Monday, June 11, 2007

Put your money where your mouth is!

I know he is trying to become Prime Minister, and he is probably not completely squeaky clean, but I would vote for him. Arkady Gaydamak's latest bid to gain popularity is purchasing the entire chain of Tiv Taam stores and is going to make them all kosher (until now they have controlled something like 70% of the non-kosher meat market)! Here is the link on Ynet: Gaydamak to make Tiv Taam kosher.

This is much better than protesting, writing letters to the editor, picketing, burning garbage cans and putting up posters. Why doesn't he buy out the 'rainbow pride parade' next?

Tanchum wrote this excellent post about the story for

Gaydamak, When Are You Comin’ Back?

He offered to fortify the buildings of the besieged city of Sderot, which has been under Qassam missile fire emanating from Gaza for the past two years. His offer was rebuffed by the defense establishment, which had thus far done nothing adequate to protect Sderot’s residents. It should have been obvious to everyone that the umbrage taken by the Israeli government was due to the fact that this guy was just putting his money where his mouth is--something that rarely happens in the Knesset.

Who is he? A rich guy named Arkady Gaydamak. Gaydamak was born in the Ukraine in 1952, and moved, with his family, to Moscow four years later. His family emigrated to Israel fairly early for Soviet Jews--in 1971. He enlisted in the Israeli Army the following year, and by the following year had already left Israel for France. Although he started out doing menial labor, he eventually founded Gaydamak Translations, which facilitated commercial contacts between Russian and French corporations; the venture was successful, and he opened up a branch in Canada. Key to his success has been the business contacts that have accrued over time, people with whom he has been able to create a network of import/export companies throughout Europe. His combination of businesses have earned him billions of dollars. Did I mention that he owns several sports teams including Betar Jerusalem and a bunch of newspapers like the Moscow News, as well?

He returned to Israel at the age of 48 (although he still maintains a permanent residence in Moscow; I can’t keep track of it all), which was, well, only seven years ago. Why? Well, for one thing he became a wanted man in France; the French government still has an active request for his extradition. He was allegedly involved in arms dealing while trying to further his oil interests in Angola. Angola was in desperate need of weapons to suppress a rebellion, and Gaydamak was able to facilitate a deal between the Angolan government and a Russian arms manufacturer via a Slovakian company called ZTS-OSOS. The payment to ZTS-OSOS was in oil, the value of which was deposited in the company’s French bank account, controlled by Gaydamak and his associate, Pierre Falcone. According to Gaydamak, their profit was simply the difference between the buy and sell prices of the oil. But the enormity of the profit led to a whole money-laundering investigation, allegations of fraud, etc. etc. The scandal affected the upper echelons of the French government. Never mind.

While he’s been in Israel, he has provided help to thousands of people from Nitzanim and Sderot, constructing tent cities for them. He’s thrown big parties on Chol HaMoed for the religious public. And the latest and greatest is, Gaydamak just purchased the Tiv Taam supermarket chain.

Tiv Taam is significant as being Israel’s largest provider of non-kosher meats in the Israeli marketplace, having purchased Kibbutz Mizra’s processing plant some years ago. Mizra, founded 84 years ago in the Jezreel Valley, was the Factory of Treife in Israel until the waves of immigration from the former Soviet Union created competition in the industry. At some point, Tiv Taam bought Mizra’s plant and the supermarket chain itself became the Porkapallooza of Palestine. Now Gaydamak just bought it for 80% more than its market value. For a shrewd businessman, that seems a bit dissonant. What was his motivation?

“In my view, as a Jew and as a public figure in Jewish society, the promotion, distribution and sale of pork products in Israel offends the Jewish tradition. Therefore, my first order of business will be to ban the distribution and sale of pork products,” Gaydamak explained to Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot in an interview. “I believe that in a Jewish state, in which there is a large Muslim minority, selling pork is a provocation,” the Russian-Israeli billionaire told Army Radio.

In addition to banning Tiv Taam’s sale of treife, Gaydamak is restructuring the company’s schedule. The supermarkets will now be closed on the Sabbath and holidays, as compared to its historical one-day-per-year closure on Yom Kippur. Never mind the fact that this move is likely to reflect Gaydamak’s political ambitions; this change is a major upset for a longstanding cultural icon in secular Israel. The thing is, it is also an example of a less familiar trend in Israel, with its odd, socialist/non-profit and idealistic hobby horse: the idea that--no matter where you stand--money talks and suckers walk.

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