By MATTHEW WAGNER
Arkady Gaydamak, billionaire Russian businessman and new owner of Betar Jerusalem soccer club, met with MK Yair Peretz (Shas) in the Knesset Sunday and promised to raise NIS 5 million for the Marom Le'Adam Charity Fund.
Gaydamak, who made his money from Angolan oil and diamonds, was slated to meet with several Shas MKs in a Jerusalem restaurant on Sunday, but the meeting was canceled abruptly after he was forced to leave Israel on urgent business.
The Russian oligarch also donated NIS 500,000 for IDF soldiers without families in Israel.
Peretz, who chairs a social affairs subcommittee and an anti-drug abuse subcommittee in the Knesset, said the charity fund, which he helped establish, was not in any way affiliated with Shas.
"Marom Le'Adam gives to both Jews and Arabs," said Peretz. "It provided 15,000 blankets to the elderly, it donated to needy soldiers and it provided kindergarten-age children in development towns with help preparing for elementary school."
Shas plans to capitalize on what it perceives as a populist backlash against the economic policies of former finance minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who supported smaller government and more market freedom. Shas represents a predominantly blue-collar Sephardi constituency whose members suffered from welfare cuts implemented by Netanyahu.
Gaydamak, president of the Congress of Jewish Communities in Russia, has been involved in several philanthropic efforts in Israel including donations to Meir Panim, which provides food for the destitute. Gaydamak has also contributed to charities in east Jerusalem and to Ethiopian Jewry.