Gaydamak expected to start new party

Russian billionaire likely to announce move at press conference Wednesday.

Arkadi Gaydamak 88 298 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Arkadi Gaydamak 88 298
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Russian-born billionaire Arkadi Gaydamak wants to be Diaspora affairs minister in a government led by Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu, sources close to the businessman said on Tuesday. Gaydamak called a press conference for Wednesday afternoon at Tel Aviv's Dan Hotel, where he intends to announce the formation of a new socioeconomic party. Gaydamak does not intend to run for Knesset but he does want to be a minister in a cabinet led by Netanyahu, whom he has endorsed for prime minister. "Netanyahu is the most capable to be head of state because of his experience," Gaydamak told reporters at Beit Hanassi on Tuesday. "I am already a leader of the people, not a leader of a party. The politicians are looking for positions. I am a people's leader." Gaydamak will assemble a list of Knesset candidates for his party that will include Russian immigrants, Sephardim, haredim and Beduin. His associates predicted that, based on polls he sponsored, his party could win 25 seats in the next Knesset. "Olmert is a professional politician and he definitely should be concerned about a man shown in opinion polls to be more popular among the Israeli electorate," Gaydamak said. "The political system is in a predicament and my conduct is received well by the public." Netanyahu's associates said he respected Gaydamak but he was not consulted about the formation of the new party. They said the fact that Gaydamak was already issuing coalition demands was "not serious and way too early." Israel Beiteinu officials welcomed Gaydamak to politics and said they were not worried about him taking votes from their party. "He will hurt the Likud, not us," an Israel Beiteinu official said. "He is at his peak today, because he was admired as a businessman, but now that he will be a politician, his support will drop overnight. Our people will never leave us because we have proven ourselves over the last decade." Israel Beiteinu's support has been dropping in the polls since Strategic Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman joined Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government in October. A poll published in Vesti on Monday found that 75 percent of Lieberman supporters wanted the government to fall. A different poll published on Israel Radio on Thursday that asked the same question put the number at 85%. Likud supporters recently began a campaign in the Russian-language media to discredit Lieberman and pressure him to leave the government. But an official close to Lieberman said it would not work. "He joined the government knowing it would not help his popularity," the official said. "He did it because he wanted to help the state, not to get a seat at the cabinet table." But Lieberman's associates said his patience with Olmert over the long-awaited cabinet reshuffle had run out. Lieberman called Olmert's aides on Tuesday and warned them that if Israel Beiteinu was not given the chairmanship of the Knesset Finance Committee by Sunday, the party would not participate in the reshuffle. "We have waited long enough," an Israel Beiteinu official said. "How long can we play games? We have heard enough excuses."