For One Democratic State
in the whole of Palestine (Israel)


FOR One Man, One Vote



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 record straight:


Hatchet Job

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 Gregory Levey 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 all.

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 Palestinians.”

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 said:

“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 improved.”

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 one.

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 personalities.

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.

Russian stories

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.