October 9, 2007


Israel's rising right wing: Together, an enigmatic billionaire and a resurgent Bibi Netanyahu could put Israel on the war path. (Gregory Levey, Oct. 09, 2007, Salon)

[O]ver the past several years Arcadi Gaydamak, an enigmatic Russian-Israeli billionaire, has managed to become a widely influential figure in Israel. And he is now at the center of a right-wing political alliance -- featuring Israeli ├╝ber-hawk Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu -- that could dramatically influence the country's direction. If the rising alliance takes power in the next election, it could push Israel toward military confrontations with Iran, Syria or Hezbollah, while extinguishing any remaining flickers of hope in Israel's peace camp regarding the Palestinians.

Gaydamak has recently been consolidating his influence as a power broker in Israeli politics. He has used his wealth to gain popularity through social and business initiatives, while deftly exploiting the widespread perception of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government as corrupt and incompetent, particularly during last year's disastrous war in Lebanon. With his financial capital and cunning political tactics, Gaydamak is like a cross between George Soros and Karl Rove, with a streak of Russian oligarchy at his core.

In a country full of colorful political characters, he may be the most colorful. Gaydamak is wanted in France for illegal arms dealing. He is alleged to have ties, through his former arms-dealing partner, to Halliburton and to corporations that donated to President George W. Bush's 2000 campaign. He has Russian, Israeli, French and Canadian citizenship, as well as a diplomatic passport from Angola, on which he reportedly travels in order to avoid arrest. He owns a Jerusalem soccer team with a notoriously racist, anti-Arab fan base. And he is said to be planning a run for mayor of Jerusalem.

But it is in Israeli national politics where Gaydamak may now be a powerful -- and, some say, dangerous -- force. Along with his new Social Justice Party, formed in July, Gaydamak has allied himself with Benjamin Netanyahu, the Likud Party leader and former prime minister. To this alliance Gaydamak brings his rapidly increasing popularity, especially among Israel's influential Russian population, a growing grass-roots political network, and billions of dollars. Netanyahu brings his credibility as a former prime minister, hawkish bona fides, and resurgent popularity both inside Israel and across the Atlantic, where he enjoys strong support among Washington war hawks and many delegates of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the powerful pro-Israel lobbying group.

The goal of this emerging alliance is to make Netanyahu prime minister once again, which would give Gaydamak direct access to the uppermost echelons of Israeli power. Not only does the alliance have the potential to unseat the centrist leadership governing Israel and replace it with one much further to the right -- precisely at a time when Israel may be on the brink of war with Iran -- but some observers believe it poses a threat to Israeli democracy itself.

Demographics is the greater threat to Israeli democracy and they oughtn't assume that America will stick by them if they abandon it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 9, 2007 11:52 AM
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