Billionaire oleh [immigrant to Israel] Arcady Gaydamak has won the tender for Jerusalem’s legendary, yet aging, Bikur Cholim Hospital.
Gaydamak paid $32 million for the central Jerusalem hospital. He was outbid at the last minute by former partner and shopping mall kingpin Lev Levayev – but won out, because whereas Levayev planned to phase out operations of the hospital, transforming it into a real estate project, Gaydamak promises not to dismiss any staff and to rehabilitate and invest in the aging facility. The hospital was being liquidated after it fell into almost $50 million of debt, leading investors to prefer the idea of using the prime location for lucrative real estate rather than continuing to compete with Jerusalem’s three other large, state-of-the-art hospitals.
Another bidder was the hareidi-religious US-based Herzberg Group, which also intended to continue operating the hospital. The group of businessmen and philanthropists failed to match Gaydamak’s bid, however.
The rehabilitation and continued operation of Bikur Cholim is a feat sure to win Gaydamak support among Jerusalem’s hareidi-religious population, which has been worried about the hospital’s future. The hospital serves much of Jerusalem’s religious population residing within a close radius, as well as the rest of the city's populace.
Days before he submitted his bid, Gaydamak met with the head of the hareidi-religious Eida Hareidit Rabbi Yitzchak Tuvia Weiss, and promised him the hospital would be operated in accordance with Jewish law and cutting-edge technology.
Gaydamak has already announced his intention to run for Mayor of Jerusalem in the next elections. The announcement resulted in a legislative effort by MK Ran Cohen (Meretz), and supported by 13 MKs, to tailor a law that would ban Gaydamak from the Knesset.
The businessman wrote a sardonic response to the proposed law, published in several Israeli papers:
“Any Israeli citizen may run for the Knesset, be he Russian, Moroccan or Yemenite Jew, blond, brunette, redhead or bald. Even a rich bloke may enter the Knesset - unless he shares his wealth with others.
“If a man helped the poor, he should be kept out of the Knesset. If he donated to the IDF or Magen David Adom, he should not be allowed to darken the Knesset's doors. If he provided for the elderly and needy, if he saved children from bombardment, he has no place in the Knesset.
“Thus spake Ran Cohen: Only those who have done nothing for their fellow citizens may run for the Knesset. Only they are above suspicion. Only they will never bribe a voter, for they did not succumb to the temptation to share of their wealth. Bravo, Ran! Bravo, your 13 supporters! …
“Elsewhere, wealthy people do share their wealth with less fortunate fellow citizens. Originally this was a Jewish custom, called tzedaka. In the Jewish state, it is ‘prohibited.’ All over the world, generosity is considered to be a virtue, but in Israel, it is a fault…
“Some MKs feel threatened by the remote chance of an independent philanthropist being elected to the Knesset. Such an elected member may establish a totally different, higher standard of service. An Israeli voter may learn to expect reasonable laws, just decisions, objective committees and full commitment to the well-being of Israeli society rather than to the MK's well-being.”