Gideon Ruffer (later Rafael) was born in Germany to a Jewish family, the son of a prosperous furrier. He studied law at the University of Berlin. In 1933, when the Nazis rose to power in Germany, he escaped to France, where he studied at an agricultural school in Toulouse, and in 1934, he made aliyah to Palestine, where he was one of the founders of kibbutz HaZore'a.
Rafael joined the Haganah, and was a commander during the 1936–39 Arab revolt in Palestine. He was later sent to Europe on missions to help illegally smuggle European Jews into Palestine, in defiance of British immigration restrictions. In 1940, he was sent to Rhodes by the Haganah to negotiate with a representative of Adolf Eichmann for the transfer of German Jews to Palestine. He discussed a plan to have 40,000 German Jews sent to Palestine via Rhodes, but the plan fell apart after Italy, which then ruled Rhodes, entered World War II.
During World War II, he enlisted in the British Army, and fought in the Syria-Lebanon Campaign. After he was discharged in 1943, he began working for the Jewish Agency. He worked in intelligence, as a liaison with Allied forces and Jewish populations in Europe. In 1945, he assisted in preparing the Jewish case for the Nuremberg Trials. He also directed efforts to recover lost Jewish property in Europe.
In 1947, he became a member of the Jewish Agency's delegation to the United Nations.
Rafael married Nurit Weissberg, and the couple had a son, Amnon, and two daughters, Michal and Ruth. Rafael died in 1999 at the age of 85. As he had willed that his body be donated to science after his death, there was no funeral. At the time of his death, he had seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Upon Israeli independence in 1948, he was one of three founding members of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, along with Moshe Sharett, Israel's first Foreign Minister, and a secretary. Rafael served as an aide to Sharett, and subsequently became an adviser to the Israeli delegation at the United Nations. In 1953, he returned to Israel, and was in charge of United Nations and Middle Eastern affairs at the Israeli Foreign Ministry until 1957. He conducted secret negotiations with Arab officials, and maintained these secret contacts into the 1970s.
In 1957, he was appointed Israel's ambassador to Belgium and Luxembourg, and permanent observer in European and UN institutions in Geneva. He served in these positions until 1960. In 1967, he became Israeli ambassador to the UN, and was serving in this position during the Six-Day War. In 1968, he returned to Israel, and was Director-General of the Foreign Ministry until 1972.
In 1973, he was appointed Israel's ambassador to the United Kingdom, and served in this position until 1977, when he returned to Israel and retired. He subsequently published a book about his career.
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- Greenberg, Joel (February 12, 1999). "Gideon Rafael, 85, a Founder of the Israeli Foreign Ministry". The New York Times.
- Three Appointments to the Foreign Office of the Government of Israel
- Gideon Rafael