Arkadi Gaydamak 88 298.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
People of the year: JPost special
Mega-celebrity and controversial philanthropist Arkadi Gaydamak made an even bigger splash than usual during the recent war in Lebanon. Putting his money - $15 million of it - where everybody else's mouth was, the 54-year-old Russian billionaire moved into swift action during the Katyusha bombardment, and constructed a tent village on the beach of Nitzanim for thousands of families from the North. The unparalleled relief operation will be remembered for years to come.
Not that Gaydamak was in much danger of being forgotten any time soon. Since his arrival in Israel a little over six years ago from France, he has become a household name, both for his grandstand largesse and for his ongoing legal problems. A sponsor of the Hapoel Jerusalem basketball team, a contributor to the Bnei Sakhnin soccer club and the owner of Betar Jerusalem, he is also a major donor to many worthy organizations, among them Magen David Adom.
The president of the Russian Jewish Congress, he was preparing to make a $50 million donation to the Jewish Agency in exchange for a seat on its board, when the Israel Police stopped the process and began an investigation into suspicions of money-laundering involving Bank Hapoalim. This has been part of a wider attempt to assist the French authorities, from whom he fled in 2000, following their issuing of an arrest warrant for illegal arms dealing with Angola and tax evasion. Gaydamak continues to profess his innocence, accusing local law enforcement agencies of unjustly targeting and harassing him.
In a recent interview Gaydamak attributes what he considers to be undeserved infamy to envy of wealth in general, and to mistrust of rich Russians in particular.
"Imagine a couple sitting at home eating their soup in front of the TV," he elaborates. "The wife sees me and blames her husband for not earning enough money to provide her the kind of lifestyle she craves. The husband then says, 'Look, maybe I'm not rich like this guy, but at least I'm honest.' In other words, I'm the kind of man people need subconsciously to consider bad."
Perhaps, but since the war, a lot more people seem to be considering him good.