Commentary Magazine


The Downfall of Gaydamak

In a few posts I’ve been following the political career of Arkady Gaydamak, the Russian financier who’s in deep trouble with the law in France for gun-running, and who has been trying to establish himself politically in Israel (possibly with an eye to legal immunity and protection from extradition if he can get into the Knesset, but why be so cynical?). Yesterday was a bad day for Gaydamak.

In his run for the mayoralty of Jerusalem, Gayamak received 3.5% of the vote. (The winner was the secular high-tech start-up guy Nir Barkat, who got 53%, and second place went to the ultra-Orthodox stalwart Meir Porush, with 42%.) Gaydamak poured a lot of money into this campaign, and invested heavily in courting the Arab vote, but as usual, the Arabs in Jerusalem basically boycotted the election, with fewer than one percent showing up to the polls.

Gaydamak’s problem, however, was not his strategy. In recent months his public image has plummetted, with increasing rumors of the collapse of his financial empire (a court slapped a lien on the soccer team he owns, Beitar Jerusalem, and a travel ban on him for fear he might skip out on his creditors). This, combined with his trial in France that opened on the day he declared his candidacy, has given everyone the sense that we’re not talking about a new type of politician, but a very old type.

In this sense, Jerusalem’s voters have given voice to a deep revulsion over what feels and smells like political corruption, (of which the case of Ehud Olmert is merely the tip of the iceberg.) My guess is that in the upcoming national election, many voters will be abandoning the old questions of peace and borders, and putting their votes where their gut tells them the parties are in terms of ideological vision. The downfall of Gaydamak just might signify a new beginning for Israeli politics.