Arkadi Gaydamak 88 298.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
More than one fifth of the population (22 percent) say they would turn to Russian-born billionaire philanthropist Arkadi Gaydamak if they ever found themselves in socioeconomic distress, according to a study published on Monday by University of Haifa at its first conference on social responsibility.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (Kadima) and Defense Minister Amir Peretz (Labor) ranked low on the list of those who could be relied on to provide assistance to the needy. Olmert garnered 2.3% of the respondents and Peretz, who was once considered a champion of social welfare, a mere 0.9%.
The survey was conducted by the Geocartography Institute, which question more than 500 Jewish Israelis over the past week.
Rabbi Avraham Elimelech Firer, founder and director of Ezra l'Marpe, which assists sick people and their families, came in second after Gaydamak, with 19.5% of those questioned saying they would turn to his organization if the need arose.
Gaydamak, who embarrassed the government during last summer's war with Hizbullah in Lebanon when he sent thousands of families from the North to a makeshift camp in Nitzanim and has used his own resources to help Sderot residents, set up a socioeconomic movement last month called Tzedek Hevrati (Social Justice). Gaydamak has been vocal in criticizing Olmert and Peretz for not focusing enough on social issues, but it is unclear whether he will transform his new organization into a political party.
"This survey highlights the despair felt by the Israeli public and its frustration in relation to the political leadership when it feels it can't turn to those leaders for help," said Dr. Irit Keynan, the university's adviser for social responsibility and chairwoman of the conference. She said benefactors [such as Gaydamak] were filling a void left by politicians but that when they were no longer available, Israelis would have no one to turn to.
Eight percent of those questioned said that they could rely on Tourism Minister Isaac Herzog (Labor), who is slated to be the next social affairs minister.
Herzog, who spoke at the conference's opening session, that he hoped to turn the Social Affairs Ministry into a leading force in solving the country's social welfare problems. However he said that political wrangling over his appointment could prevent him from filling the post - which has been vacant since the government took power nearly a year ago - in the near future.
"If it is not decided by Wednesday, we enter our recess and it will even longer before there is a minister," said Herzog.
The refusal of MK Ya'acov Litzman (UTJ) to stand down from his position as chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee has been delaying a deal on new cabinet appointments.
Herzog also told the conference he planned to take his role as social affairs minister seriously and not just rely on television reports about the country's social ills.
"We need also need to listen to the voices of academics and to understand the statistics and studies," he said.
Discussing who is responsible for tackling social issues, Herzog said: "The government has a central role in social responsibility but everyone in the country needs to be involved, too."