(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Russian billionaire Arkadi Gaydamak submitted the registration forms for a new party, Social Justice, on Monday, ending months of speculation over his political aspirations.
Gaydamak, who filed the forms under his Hebrew name of Arieh Bar-Lev, said he planned to run for Jerusalem mayor and would not run for the Knesset.
"I am not aiming to become prime minister, but I wish to play a central role in Israel's political life," Gaydamak said Monday.
The party's platform states that it will work to preserve Israel's democratic values, promote equality between all citizens and protect human dignity and freedom. The charter, however, reveals a less democratic party makeup, with Gaydamak retaining complete control and ultimate decision-making authority for the entire party.
According to the charter, Gaydamak will have the final say on all party-related matters, and will personally draw up the party's candidates for prime minister, ministers and Knesset positions.
A spokesman for Gaydamak said the party already had 1,400 supporters and that they hoped to win at least 20 Knesset seats. A recent survey commissioned by Gaydamak showed that his party could receive anywhere between 17 and 23 seats.
In private interviews, Gaydamak has boasted that his party could garner 30 or 40 seats if he decided to "dedicate" himself fully to the political cause. He has not yet revealed where his party would fall on the political spectrum, but his suggestions that he would sit in a coalition with Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu and Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman have led many to believe that Social Justice will be a right-wing party with a focus on immigrant issues.
Kadima, Likud and Israel Beiteinu all issued statements wishing Gaydamak well on his new political venture. Behind the scenes, however, all parties stepped up efforts to entice the Russian immigrant vote that they believe Gaydamak will draw away from them.
Gaydamak has already shaken up the political scene by using his vast personal fortune to help communities that he claims the government is ignoring. In two highly-publicized events this year, Gaydamak offered all-expense paid vacations for residents of Sderot, who have been living with frequent rocket barrages, and aid for communities in the North who suffered damage during the Second Lebanon War.
Gaydamak's charity was met with criticism by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who pointed out that the 54-year-old was facing accusations of money laundering and international fraud.
In Israel, Gaydamak has already made several prominent investments, including the purchase of soccer team Betar Jerusalem, and is also a sponsor of the Hapoel Jerusalem basketball team. He has also begun negotiations to buy Bikur Holim Hospital in Jerusalem.