Russian-born billionaire Arkadi Gaydamak officially began his political career on Wednesday by attacking Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz in a press conference at Tel Aviv's Dan Hotel. Gaydamak announced the formation of a new socioeconomic movement called Tzedek Hevrati [Social Justice], which he hinted would eventually become a political party that would run for the Knesset.
Editorial: Citizen Gaydamak
Gaydamak's aides handed out a Hebrew copy of a speech he had written announcing the movement. But after arriving 45 minutes late, he chose not to deliver it and instead just answered questions from journalists for more than an hour.
Although Gaydamak spent most of the time explaining why he was different from politicians and refusing to explain his views, he scattered political statements and hints of what his policies would be in answers delivered after most of the press had left.
"My opinion is the government should resign," he said. "I said it privately and today I am saying it to the entire Israeli population."
Gaydamak lashed out at Olmert for appointing Peretz defense minister, calling him a "strange Labor leader" and saying that Peretz had no right to be given such a sensitive position due to his lack of security experience.
He also slammed Olmert's and Peretz's handling of the war in Lebanon.
"We should have avoided the war in Lebanon," Gaydamak said. "We created animosity with the Arab population. Then the government said we won this war when it was a disaster. After this war, we lost our image of invincibility. The government said we succeeded in killing a few thousand Hizbullah warriors, but they will be replaced by hundreds of thousands of extremists."
Gaydamak endorsed Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu for prime minister and praised his policies as finance minister, but distanced himself from Netanyahu's views on diplomatic issues.
"I believe we should negotiate with our Arab neighbors and achieve peace," he said. "When we solve this problem, it will solve the other problems and it will bring security. We should try to obtain peaceful relations and not do it by force."
A poll conducted by Channel 10 on Wednesday found that Gaydamak's party would receive 14 mandates, three more than Olmert's Kadima. The poll also found that the Likud would receive 27 mandates, Labor 14, National Union-National Religious Party 10, Shas 10, Israel Beiteinu 8 and the Arab parties 10.
Gaydamak said he would form a political party "later on if it will be necessary," but that he was "not running for Knesset now." He said it would not take long to form a political structure and select a list of candidates made up of known public figures.
Several socioeconomic activists came to Gaydamak's press conference, including haredi activist Dudi Zilbershlag, disabled activist Momo Nekaveh, antipoverty activist Amnon Angel and Arab soccer activist Mazeh Gnaim. But none of them said they wanted to be on Gaydamak's Knesset list.
Gaydamak spoke at length about his interest in Israeli-Diaspora relations, explaining policies he would enact if he were Diaspora affairs minister.
"If I would one day be in a government position, I would exercise the right relations between Israel and the Diaspora," Gaydamak said. "I want Jewish communities abroad to be a part of Israeli life. Jews from abroad have important position in different fields and can provide support. They make it attractive for foreign investors to invest here. It is the responsibility of the Jewish Diaspora to show real solidarity with Israel."
Asked why he conducted the event in English and Russian instead of Hebrew, Gaydamak said he was making an effort to learn the language but he would continue to not speak it in public as a matter of principle.
"In 1972, I came here and went to ulpan," Gaydamak said. "English is part of my image as a media product."