Is there much difference between the Israeli Left and Right? What is the
place of Arcadi Gaydamak on the future political map? Gregory Levey says
that Olmert and Barak prevent Israel from shifting right, while Gaydamak will
endanger Israeli democracy. In this follow-up to his Third Force,
Israel Shamir demolishes Levey’s arguments and sets the
By Israel Shamir
A Jewish story tells of a man who penned a commentary to Job and came to a
Rabbi to ask for his authorisation, as was the custom. But the Rabbi forbade the
book, saying: poor Job had enough sorrow without your comments. This story fits
the events in Israel. We have so many sorrows, and on top
of them we have to suffer comments written by people with no knowledge but with considerable malice. A piece by
in Salon is an example of such a hatchet job.
Levey is supposedly a not-too-bad guy, if you like American
liberal-left Zionists. He is against Bush and Cheney, against AIPAC and an Iran war. So far, so good. So am I. But his first job is
to assure that the power in Israel will remain in the hands of the old elites.
So he thinks that the steering wheel of Israel is now in
good hands, while there is some danger from the right-wing. He named his
article, a regular labourite frightener, “Israel's Rising
Right Wing”. What ho! Israel’s right wing is, and has been
at the top for years, it just can’t rise any further. Next time, Levey will
provide a title “The Declining Morals of Sodom”. We are in wonderful position:
we can’t be scared any more by right-wing politicians because we’ve tried them
He believes (or wants us to believe) that the present Israeli leadership is
soft-left, pacifist, democratic, and shies away from wars. If you believe this,
you’ll believe anything, even his next line: that now this wonderful Israeli
regime is about to be subverted by a Russian billionaire who will support Bibi
Netanyahu, and these two will march Israel to war.
In Levey’s own words: “Israeli über-hawk Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu could
dramatically influence the country's direction… could push Israel toward
military confrontations with Iran, Syria or Hezbollah, while extinguishing any
remaining flickers of hope in Israel's peace camp regarding the
All of this is trash. We already had a military confrontation with Hezbullah
and with Syria, being led by Olmert with Labour support.
Far from being pacifist, this government already had sent the army to
Lebanon last year, and last week they also bombed
Syria. As for Iran, Olmert’s Foreign Minister,
Tsippi Livni, has called for war with Iran repeatedly, at
the UN last month as well. Levey demonises Netanyahu, but he is neither better
nor worse than Ehud Barak, the leader of Labour, or Ehud Olmert, the leader of
Kadima. We have tried them all; there is no reason to prefer any one of them.
PM Olmert is a representative of the Israeli right; even of the far right. He
grew up in Herut, the militant pro-fascist movement of Zhabotinsky and Begin,
and as the mayor of Jerusalem he destroyed more Arab
houses than Gregory Levey had decent meals. He was appointed by Ariel Sharon,
the most right wing Israeli PM. Barak is not better than Olmert, and Bibi is
quite the same. There are no “flickers of hope”, whether the country is ruled by
Bibi or Ehud.
That is why some Israelis would prefer a Third Force candidate,
like Arcadi Gaydamak. He is not married to Bibi Netanyahu, as Levey apparently
thinks. His party is a new and potentially powerful force in the Israeli
political structure. Israeli voters are usually dissatisfied with existing
parties (aren’t we all?), but (as opposed to the UK and the
US) the Israeli election system allows for this
dissatisfaction to be expressed in the voting booth.
Gaydamak is not at all “like a cross between George Soros and Karl Rove, with
a streak of Russian oligarchy at his core” (so claims Levey) but rather like Ross Perot, the son of a
Texas cotton-picker, who “made it” in the data business, became a billionaire
and tried to save the US by running for the presidency. In hindsight, it is pity
he did not win: Perot was an American patriot of a soft
conservative-isolationist ilk; he was for quality education, repairing US
cities, against Middle East military adventures and outsourcing.
Democrats and Republicans united to bury him and marched to
Iraq over his [politically] dead body.
Gaydamak has guts, good will and compassion, like Perot.
True, Third Force candidates are rather unpredictable, but the mainstream
candidates are a sure thing -- worthless!
Gaydamak often sounds like Perot when he attacks Israeli
professional politicians for their corruption and lack of concern for ordinary
people. He is definitely not a politician; Levey thinks this is a fault, but he
is mistaken here– Israelis justifiably hold their politicians in low esteem.
