Gaydamak, MKs clash during home front debate

Billionaire says MKs are just talkers trying to protect their own interests, positions and salaries.

gaydamak 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
gaydamak 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Controversial oligarch Arkadi Gaydamak managed on Wednesday to infuriate members of the Knesset State Control Committee by accusing them of doing nothing and coming to meetings just to earn their salaries. The committee is holding a series of meetings on the State Comptroller's critical report about the government's handling of the threat to the home front before and during the Second Lebanon War. Wednesday's discussion was devoted to a section of the report regarding the performance of the Welfare Ministry and the National Insurance Institute during the war. The meeting also dealt with the contributions of the private sector to the civilian population during the war. Committee chairman Zevulun Orlev invited Gaydamak to attend the meeting because of the summer camp he built at Nitzanim Beach for families from northern Israel who could not afford to get away from the Katyusha rockets. His private philanthropy, which also recently included providing a getaway for Sderot children who face the threat of Kassam rockets, has been criticized by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and others who accuse him of doing these things to further his political ambitions. During the meeting, Gaydamak said he "does not take into consideration the opinion of the members of parliament or government. "When the parents of children in Sderot ask me to provide a few days of rest for their children, their opinion is much more important." Gaydamak's presence was not appreciated by some of the MKs, including Shelly Yacimovic (Labor). "Does the fact that one has money give him the right to participate in the committee?" she asked Orlev. "Let Gaydamak buy two pages in Yediot Aharonot and say whatever he pleases." Gaydamak did not appear fazed by the attack. "You can repeat and repeat and repeat," he told Yacimovic. "Do I need to buy something? You need to be here just to let the time go by and to receive your salary. You just talk." Gaydamak described himself as "an ordinary guy." But MK Avshalom Vilan (Meretz) said most ordinary guys didn't have as much money as he did. Yacimovic was critical of Orlev, telling him that he did not silence Gaydamak because he was awed by his wealth. Orlev replied: "I have never spoken to Gaydamak or met him before. This is the first time. He has a lot of money. He contributed during the war and has something to say that confirms what the State Comptroller's report said." Afterward, Orlev demanded that Gaydamak apologize for insulting the MKs. But Gaydamak refused. "I'm not a politician," he said. "I talk straight." Orlev replied that he would "think twice" before inviting him to the committee a second time.