Israel's Chess Master Told: Give Us Your Check, Mate

Deputy world chess champ won't be living like a king, despite performance in Moscow.

Even before the cheers died down and the public exultation dissipated, the State of Israel showed up and said what it had to say to deputy world chess champion Boris Gelfand: Kindly share with us the prize you received in the battle for the world title. The treasury spelled out its request: Dear Mr. Gelfand, please transfer to the possession of the state 48 percent of the prize totaling about $1,100,000, which you received for your achievements.

This means that Gelfand, who since the day he immigrated to Israel in 1998 has not received a single lira or shekel of support on his way to the world championship, and for years was forced to finance his preparations out of his own pocket, will have to give the state treasury about NIS 2 million as a gift. This, after all, is a country that shares in the profits of its sportsmen, but under no circumstances in the costs of preparation which in Gelfand’s case took many years and involved the expenditure of hundreds of thousands of shekels.

Meanwhile, in light of his success in Moscow, promises are being heard from the prime minister and the culture and sports minister to provide millions in support for the Israel Chess Association, which has suffered from a financial deficit since its inception. At present, the association budget is equal to the cost of a mediocre soccer player in the premier league.

We can hope that the country will channel the NIS 2 million deducted from Gelfand’s victory to fund the European Chess Club Championship scheduled to take place in Eilat this coming October. Maybe in that way, thanks to Gelfand’s wonderful performance in Moscow, the organizers of the tournament in Eilat will receive a sum that will enable them to avoid being humiliated before all of Europe.

Elad Sonn, spokesman for the Absorption Ministry, responds:

“Eli Shvidler is far off the mark when he states, without any proper investigation, that ‘since the day he immigrated to Israel in 1998, Gelfand has not received a single lira in support ...’ From the moment Boris Gelfand immigrated to Israel, from 1999 until 2008 (the period of eligibility as a new immigrant), [he] received a regular monthly stipend as an outstanding chess player, in addition to the absorption basket. The total sum is about NIS 230,000 during the entire period in question, so I regret to say that the myth is incorrect: Gelfand received support, just as other immigrant chess players receive regular support from the Absorption Ministry. On Gelfand’s return last week, Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver met with him, along with seven other immigrant chess players, who have now received a monthly stipend of NIS 5,000.”