High-flying labourite friends of Levey do not like Gaydamak, but he is popular
with simple people. He is liked for his panache, for his generosity and
compassion, for his straight talk. Many Israelis like him first of all for his
sponsorship of soccer teams, of the Jerusalem Sephardi Beitar and of the
Galilean Arab Sakhnin.
Now, Levey does not like Gaydamak because of football. He
says that Beitar “happens to have a core of Jewish nationalist fans who
regularly chant "Death to Arabs!" at the team's games.” That is what we have, Mr
Levey. These are real people of Jerusalem and this is
their football team. Jerusalem has just one football team worth its
name, like Manchester has its United. This team has the
devotion of all available fans in Jerusalem. Football fans
are an unruly lot, in Jerusalem and elsewhere. If there is
an Arab player on the second team, they’d shout insults to Arabs, and they will
shout back insults to Jews. These are strange local customs, Mr Levey. The
customs were not established by Gaydamak, they existed long before his arrival
to our land. Our sports association combats these customs, with somewhat limited
success. Arcadi Gaydamak actually supports an Arab team as well, despite the
fact that their fans are likely to chant insults to Jews. Welcome to real
Israel, Mr Levey.
Levey writes: “One senior Israeli official, who has served at the highest
levels of the policy-making apparatus [is it Olmert? or Peres? - ISH], told me
that he sees the rise of Gaydamak as the terrible by-product of an already bad
situation. 'There is a sense among some people,' he said, 'that democracy just
didn't work for us, and we should be like the rest of the Middle East
-- that we tried democracy and failed. But Gaydamak is something else. He's an
oligarch. Don't forget that a lot of his supporters are Russians. They're not
really familiar with democracy.'"
This is as racist and paternalistic as you can get: A senior Sodom
official said that new arrivals from Jerusalem are not
really familiar with true love. Would you dare to disqualify an American
candidate, say, Obama, because a lot of his supporters are blacks?
Moreover, that is what we have here: Russians who are not familiar with
democracy, Sephardis who chant insults to Arabs, Religious Jews who like
Netanyahu, Arabs who vote Hamas … Probably you would prefer a totally different
Jerusalem, but that’s what we’ve got. These are groups
that created Israel. Oh I forgot, we have your senior
official, and he is surely a man of blue blood…
If Levey would listen to people, not only to “senior Israeli officials”, he
would learn that Gaydamak is considered a strong voice for peace with the
Palestinians, and with the neighbours. In a Time magazine interview he
“I am a great believer in the possibility of peace. I believe in the humanism
of the Jewish tradition. It is impossible for Jews to be happy and content as
long as their neighbours suffer. Palestinian living standards should be
For this and similar statements, Gaydamak was severely attacked on Israeli
internet forums as an “Arab lover”, and “traitor to Jews”. One hysterical lady
even prayed for his speedy demise because of that. When he said that he wants to
add a Muslim football player to his Beitar team, there was a lot of indignation,
but he did not relent. You may google Israeli forums and you will find a lot of
attacks on Gaydamak from the lunatic right, but not otherwise. Moreover,
Gaydamak has more support among Oriental Jews than among Russians, and though
undoubtedly a wealthy man, he is not in the oligarch class; there are quite a
few Israelis and many Russians who have more money. He is just the most generous
Mr Levey demonises Gaydamak claiming “Gaydamak is wanted in
France for illegal arms dealing.” This is lie. While writing about the rise
of Mr Gaydamak, I went to Paris, to my
colleagues-journalists who had followed Gaydamak for a long time. They are
experts in digging dirt. And they told me: this is gornicht, he is clean.
In the 1990's, Arcadi Gaydamak helped to arrange a swap of
Angola oil for Russian arms; these arms helped the
legitimate Angolan government put down the apartheid South Africa-supported
insurgency of Savimbi and his Unita.
This deal was perfectly legitimate, as Angola was not
under embargo, it was and is a sovereign state and is perfectly allowed to buy
arms. However, Reagan administration stood by Unita, as they stood by another
anti-Russian fighter, Osama Bin Laden. Angola had
difficulty selling its oil, and so here came Gaydamak to arrange the swap; he
did not trade arms at all. The arms angle, or AngolaGate as they call it in
France, was overblown for purely political, internal
French reasons (a confrontation between President Chirac and the interior
minister Pasqua.) Anyway, now it is over, only a fiscal claim remains.
