back from a seminar, you're infused with this energy - you say, 'Okay, now I'm about to make it big,' and then you find that it's not that way at all. And then you really start to be afraid, and all the things he says - 'If you don't listen to me, you won't succeed'; 'If you don't drink five ?[Herbalife] shakes a day, you won't succeed.' You hear that 24/7. Wouldn't you believe it already? You feel like there's something wrong with you, and you're getting all these negative thoughts and you're scared. You're scared that Tzachi will read your thoughts."
The abstinence stage
Isolated, frightened, almost buckling under the pressure, many girls start to lose a grip on reality. They are convinced Gozali can read their thoughts. Once confronted with the next prohibition - not being allowed to have sex - they accept it in the most natural way. The more so because, in contrast to the other prohibitions, this time Gozali offers a pure business rationale: If you have sex, he explains to them, you will not have the energy for business.
The demand for abstinence "was something very basic in this group," Meital says. "Tzachi knew at once if someone could not abstain from sex. Don't ask me how. He would look the girl in the eyes and know that she had slept with someone the day before, or two days earlier, or half a year before."
How can that be?
Meital: "I swear to you. He knew."
He was able to look you in the eyes and say, "Meital, I see you had sex a week ago"?
That doesn't make sense.
"I can't explain it. Maybe it's because of the way he is presented. Whenever he's introduced onstage there's a big promotion for 'Tzachi the Great.' People say: 'Beware of him, he reads minds.' You see the people who have been with him for four or five years, and he really does read their thoughts. They are the dominant group, they earn a lot of money and are fanatic about him. And then you yourself start to be afraid: He knows what you're thinking, he knows that I just thought something bad about him, or he knows that I wasn't listening to him, or that I didn't abstain from sex.
"Riki, his assistant, is his biggest lackey," Meital continues. "He sent her to make sure the girls did not have sex. It's not a secret - he says so onstage. He can stand on the stage and call someone a whore, in front of everyone, only because he found out she went out with someone the night before."
The next stage follows naturally. After forbidding the girls to maintain romantic relations either inside or outside the group, and forcing them to renounce sex, Gozali chooses to fill that void in their lives himself.
Ella: "He separated me from my partner Aviv. He sent him to the Caribbean, to work. I begged him to let me go, too. I saved up money. He refused. I was shattered by the separation. I cried all day. One day, Tzachi said to me: 'Listen, I see you are in a funk, let's go for breakfast.' Well, when you are starting out in a big organization like this and he, the guru, invites you for breakfast - you feel you are in a dream. We went for that bloody breakfast, which changed my life."
"We got to Herzliya, and he said: 'Let's go for a drive.' He took me to the Daniel hotel. I had never been in a such a posh place. I find myself with him in a room. The whole room is mirrors. He says: 'This is where all the rich people bring their mistresses.'"
Didn't you ask him why he brought you to the hotel?
"There were questions you were not allowed to ask."
What happened in the room?
"He undresses and starts to touch himself. [He says] 'Tell me what you feel like doing, touch me.' That was the beginning of four years of hell."
He never tried before that?
"One day, after I'd been in the organization for around half a year, he took me to the bathroom with another girl. He tells me to undress. He wants to see my breasts. I say, 'What?' He says: 'Undress, because my wife is getting radiation and I want to see if the same thing will happen, if the result will be the same.' Now this is Tzachi, you can't say no. 'I want to see the work they did on you, maybe I'll take her to your plastic surgeon.'
"That day," she continues, "I had a talk with Tzachi. I wasn't in touch with my father at the time. Tzachi exploits girls who have a particular deficiency. When I started to cry about my father and told him I hadn't been in touch with him for 10 years, and how happy I was to have met him [Tzachi] - he suddenly starts kissing me. 'What are you doing?' I said, and he says, 'Sorry, sorry.' I told him, 'It's all right.' Because, you know, you have great respect for him."
You felt you had caught him in a vulnerable place.
"Yes. He told me about his wife, who was undergoing radiation treatment ... He has no boundaries. He would say that as a boy he could masturbate 15 times a day. One day he told me, 'You don't know how to have sex.' He brought a woman from the organization, undressed her and slept with her in front of me. He told me, 'That's how it's done.' Then he slept with me. I was a girl of 24. I was shocked."
And all this time you went on working in the organization?
"I went up the ranks of the organization. After becoming a supervisor, there is a higher and bloodier rank called 'World Team.'"
Which gives you what?
