On Second Thoughts, He Is Worthy

Anyone who attempts to use the depth of his pockets in order to cut the ties of thousands of fans to Beitar Jerusalem on whose behalf they are prepared to go to jail, proves that he does not understand a great deal about sports, and that he is cut off from the Israeli reality.

Arcadi Gaydamak spoke straightforwardly in response to the Beitar Jerusalem fans' pitch invasion at the Teddy stadium three days ago. He did everything possible to persuade the over-excited spectators to return to their seats so as to allow the game to finish, and when he failed to do so, he condemned the riot and denounced the rioters. At the same time, he reminded everyone that Beitar Jerusalem is his team and not "theirs," that is to say, that it does not belong to the fans. In this way, he revealed how totally foreign he is to the Israeli experience.

There is no other soccer team whose identity is so completely intertwined with that of its fans. Anyone who attempts to use the depth of his pockets in order to cut the ties of thousands of fans to the club on whose behalf they are prepared to go to jail, proves that he does not understand a great deal about sports, and that he is cut off from the Israeli reality. This shortcoming touches on Gaydamak's recent attempt to break up the Pensioners' Party and thus reach the pinnacles of national decision-making. Two years ago, when Gaydamak began distributing money left, right and center, his presumptions to join the political life in this country seemed like a vain aspiration, but now only a Volvo separates him from a seat at the cabinet table. For there is a realistic chance that, if the expectations of one of the Pensioners' Knesset members to be awarded the title of deputy minister and an official car are not met, that ridiculous faction will break up and undermine the coalition's stability.

In such circumstances, Ehud Olmert is likely to need the support of the three breakaway MKs who are prepared to link their political future with Gaydamak's generosity. The effort invested by the prime minister in preventing the split in the Pensioner's' party shows the extent to which this scenario is not imaginary. Gaydamak is drawing close, therefore, to a bargaining position that could open up his way to the government, whether directly or via the incumbent MKs.

This probability justifies asking the question of why Israeli law does not make a person's eligibility to be a member of the nation's leadership (in the Knesset or government) conditional upon a real familiarity with the country - its history, its culture and its way of life. Gaydamak does not speak Hebrew and judging from his appearances and what he says, he does not have a real clue about the country's history, literature and memories. It is clear that he is totally alienated from the tapestry of Israeli life, but nevertheless he wants to take an active part in the administration of the affairs of state.

Several other democratic countries restrict who may stand for parliament; they make the right to be elected conditional on a prolonged stay in the country, proving proficiency in its history and literature, or forgoing the citizenship of another country. In most democratic countries, there are no restrictions on the right to be elected, but there are difficult obstacles to cross on the way to obtaining citizenship. Israel is unique in that every Jew who immigrates here automatically becomes a citizen and, in this capacity, the way to presenting his candidacy for the Knesset is open. Gaydamak, like Shmuel Flatto-Sharon before him, is exploiting this freedom in order to fulfill his wish to reach a senior position of influence. Unlike Flatto-Sharon, who was indeed elected to the Knesset but is remembered as a curiosity in its history, Gaydamak appears to be a scheming individual who has the ability to achieve his goals.

Contrary to his past declarations, when he did not attach a political payback to his donations, in recent times Gaydamak has not made a secret of his intentions of joining the forefront of public life. In anticipation of the municipal elections, he has in effect declared that he will be a candidate for mayor in Jerusalem; a mere few months ago, he announced the establishment of his party, Social Justice; last week, he meddled in the Pensioners' faction and even boasted of his ability to use the move to break up the party as a lever for his appointment as a cabinet minister. Gaydamak is indeed a megalomaniac with theatrical tendencies, but his boasting of his ability to be elected prime minister (in an interview with Yedioth Ahronoth, November 2006) sounds less ridiculous today.

On second thoughts, this man is actually proving that he fully understands the hidden codes of Israeli society, which is prepared to give itself over to any abomination in return for money - and in this way, he has proven wrong the assumption behind this article. Gaydamak indeed understands the soul of his beast, and this characteristic makes him, so it seems, worthy of being one of its leaders.