The Sentence / This Is What Happens

And to think that this man was until recently the king of the land; he was seen with the elite of the land - the prime minister, cabinet members, mayors, NGOs and various institutions. Even the Israel Defense Forces honored him; senior officers would open the gates of their bases for him.

The supporters of Beitar and Hapoel Jerusalem bowed to him on all fours. The city was thrilled when they put him on a horse and looked up to him as a modern-day Mordechai. This is what happens to a man whom former prime minister Ehud Olmert and former mayor Uri Lupolianski favored, until he was forced to quit. The king is dead, long live the king.

Arcadi Gaydamak had already proved that Israel is not the final refuge of the scoundrel - it is sometimes the first and only refuge of the patriot. He identified all too well the quality of the goods: Every Israeli can be bought and the price is normally pretty low.

Here he claimed that he was persecuted for being Russian, while in France he argued that he was persecuted for being Jewish. The French, as is well known, are natural-born anti-Semites - they are incorrigible - and quite a few Jews hate themselves, that too is well known.

Israelis are mostly interested in money, and they have no particular interest in its origins. What do they care that Gaydamak accumulated his wealth by making murky, unethical deals, which is why he's a wanted man around the world. What do they care if a poor country in Africa has a civil war that lasted more than any other civil war on that sad continent, a war with hundreds of thousands of casualties by its end. What do we care if the people there die like flies, a whole country burns and our oligarchs skim treasure out of the ruins - selling weapons and buying blood diamonds.

Israel today is a country of endless opportunities for tycoons - local and foreign - who make a contribution and offer charity. The money may stink and should not be touched, but respectable Israeli institutions have learned to hold their nose.

Two and a half years ago Gaydamak sued Haaretz and its editorial board for libel. It was the biggest lawsuit of them all - $10 million. Since then, to our good fortune, the dollar's value has dropped; six months ago, from distant Moscow, Gaydamak announced that he was withdrawing his suit.

When he lost his power and all the beggars grew tired of him, only then were charges brought against him for money laundering. He promised to show up at the opening of his trial, but, as expected, didn't. Now, after the conviction and sentencing in France, he will no longer set foot in Israel for fear of being extradited.

The beggars here are unable to say thank you or goodbye nicely. The fugitive oligarchs will have to learn for themselves the lessons of Gaydamak: You are welcome guests here - kings - as long as you haven't lost your assets.