The Man / No Comment

The man who loved the media almost as much as he loved himself was curiously unreachable yesterday. Phones in Moscow were left off the hook; his representatives in Israel politely said Mr. Gaydamak was not talking to the press. His reclusiveness is understandable. The verdict yesterday in the French courts was a blow to his deep belief he can fool everybody all of the time.

That belief may undergo some further review if he isn't allowed to stay in Moscow, his residence of choice for the past year. Moscow sources said that as Gaydamak failed to reclaim his Russian citizenship, which he lost upon emigrating in 1972, Russia would find it difficult to host a convicted felon. This makes his oft-stated attachment to "Jewish tradition" his last option for retreat.

"Jewish tradition" is a phrase that Gaydamak used numerous times as he tried to build up a political and public life in Israel. For a while, it worked. Although his public visibility lasted roughly three years, from his buying Beitar Jerusalem in 2005 and leaving the country in 2008, Gaydamak managed to generate unprecedented numbers of headlines. His public stardom peaked when he paid out of his own pocket for a tent city at Nitzanim to house miserable civilians fleeing the missiles of the Second Lebanon War.

The grand gesture from the Russian entrepreneur proved a stark contrast to the pettiness and helplessness of a government failing to help its citizens. This was not lost on many, various groups, who pronounced him a king and a messiah. And Gaydamak eventually believed it.

In February 2007, Gaydamak set up a movement he called Social Justice, with the clear aim of becoming a political party in the long run. He set his eyes on an ambitious goal of becoming the mayor of Jerusalem. But this new beginning turned out to be the beginning of the end. The mix of business and politics proved too much.

It would be a mistake, however, to believe these efforts were merely an attempt by Gaydamak to shield himself from the law here and abroad. True, political activity gave him a justification to claim he was politically persecuted. But there was more to it. Gaydamak genuinely believed he was capable of public service and worthy of a senior post. His target constituencies were minorities, both Jewish and Arab, not so much out of tactical choice but for lack thereof; the Israeli elites ejected him, and he turned to "the people."

His public success came tumbling in the municipal elections of November 2008. Out the many Gaydamak considered indebted to him, only 5,000 gave him their vote. A hurt and angry Gaydamak announced his divorce from thankless Israeli society. A short while later, he boarded his private jet. Despite assurances he would return, he has remained in Moscow.

Gaydamak's ambitions were coupled with broken Hebrew. He never did learn the language properly, and his foreignness radiated in every step. This did not please the establishment. In this, he put a mirror up to the twisted face of Israeli society, and this, perhaps, is his greatest contribution to public life.