The French Treasury thought that the profits from this deal should be shared
with the French Republic, for a French-listed company was
involved, though neither arms nor oil passed through
France. In order to collect, the wily French fiscal judge
Philip Courroye locked up everybody connected with the deal. This method was
very popular in medieval France and Germany:
you catch a Jew and lock him up until he pays. French law allows authorities to
keep a person in jail for up to four years without actually charging him.
Courroye promised to lock Gaydamak up and throw the keys away. Gaydamak
prudently made himself scarce.
Moreover, while it is legitimate to inquire about the Angola arms
story (it made a lot of headlines) I wonder whether an honest reporter may
completely overlook the fact that Gaydamak received the highest award of France, the Legion d’Honneur? It just does not happen to
fit with his description of a man with “vast wealth and a shady past”. France does not award this ribbon to dubious
The reason he received the medal also tells much about the man. Endangering
himself, he saved two French pilots stranded in
Yugoslavia. He had to confront not only Yugoslav militias,
but also some elements in the French intelligence and media who wanted to use
this incident to fan anti-Yugoslav hysteria and escalate NATO war against that
country. Thus Gaydamak is very much our man: he stopped the Savimbi gangs from
despoiling Angola, and he did not allow French warmongers to attack
Yugoslavia on false pretext. In vain will you look for
this story in the writing of Mr Levey, or in that of Yossi Melman, an Israeli
journalist who apparently provided most of the sources for Levey.
Levey knows too little about things he writes about, but he compensates for
his lack of knowledge by nastiness. He writes: “In 2005, for reasons that remain
murky, Gaydamak purchased Russia's Moscow News,
fired some senior journalists, and changed the paper's mandate to a firmly
pro-government one, appointing a pro-Putin journalist as editor in chief. This
was widely viewed as hostile to free speech and raised questions about
Gaydamak's possible ties to the Kremlin.”
I wonder, why this purchase is murkier than, say, the purchase of
Liberation newspaper by Mr Rothschild, or The Telegraph by Black,
or than the purchase of a Jerusalem hospital by Gaydamak?
Isn’t it just an “insinuendo”, an ugly trick used by dishonest writers when they
have nothing to say?
Actually, his purchase of Moscow News made much sense. This newspaper
knew its days of glory in 1990, but alas, its staff did not manage well to
change with changing times, and the readers drifted away. Gaydamak picked up
this newspaper with overblown staff, no readership, a glorious name of old – a
very familiar story; similar takeovers occur frequently in Moscow,
London, Paris and elsewhere. After pruning the
board, as is usually done in such takeovers, he hired Vitaly Tretyakov,
previously the chief editor of the glorious Nezavisimaya Gazeta, (Russian
Independent), one of the best newspapers in Russia.
Moscow journalists say that Gaydamak has already received
offers for five times the amount he paid for the MN, so it was an astute
business move. Tretyakov is a fiercely independent journalist and editor; he is
not anti-Putin or pro-Putin. If Mr Levey thinks that “free speech” has to be
anti-Putin, he’d find that anti-Putin elements in Moscow (Kasparov
etc) are the great supporters of Bush’s attack on Iraq and
Iran. Shouldn’t Levey decide, whether Gaydamak is Putin’s
man or the man of Bush and Cheney? You can’t be both.
Levey describes “the ultra-hawkish Avigdor Lieberman, a former chief of staff
for Netanyahu, who heads the openly racist party Yisrael Beiteinu,” as a
possible partner of Gaydamak and Netanyahu. Again, he does not know what he is
writing about, or is plainly misleading. Lieberman is an avowed enemy of
Gaydamak, and he considers him a leftie and an Arab-lover. But what makes
Lieberman so special? Levey says: “Lieberman has suggested bombing Palestinians'
civilian infrastructure in the occupied territories”. Boker Tov, Eliyahu! Queen
Anne is dead, Mr Levey: it’s Olmert government with full support of Labour’s
Barak that bombs Palestinians' civilian infrastructure in the occupied
territories on a weekly basis.
Levey claims: “Together, an enigmatic billionaire [Gaydamak] and a resurgent
Bibi Netanyahu could put Israel on the war path.” But it's
the other way around: Gaydamak may put Israel off
the war path while the other guys will assuredly lead us to the next war. Levey
speaks of his possible alliance with Netanyahu as though it were a decided
thing, but it is not so.
Bottom line: what remains after sifting out so many insinuations by Mr Levey?
Only one argument, namely, Gaydamak is not fluent in Hebrew. I’ll be generous
and let Mr Levey get away with that one.