Lawmakers Trade Verbal Blows With Oligarch Gaydamak Over Home Front

Tycoon Arcadi Gaydamak raised a storm yesterday when he blasted Knesset Control Committee members at a discussion on the management of the home front during the Second Lebanon War.

"The ministers are just sitting around talking and trying to protect their interests - to be part of the cabinet and preserve their positions and salaries," the billionaire said.

Committee members responded with fury. Gaydamak has accused the Home Front Command of inaction since last summer's war, when he funded a tent city on a southern beach to host people under constant Katyusha rocket attacks in Israel's north.

Committee chair MK Zevulun Orlev (National Religious Party) defended Gaydamak, and said he had a right to his opinion, but said he would think twice before inviting him to a meeting again.

"He responded to a real need," Orlev said in defense of Gaydamak. "People really needed to be taken for an airing... For me he is a man with a lot of money who contributed during the war, and has a message to convey, which is also reflected in the State Comptroller's Report."

Labor MK Shelly Yachimovitch said, "Is it money that buys the right to sit here in the committee and talk like that? Let Gaydamak buy two pages in Yediot Ahronoth and say whatever he likes."

Replied Gaydamak: "You need to be here because it's your job. Do I need to be here?"

MK Avshalom Vilan (Meretz) said that Gaydamak's accusing the ministers of greed showed contempt for the Knesset. "The man came to turn [the session] into a circus," Vilan said.

"I warned you that this meeting would turn into a show," Welfare Minister Isaac Herzog said.

Orlev himself was the brunt of some criticism.

"You would have called other people to order for less severe statements," Yachimovitch said to Orlev.

"You held Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on a shorter leash than Gaydamak," Vilan chimed in.

Gaydamak joined the argument: "Are only MKs and ministers allowed to express an opinion? I'm a citizen. We're all citizens. We have rights."

Orlev asked Gaydamak to retract his statements and treat the MKs with respect. "You insulted and I ask you to take it back," Orlev said. "Outside you can say what you like."

"I'm not a politician," Gaydamak responded.

"You're the mother of politicians," Vilan shouted back.

Finally, Gaydamak said "Sorry, not everybody works for the money."