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Gaydamak on Olmert, Sderot, Jews, and Couch-Potatoes

Arutz-7 speaks with Arcadi Gaydamak, who plans to personally fund the building of safe rooms in 600 Sderot homes at a cost of 90 million shekels.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 12/14/2007, 12:09 PM

Arutz-7/IsraelNationalRadio's Yishai Fleisher interviewed Arcadi Gaydamak in light of his announcement this week his plan to personally fund the construction of safe rooms in 600 Sderot homes, to the tune of 90 million shekels ($22.9 million).  Gaydamak also plans to run for Mayor of Jerusalem, and feels strongly that religious Jewish education and culture must be supported.

Click here to hear the full interview.

Fleisher asked the controversial Russian-born billionaire philanthropist about his latest act of generosity: "You have already built 40 shelters in Sderot, you took the residents there on vacation last year, and now you want to build safe rooms.  Isn't this the job of the government?"

Gaydamak responded modestly, "It's our government, we all chose it, and I'm just doing what I can do; the government is a somewhat 'heavy' organization, and perhaps it's doing what it can do, and cannot react as promptly as a private figure or organization... I'm just trying to do a necessary thing; the people in Sderot need security."

He had strong words against those, especially government members, who criticize his actions: "That's the problem! The people in the government have forgotten their mission, have forgotten that they are supposed to serve the people.  Instead, they speak only out of their own personal interests.  Mr. Olmert and Mr. Barak can do better things than I can do; why should they compare themselves with me? Why don't they just do their work?"

Gaydamak said that Prime Minister Olmert entered the Second Lebanon War for the wrong reasons and caused Israel great harm: "I think the Second Lebanon War was something that Israel should not have done, and it was done primarily to show that [Olmert] has leadership qualities.  For many years, it was not Israel's army that protected us, but the image of invincibility that we had for the Arabs - yet here we showed that we had a great difficulty fighting against Hizbullah.
The non-religious have nothing to offer the religious; what, they can teach them how to sit on the sofa and watch TV?


"Secular Couch-Potatoes Have Nothing to Give Religious"
Gaydamak is emphatic that the religious have an important role in teaching others about Judaism and thus keeping the nation's traditions alive:

"We are a people, because we have this knowledge that we are Jews.  We should transmit this knowledge to future generations.  We must maintain and provide support for those who are transmitting this knowledge, i.e., the religious people.  They do not have to come closer to the non-religious, because they [the non-religious] have nothing to offer the religious; what, they can teach them how to sit on the sofa and watch TV? Or how to make a barbecue?  But the non-religious people should try to be closer to the religious so that they can learn at least a little about our history and tradition, and then to transmit it to the next generation.  If not, we will disappear...  I try to help the religious by giving them support. "

Saved Hospital from Bankruptcy
Asked about his purchase of the Bikur Cholim Hospital in Jerusalem, thus saving it from going under, Gaydamak explained, "This is a hospital that the citizens of Jerusalem need.  It's in the center of the city, and provides medical services to the religious community, both Jews and Moslems.  It was in bankruptcy, and if I was not there, the hospital could have been closed. So I saw that it was necessary to maintain this hospital for the people of Jerusalem."

Fleisher: "You seem to be finding niches of need and trying to fill them --"

Gaydamak: "I'm not looking for them; this was the situation. I heard someone speak about how necessary this hospital was, and that's it.  The same with Sderot; the need is there, and we don't have the time to see if it's better or whatever; it has to be done immediately, this very hour."

Fleisher: "What else do you see as a major problem here in Israel that needs to be addressed?"

Gaydamak: "Security.  We will start in Jerusalem." 

Gaydamak explained that he has announced his plans to run for Mayor of Jerusalem - "and I will win, no doubt" - and that he will develop the city's Arab neighborhoods and "prepare an economic situation that will help everyone.  This will prove that we can live together in peace, and that it is possible to come to a negotiated peace at this time."

