Russian Billionaire Seeks to Become Mayor of Jerusalem

Following on from yesterday, here’s another ex-Soviet billionaire dabbling in religion and politics. Haaretz reports:

Billionaire Russian-born Israeli businessman Arkady Gaydamak said Monday that he will run for mayor of Jerusalem, in a bid to replace incumbent Uri Lupolanski.

…Several months ago, Gaydamak was reported to be consulting with friends in Moscow who could assist him in mounting a mayoral campaign.

…The idea initially arose up when Gaydamak became involved in trying to mediate between the warring sides over the holding of the Gay Pride parade in Jerusalem.

(I blogged on that here)

Gaydamak was reported to have been convinced that he would have the support of both the ultra-Orthodox sector and the fans of the Beitar Jerusalem club (which he owns), seen as a key electoral base.

One of the steps he has taken so far in this direction is the strengthening of his ties with the ultra-Orthodox sector in particular.

A second report (which suggests that Gaydamak would rather work behind the scenes than become mayor himself) adds a quote

“I have no doubt that the entire city will vote for me,” the billionaire said in one interview on Monday. “There’s not one person who is not familiar today with Gaydamak and what he is capable of.”

“Jerusalem is a symbol for the Jewish people and I plan to turn it into a symbol for peace and Judaism,” he added.

Like the guys we saw yesterday, Gaydamak is a controversial figure, and just a few weeks ago it was announced that he would be tried in absentia in France over an arms deal with Angola:

The case is one of a series of murky scandals from the Mitterrand era and involves political figures on both the left and right, as well as a colourful associated cast including the thriller writer Paul-Loup Sulitzer.

[Arms traders Pierre] Falcone and Gaydamak bought tanks, helicopters, artillery pieces, mines, flame-throwers and other weapons in eastern Europe and sold them to Angola through a Paris-based company called Brenco and its Slovak subsidiary.

Prosecutors say the deals required official authorisation, a charge rejected by the defence.

The weapons were used by Angolan President Eduardo Dos Santos to fight rebel UNITA forces under Jonas Savimbi.

Gaydamak also has extensive media interests. In 2005 the Committee to Protect Journalists noted that

During the latter part of 2005, companies and businessmen friendly to the Kremlin further restricted the national print media by purchasing three influential newspapers that had remained critical of the government…In October, Moscow-born businessman Arkady Gaidamak purchased the independent Moscow weekly Moskovskiye Novosti. Gaidamak said that media should not criticize the government, The Moscow Times reported.

There was further scrutiny in the British press in 2006, when Arkady’s son Alexandre Gaydamak became involved with purchasing soccer clubs:

Arkady Gaydamak, 53, made his fortune initially in France where he arrived as an apparently penniless, and, according to one account, illegal, immigrant in 1972. Within a few years, he had built a huge fortune and had established connections with the French political and financial lite and at least one part of the French security services.

…Since the Angolan affair broke, he has been the object of a war of words in the French press. Gaydamak angrily denied allegations, based on internal memos by French security services sent to an investigating judge, that he had connections with the Russian Mafia. He begun defamation proceedings against Le Monde and the security services involved.

Other accounts have described him as a friend and benefactor of France. He was awarded a medal, ‘L’Ordre National du Mrite,’ by President Jacques Chirac in 1996 for his part in brokering the release of two French pilots captured by Serbian forces during the Yugoslav civil war.

This is not his only French honour. He is also a ‘Chevalier de l’ordre du mrite agricole’, for his part in French food exports to Russia. A room in the Louvre museum was named after him after he donated a piece of 16th-century furniture, which once belonged to King Franois I.

In Russia itself, in 2005 Gaydamak took control of a Jewish group, as the JTA reported:

Much of KEROOR’s [Congress of Jewish Religious Communities and Organizations of Russia] new budget will come from Gaydamak’s own money, which puts him atop the list of domestic Jewish philanthropists and behind only a few foreign donors who have backed KEROOR’s archrival, the Chabad-led Federation of Jewish Communities, the largest Jewish organization in the region.

The main donor and president of the federation, Israeli diamond mogul Lev Levayev, is believed to have introduced Gaydamak, who at one time owned a share in Levayev’s investment business, to the world of Russian Jewish philanthropy a few years ago.

…Those familiar with the situation said Gaydamak joined KEROOR, a 15-year-old group that includes Orthodox and Reform congregations, because he no longer was satisfied with his secondary role in the federation, which Levayev dominates.

…KEROOR’s chief rabbinical authority is Adolf Shayevich, one of Russia’s two chief rabbis. Shayevich has been at odds with a Kremlin that puts its trust in his main rival, Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar, the federation’s leader.

The report adds the detail that

…He holds several foreign passports, drives around Moscow in a black luxury Bentley with Angolan diplomatic plates and holds a senior adviser’s post with the Angolan government.

There was also a recent profile in Time, which suggested that with a crisis of leadership in Israel, Gaydamak may “be in the position of kingmaker”:

He says [his] Social Justice [organisation] is not a political party. Rather, it was founded “to form a common ground for the non-privileged minorities who are the majority, for the people who were always kept out of power, who have no access to the new wealth, who have no protection, who are not patronized by the establishment.” He styles himself a nagid or gvir, a traditional Jewish philanthropist-leader who uses his wealth for the public good.

…Gaydamak also likes to spread his political affiliations around. Though he has said in the past that he would support Netanyahu for the Prime Minister’s post, Gaydamak nonetheless promotes talks with the Palestinians sooner rather than later (something Netanyahu does not support) and says Israel should be doing more to improve the quality of life for people in the West Bank and Gaza.

Name variations: Arkady Gaydamak, Arkadi Gaydamak, Arkady Gaidamak, Arkadi Gaidamak, Arcadi Gaydamak, Arcadi Gaidamak

3 Responses

  1. […] In 2004, Cherney and fellow Israeli-Russian billionaire Arkady Gaydamak (who was blogged by me here) were pleased to see the forced resignation of Israeli police investigator Moshe Mizrahi, who had […]

  2. […] The plots of land had once belonged to the pre-revolution Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society, and they include an area known as “Moscovia” and a tree supposedly climbed by Zacchaeus when he wanted to see Jesus. The JTA notes that this is “one of several efforts by Russia to gain a religiously symbolic foothold in Israel and the West Bank”. I’ve blogged on this trend more than once: last year I noted an attempt by the Russian Orthodox Church to retake control of property in Palestinian areas lost in 1917, and more recently I blogged on the restoration of a compound in Israeli Jerusalem; in this last case, Novosti adds the detail that funding was provided by the billionaires Roman Abramovich and Arkady Gaidamak (This was doubtless a nice puff for Gaidamak, who owns the paper. I blogged on his Jerusalem mayoral ambitions here). […]

  3. […] – whom I blogged here, and who has some controversial links with Angola – has recently been pressing a lot of […]

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