Take a good look at Arcadi Gaydamak and you will see ourselves. This enigmatic immigrant, who never spoke our language and never understood our customs, seemed so foreign and out of place, and only erupted onto the scene for a few short years. He was actually an updated version of the typical Israeli. Gaydamak didn't wear the kibbutz hat, shorts and sandals of the cartoon Srulik, but his over-fancy suit is the epitome of the new Israeli scene, even if Israel was never his homeland. It's hard to think of anyone more than the fugitive from Moscow who better represents Israelis' hidden aspirations and the way our country and society operates.
Gaydamak was sentenced in absentia in Paris to six years in prison for illegal arms trafficking. He made most of his money from the brutal civil wars in Angola and the Congo, where he recruited two former heads of the Mossad and retired officers from the Israel Defense Forces. But it's not just this dubious Israeli partnership that paints Gaydamak blue and white. Respectable Israel is also a huge weapons exporter, the fourth largest in the world, and sells its wares to anyone who can afford them without any discrimination based on morals or form of government.
Gaydamak thought he could fool everyone all the time. Israel does too. We drag out the occupation, cover up what happened in Gaza, hide what happened in the Second Lebanon War, build more and more in the settlements, deceive everyone forever. But just as with Gaydamak, it can't work all the time and doesn't fool everyone. The world is starting to ask questions and lose its patience. We have already been tried in absentia.
We fell in love with him immediately. Why? Because he fulfilled what most of us dream of: Making lots of fast money, whatever its source, and showing it off to everybody. A yacht from Angolan blood money, a mansion in Caesarea from his dubious Russian deals.
Who doesn't dream about all that? In a country where only power and money talk, Gaydamak was a welcome guest and focus of admiration. We also loved his display of wealth; worshipping the wealthy has long become a ritual. Open the (too) numerous business newspapers and see who the real cultural heroes are, our wealthy lords. Gaydamak was one of them.
He fulfilled another secret dream of many: He had dual citizenship, Israeli and French. Between you and me, who doesn't want a second passport? He also won our hearts with his ostentatious demonstrations of charity. A tent city on the banks of the Yarkon River, an instant city for refugees in Nitzanim. Our "give me" culture loved it. It also loves pouring huge sums into sports and its vanities. That's what Gaydamak did. He bought Beitar Jerusalem and was a king for a moment.
That's how we love our kings - only for a moment. Moni Fanan, for example, was an instant king after his suicide, 24 hours of media worship as if a saint, distinguished statesman or influential thinker had passed away - until the truth came out.
Gaydamak was not only flesh and bone, he also dabbled in the spirit. He waved Jewish tradition in front of us, and we melted. Our Israeli tradition is also sometimes hollow and shallow, just like Gaydamak's. The death of a pilot in an accident or the abduction of a soldier, Yitzhak Rabin's murder or the threat of an Iranian attack - these are virtually all the values we have left tying us together. They are no deeper than those of the lord who rode in his open car through Jerusalem's streets in the hope of becoming its mayor. Gaydamak's boasting is also not foreign to us: We loved it. "No talk, action," was his Social Justice party's campaign slogan - a party without justice or society. Like him, we also prefer doers, not talkers: Performance, security and secrecy are what is important. As long as they do and don't talk, it doesn't matter what they do.
The French court put an end to all that. The dream shattered and the hero who not long ago was mentioned in the polls for prime minister has turned into a fugitive from justice. It seems Israel will also need such outside intervention to be healed and redeemed. Until then, goodbye Arcadi, see you soon Gaydamak, and prepare for the next national hero.
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