You've got to hand it to Arkadi Gaydamak. He has an uncanny ability to spot any vacuum created by the shortcomings of the authorities and quickly fill it with his own solution - funded from his seemingly bottomless private coffers. His swift response to the plight of Kiryat Shmona and Sderot residents under Hizbullah and Hamas bombardments, whisking them off to safe havens, is already legend. Gaydamak's latest venture is another masterstroke. His planned Independence Day party at Tel Aviv's Yarkon Park next week - including entertainment by the country's top performers and free barbecues - will take place as cash-strapped local authorities cut back on their own festivities. Some councils have canceled the events.
Gaydamak freezes $50m. Jewish Agency gift
In recent years, the councils have been criticized for spending on lavish extravaganzas despite having trouble paying their workers and funding local services. Heavy pressure from the Interior Ministry for fiscal responsibility is finally having a result.
But local residents miss their big parties, and some were quick to appeal to Gaydamak, who seems happy to provide them with grilled meat and circuses. He's using the event for all it's worth, buying up airtime on commercial television channels to publicize his party, taking advantage of the fact that his new platform, "Social Justice," is still ostensibly a nonpolitical organization.
This is yet another opportunity to face the nation with a carefully scripted address in Hebrew and do some branding for Social Justice before it's transformed into a full-fledged party, forbidden from buying TV spots.
Gaydamak's other major move was his decision not to pay the second installment of $50 million he pledged to the Jewish Agency for education programs in the former Soviet Union. Jewish Agency sources were quoted in The Marker as saying that Gaydamak had taken them for a ride to gain public attention. Gaydamak responded that he had already given $10m. that had been spent in an unaccountable fashion, in breach of the agreement.
Whomever one believes, Gaydamak's last two decisions seem to give a clear indication of where he's heading. The Jewish Agency might be the largest organization active throughout the Jewish world, but iew Israelis not directly involved with Diaspora affairs are aware of its activities.
Gaydamak is slowly but surely learning the local psyche and has realized that there is no electoral fortune to be reaped in the Jewish Agency. It might be doing valuable work in far-flung communities, but its beneficiaries can't vote for the Knesset. One the other hand, those who come next Tuesday for free kebabs and a show might also be convinced to turn up on election day.