"For me it was just an opening to more serious abuse. You need to show total sales of $10,000 in one month. Or to recruit three supervisors. I recruited two and made up the rest with another loan, of course – this one for NIS 8,000. I already had a prior loan of NIS 17,000, but I was in the World Team. Tzachi let me speak on the stage. Liran shook my hand. And then came a trip to the World Team school, in Lisbon. I was in shock when I got back."
"Because he came to my room every day. I can't even call it sleeping with me. He just showed up, entered, came and left. And if I wasn't in the room, or didn't let him have his way, there was big trouble. I kept telling him, 'You are married, I can't do things like this, I wasn't brought up like this.'"
How did you deal with what was happening to you?
"I scratched myself until I bled. I showered with boiling water. I wept bitterly. I looked in the mirror and said, 'You are ugly, miserable, you have nothing to live for.' I would cry until I passed out. I pounded my head on the wall for hours. You don't really sleep. He would say to me, 'I hate you for being so smart. If anyone will overthrow me one day, it will be you.'"
Did you know about the other women?
"One day we had a seminar in a hotel. I saw a woman disappearing with him and returning without lipstick. I said to him, 'Is it true that you did it with her, too?' He said, 'I'm wild about my jealous girl.' I said, 'What did you do to her?' He replied, 'Shut your mouth, you whore.'
"He knew I knew what was happening to those girls who suddenly disappeared with him. I can't explain the look on the faces of the girls after they got back from the trip with him. Like they didn't have a muscle in their face. It was the same with me. People who knew me thought I had gone crazy. They wanted to know what happened to Ella and her joie de vivre. The real Ella. He made me hate the whole world except for him."
How long did this go on?
Including the sexual relationship?
"I was smart about that. I was always with people. I didn't let him get to me when I was alone. But there were situations when I had no choice. Lisbon was a catastrophe. Then there was another event abroad, in Barcelona.
"In Barcelona they wouldn't let us go sightseeing, only poked into our souls. They told Michal that she wasn't doing well in the business because she never stopped thinking about sex. How could she not think like that after what she went through with him?"
And for part of the time you also had a boyfriend in the organization, right?
"That meant more fear, more concealment. I didn't invite people over. I was afraid they would see we were living together."
Lots of pressure then: the business, Tzachi, the concealment.
"There was also pressure because of my partner, who didn't do well in the business. So I financed him, too. I was working for two; having sex with two. It's madness. Do you know what it is when you have been seeing someone for three-and-a-half years, and he is in the organization, and you say to him, 'If you see me disappearing, come and save me'? Do you know what it's like when your partner knows someone else is having sex with you and can't do anything about it? He is a dishrag, just like you, because if he were a man he would kill him."
He knew all along?
"Knew, and said nothing."
'No way to say no'
Tamar: "In the first two months I didn't exchange a word with [Tzachi]. Then, one day, he spoke with me at a seminar. It was a good conversation. He asked questions about me. I told him. Then he announced he'll become my tutor. I was like, 'Wow, great! Tzachi is tutoring me.'
"We arranged to meet in Ceasarea," she recalls. "In the evening. In a restaurant. We spent maybe three hours there, the time just flew by. He kept saying things like, 'If we kiss, what will happen?' And I was just an innocent, a girl of 21."
Were you flattered?
Were you afraid?
"Yes, of course. Like, now I'm going to say no to him? Little me - I am going to say no to him? Because you see all the admiration. Everyone was always talking 'Tzachi, Tzachi, Tzachi.' Somehow that seeps into your head. You also start saying, 'Tzachi, Tzachi, Tzachi.'"
What happened next?
"One day, at a seminar, he drove to some grove in Pardes Hanna. The seminars were in [nearby] Binyamina. He undressed - in a second. So, what's the problem? Because it's like, supposedly, with your consent. Like, if you were to ask me now, then no way. But then, what will you say - no? He undresses and tells me to do all kinds of things to him. Like, he doesn't force me in the sense that he grabs my head and makes me, but there is no way to say no to him. You have to understand that from our point of view he is a leader. A spiritual leader. Will you say no to your leader?"
Does he say, "This is a secret, just between us"?
"He doesn't have to. Sometimes he throws out something like, 'If I didn't trust you, I wouldn't do these things with you.' But he didn't have to say."
How long did it go on?
"Half a year intensively, then half a year on and off. After that I left."
All along, the members of the organization are subjected to powerful economic pressure. Most are unable to make a living from the business or meet their assigned sales targets. Gozali's solution: more courses they have to pay for; more money to be invested; more loans from the bank or from parents. The debts start to pile up.
"You take out a bank loan, let's say NIS 20,000, at 7 or 8 percent interest," Tomer explains. "You have bought products for NIS 16,000, after being told that you can sell them for NIS 32,000. What's the problem? You only need three people a month. What's three people a month? Don't you have some fat friend? You'll pay back the loan in a jiff and come out with a profit of NIS 10,000."
