Arkadi Gaydamak 88 298.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Neither side of the comparison might be flattered by the company, but you have to admit that State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss and Arkadi Gaydamak have a lot in common. Both are quick in seeking out any shortcoming by the authorities, both are using their powers in a controversial and unorthodox way to solve the country's problems, both are adept at provoking media headlines to highlight their own efforts and the government's failings, and both are out to get Ehud Olmert.
Lindenstrauss believes the comptroller's office is the fourth branch of power and sees it as the only bulwark shielding the nation from a tidal wave of corruption and incompetence.
Constitutional experts, and even his predecessor, have severely criticized the way he does his job, saying Lindenstrauss should let his reports do the talking. But that hasn't deterred him or his supporters. His much anticipated report on the preparation of the home front during the Second Lebanon War is expected to be, at least in the Lindenstrauss camp, yet another nail in the government's coffin.
Gaydamak, at least for now, has no official capacity. But just as Lindenstrauss has transformed his post, Gaydamak over the last two years has harnessed his considerable fortune to become much more than just another philanthropist.
There are other Israeli and Jewish multimillionaires who have given hundreds of millions of dollars over the years to Israeli society in a wide variety of endeavors and with different degrees of publicity. Some have tried to influence the government, almost always quietly and behind the scenes. Occasionally they have funded public campaigns and protests. This is the first time a mega-donor has used his donations to build his image as a public figure with the aim of challenging the country's leaders.
Whether or not Gaydamak has bought enough popular support to win an election is still unclear. But polls show that hundreds of thousands of voters would choose him, and he can already claim to be a factor in the government's decision making.
Amir Peretz can say "I'm not in a contest with any billionaire" as much as he likes, but he declared a state of emergency around Gaza only after Gaydamak began taking hundreds of Sderot residents out of the bombed town to hotels for a break. If he's not competing with Gaydamak, why was he so quick to blame him for "abandoning" 500 Sderot refugees in a hotel in Beersheba.
The government belatedly announced at its Sunday meeting a raft of benefits and promises to build hundreds of new bomb shelters. Whether these promises would have been made without Gaydamak's competition doesn't really matter. Yediot Aharonot and Ma'ariv heralded the decision in their main headlines as being taken only "After Gaydamak." Gaydamak didn't have to spend a shekel, all he had to do was promise to build the shelters himself. He got all the publicity and the people of Sderot will get shelters, or not.
Gaydamak isn't only motivating the government. He has also put the wind up normally unflappable Strategic Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Plummeting in the polls, Lieberman realizes that Gaydamak is the most serious threat to his strongman image within his "Russian" constituency. The last thing he needs now is new elections. He has no inclination to leave his cabinet seat, but he has no choice now: If he wants to cling on to the last shreds of his right-wing credentials, he has to make some threatening noises.
Lieberman is indeed a tough guy. He's not threatened by Hamas, and he's sure that if the government gives the right orders, the IDF can do the job. It's Gaydamak he's really worried about.