Fleisher: "But it appears that our Arab neighbors are preparing themselves for war against Israel, not peace."

Gaydamak: "Yes, because they don't have a feeling that Israel is their partner. But in truth, the real enemy of the Arabs is not Israel, but Arab extremists." 



"Your Children May Need Israel"
Gaydamak explained the importance of the State of Israel: "Israel is a country that was created by Jews and for the Jews to maintain and protect Jewish tradition and values, as well as the physical survival of Jews. All Jews around the world have a responsibility for Israel, even those who were never here; maybe their children or grandchildren will need it one day for protection, and that's why we must all work for it."

Asked what he feels is special for him about Jerusalem, Mr. Gaydamak said, "Jerusalem is unique. It is the spiritual symbol for all monotheistic religions, a symbol of peace.  It is a city of the spirit, of morality."

Gaydamak in the Knesset
Fleisher: MK Ran Cohen of Meretz and several other Knesset Members want to tailor a law that would ban you from the Knesset.  And you responded, 'It appears that anyone may enter the Knesset - whether he be from Yemen, or Morocco, or Russia, or whether he be blond , brunette, redhead or bald - unless he's a rich Jew who wants to share his wealth with others.'"

Gaydamak : "Ah, yes, I remember now; so many things happen with me that-- yes, I remember this now.  It was a so-called representative of the Left who said this; it's not normal.  But a few months ago I was in the Knesset and when I started to speak, MK Shelly Yechimovitch said I must not be allowed to speak in the Knesset. But I said, 'I'm a citizen, like anyone else; I may say something wrong, but I should be allowed to speak.' but they said, 'No, no'...  I said that all over the world generosity is a virtue, but here in Israel it seems to be prohibited.  I told Yechimovitch that I don't speak Hebrew as well as her, but that she always talks about trumot [donations], and I told her, 'With all your Hebrew, you don't understand the difference between terumah and tzedakah [charity], and that is the problem.' So she said, 'Yes I don’t understand, what is the difference?' So I said that a donation is a donation to an organization or whatever, but tzedakah is the basis of our Jewish society - sharing not only wealth, but support and solidarity; without tzedakah, Jewish society would disappear.'"

Aliyah From Russia?
Asked what could be done to encourage Aliyah [immigration to Israel] from Russia, Gaydamak was not optimistic: "Most of those who came, did so for security or economic reasons. Today, however, those two aspects are not better in Israel than in the former Soviet Union or in France. This explains why immigration is down, and why former immigrants from Russia are returning to their former homes." He did not offer a solution to this problem, other than improving Israel's economy in general.

Gaydamak said he was born in 1952 in Moscow to a family that was "no different" than others around him.

Fleisher: "How did you become so successful? Did you feel the hand of G-d was with you?"

Gaydamak: "Everything around us is a miracle, and we can't explain, so I will not tell you that I had a particular feeling; it's true, I always ask myself what it means to be a Jew and why I am different." He said that his grandfather was religiously observant, and that "even in our home we had a minyan [prayer quorum] every morning; it was not secret, nor was it something that we especially publicized..."

Mayor Moyal's Resignation
Fleisher: "Yesterday, 20 Kassam rockets fell in Sderot, and Mayor Moyal quit in protest.  Immediately, terrorists said this was a victory for them, and that soon the Ashkelon mayor would resign as well."

Gaydamak: "Giving this interpretation of the resignation is just a media trick by the Arabs.  I believe Moyal was merely trying to show the government how serious the situation is... That's my interpretation of the resignation."

In Conclusion
Mr. Gaydamak clearly feels strong ties with Israel and the Jewish People; when asked to specify, he could not put his finger on exactly what it was that draws him to such feelings.  The possible future Mayor of Jerusalem concluded by emphasizing that a strong Jewish identity among Israelis and good ties with our Arab neighbors will produce the yearned-for peace.