The social pressure also plays a part here.
"Of course. You're in a supervisors' meeting. One guy says, 'I made NIS 30,000. I put ads in the paper, I put up signs, I made the money.' So he has that money to invest. You don't. So take out loans. Bring your army discharge grant, take money from your parents. The pressure makes you feel terribly uncomfortable. How can it be that he took in NIS 30,000 and I didn't make one shekel? How could that 19-year-old kid make NIS 15,000 and I didn't make anything? Well, it's all nonsense, of course. At best he made NIS 250. But you don't know that."
And you're stressed.
"Absolutely. You go to Tzachi. You say, 'Please teach me how to do it.' He says: 'Look, when I started I had no money. I had a jalopy of a car. I would take a loan from the bank and invest it in advertising straightaway. That's how I made money.' Well, Tzachi is the guru. If that's what he did, and I follow suit, I will be a millionaire, too. People are under pressure. Economic distress. Very strong social pressure. It's like this is the last rope that's left to pull them out of their plight. They don't understand they are sinking deeper."
Tamar: "First of all, they hide information. For example, I didn't know that I had to renew 'supervisor' status every year. At the end of the year they start pressuring you. [Renewal entails another payment of NIS 17,000.] Liran calls me while I'm in the bank and being told I had better do something about the state of my account. He says: 'You have a week to come up with a solution.'
"I take loans. Lie. I say I need the money for school. The whole time I am pressured to buy more and more products. Every seminar costs NIS 200. That's NIS 200 a week and you have no income. And you have to show up. Anyone who doesn't show up is under scrutiny right away. You're scared. Pressure makes you do things.
"I remember I recruited a distributor. A lovely guy, Ethiopian, from Tirat Hacarmel, with so-so Hebrew. I was sent to his home to talk to his parents and put on a show for him. I came dressed to the nines and put on a show for him and his parents, and I took money from them for the products. You see this tiny home, seven children living in a matchbox. My tutor praised me. He said I was doing the right thing."
Na'ama: "You commit yourself to all kinds of things. You're made to feel like, here, do this now and it will be your route to success, or you'll blow it. You just have to do it. You end up under obligation to the credit companies and paying unbelievable commissions, even if you make maybe one sale a month."
To maximize the commissions they get from Herbalife, the distributors have to accumulate a quota of volume points - that is, to demonstrate a certain amount of sales, according to their rank. Gozali used to inflate his sales turnover with creative methods.
For example, he bought distributors' kits and sold them himself to new recruits, even though it was not he who recruited them. So he pocketed the commissions and also met his optimal monthly sales target.
The creativity spilled over into pricing. According to the testimonies, Gozali sold the kits at a markup of 30 percent over their true price. "A kit like that costs NIS 850 today," Tomer says, "but he sold them for NIS 750 eight years ago."
Mired in debt
The same big money that lures young women into the organization is the reason they eventually leave. They manage to cope with the fear, the loneliness, the frustration, even with the sexual exploitation. What finally gets them is the economic pressure. By the time they muster the courage to get out, they are mired in debt.
Na'ama says she ran up debts of NIS 70,000. "I am still working to repay them," she adds. "I reached a point where I had 30 agorot in my purse, after using all the resources I could find. I can't explain his impact.
"You understand that you are doing something irrational, that you have debts of NIS 40,000 and are taking another loan of NIS 27,000. But you do it. You isolate yourself from the outside. You feel that your family is against you, that your friends are against you. The pressure was so great. I reached a state of totally hallucinatory physical illness. My body would just become bloated with pressure."
Which only increased.
"Yes. From week to week you have to arrive with proof. Did you sell? Did you lose weight? I was 24 and had three bank accounts. I told him: 'Tzachi, I have no money.' He said, 'You'll get by, I'm counting on you.' He is a guy with insane charisma. I have no doubt he is aware of his power and of what he is doing. He has an incredible power to influence people. Just think, 150 people in the hall are cheering and applauding him."
Tamar: "You don't do well in the business and you want out, but you can't get out, because you are in a type of mental prison. You are made to understand that if you don't make it here, you won't make it anywhere. You will be a cipher in this life. And this is the only place where they know how to live right; only Tzachi will make sure you take the right road. Anyone who doesn't want to come here is a retard. Anyone who leaves is a nothing. And you're afraid of that, too. What, when I leave will I get that kind of verbal abuse too? I have no money. I take money from my sister. I babysit. And every week I come to the seminar and spend NIS 200, and I don't succeed and I am frustrated."
