Billionaire Russian Jewish immigrant Arcadi Gaydamak testified before the Knesset State Comptroller Committee Wednesday, exchanging strong words with MKs.
The committee meeting dealt with the handling of the home front during the Second Lebanon War. Gaydamak was invited due to the large tent city he established on an Ashkelon beach for refugees from northern towns during the war.
Gaydamak, speaking in English, said that his philanthropy does not take into consideration sniping and criticism from members of the government, who, he said are “just sitting and talking and trying to defend their interests, be a part of the government, protect their positions and even their salaries.”
Labor MK Shelly Yechimovich responded angrily, asking rhetorically: “Is it money that buys the right to sit here in the committee and speak like that? Let Gaydamak buy two-pages in Yediot Acharonot and say whatever he pleases.”
Gaydamak fired back: “You can just repeat and repeat. Do I need to buy something? You need to be here just to let the time go by and to receive your salary. You just talk. Do I need to be here?”
Yechimovich then took aim at Committee chairman MK Zevulun Orlev (NRP), accusing him of failing to silence Gaydamak due to his impressive wealth.
Orlev, while defending the billionaire as a “Jew who came in and responded to a real need of people during the war,” demanded that Gaydamak take back his statements. Gaydamak refused, saying, "I'm not a politician - I talk straight."
Welfare Minister Yitzchak Herzog chimed in, saying, "I warned you that this meeting would turn into a show.”
Orlev told the committee that he would “think twice” before inviting Gaydamak back to the committee.
Discussing the meeting and the antipathy politicians and the media feel toward the new immigrant, Yossi Melman of Haaretz told Army Radio: “I think the reason we feel uncomfortable with him is that he wants to be in the public sphere but be exempt from investigation and criticism. There are rules in the public sphere. You need transparency. He wants to be above the rules.”
The Jerusalem District Court Wednesday authorized Gaydamak's purchase of the capital's Bikur Cholim Hospital, which was on the verge of closing down. Gaydamak says he we retain the facility's staff, improve the infrastructure and keep the historic medical center operational. The hospital, located in the center of town, near Mea Shearim, has seen the treatment of hundreds of trauma victims following terrorist attacks in the city center and also serves the Hareidi-religious public living in adjacent neighborhoods.