Adds Na'ama, "There was a stage when I simply had no money for the seminar. I told my tutor, 'I don't have the money for it, I don't have money for gas.' I started coming sporadically."
'Scared to death'
Weren't you afraid to leave?
Na'ama: "I was scared to death. So I made sure to settle it with him as neatly as possible. I called and told him I have to work out a few things with myself, so I won't be coming to the seminars."
Meital: "Most of Tzachi's seminars were about people who had left Herbalife. He always said, 'When you leave here you will badmouth me. You will say that Tzachi is a son of a bitch. I'll show you. You don't mess with me. You are here by choice. I did not put a gun to your head. You gave the money by your choice. Whoever doesn't listen to me will not succeed. But you have to know that if you leave here and badmouth me, I will come to you at night and threaten you, and I will get to your family, too, and I will pursue you for your whole life.'"
Then how did you dare leave?
"I didn't. There was a stage at which Tzachi said, 'People are sitting here who are not succeeding, and I am excluding them from the business.' He had Liran call me and tell I needn't bother coming to the seminar until I made a certain amount of money. That was it. Then came all the suits and debtors. I had debts in four banks and I no longer had a choice. I went to work in a restaurant to cover my debts. In the first year he still called, to ask where I was."
Ella relates that she also left in dire straits. "I was scared to death to leave. But I told myself: either that or I commit suicide or hospitalize myself in a mental institution. I couldn't cope with so much crap anymore."
How did it happen?
v"He let me teach a two-day program in a hotel in Tiberias. I had NIS 20,000 in my pocket. He told me he had ordered some merchandise for me. I said I didn't need it, and he said: 'I know you will do it, I am counting on you.' I told him that my whole house was filled with merchandise. He didn't leave me alone for the whole seminar until I cracked and gave him NIS 9,000. I remember coming off the stage and saying to myself, 'Ella, you will never come here again. This is it.' And it was."
Weren't you afraid?
"No. I was already past that. Because everything had hurt me, nothing hurt me anymore." As Ella tells me her story in a cafe, her eyes continually dart about. She maintains surveillance, scans the passersby. "It's a habit by now," she sighs, "I'm always watching to see if they're after me."
Did he threaten you?
"He would tell me, 'Don't mess with me.' On the stage he would scream, 'Show me a son of a bitch who can mess with me.' [He'd say] 'Be careful, Ella, you have a big mouth, you don't know who I am. I will come to your home.' I was very scared."
Of what? Of him? Of the business failure?
"With me he created a sense of dependency. You come to believe that without him you are not worth anything in life. That you will never find a job. You lose the taste of life. You are a robot. I really wanted to like the business, but he wouldn't allow that. He let you like only what he wanted you to like in the business."
What did he want you to like?
"Recruiting. I brought a girlfriend. Suddenly she disappeared, she didn't want to come. I said to him, 'You messed with her, didn't you?' He said, 'When will you bring her, so we can have an orgy?'"
Why didn't you go to the police?
"I am afraid to go through it all again. Also, my mother made me swear I wouldn't go to the police. She told me, 'Your future is ahead of you, it will stain your reputation, you still have to meet men.' What men?! I don't have any. I can't sleep. I don't have a relationship, I don't trust them. I can't bear the thought of being touched by a man.
"After I left the organization, I just lay in bed for a month and a half. My weight shrank to 42 kilos. Slowly you return to life. Get to know a sense of enjoyment ... You go to the beach. Four years I wasn't at the beach, because if I had worn a bathing suit I would be in big trouble."
Tamar: "With my partner now, I am realizing all kinds of things that changed in me. All kinds of inner scars. I was a super-assertive person, and suddenly I became so unassertive. In fact, it was really hard for me to meet men. I don't trust men, I am suspicious of all of them. After I left the organization I was sure that everyone who came over and talked to me was one of their collaborators. [Gozali] has to be stopped. He is doing it to more marvelous, innocent people."
Attorney Tami Ulman, on behalf of Tzachi Gozali: "Tzachi Gozali totally denies what appears above. He reserves the right to sue for libel anyone who damages his reputation."
A spokesperson for Herbalife: "The distributors of Herbalife are self-employed businesspeople and are not employed by the company. We teach and promote activity at the ethical level and at the highest level of integrity of business management. The company operates according to clear rules of consumer protection. These rules include a policy of unconditional return of products within 30 days of their purchase date. In addition, the distributors themselves are entitled to a policy of returning goods within 12 months of their purchase.
"If anyone has an issue to take up with someone, he is invited to make this known to the company, and we will do our best to provide an appropriate response to his needs."
Liran Kettler stated: "Write that I do not want to comment."