The city of Carmiel bestowed the title of 'honorary citizen' on business tycoon Arcadi Gaydamak on Tuesday, at the opening of the annual folkdance festival. The honor meant to thank Gaydamak for the aid he provided to the residents of Israel's north throughout the last war in Lebanon. Gaydamak used the event to slam the government's actions during the war.
The title was presented to Gaydamak by Carmiel mayor Adi Eldar. "By building the 'tent city' in Nizanim without delay, Gaydamak saved the lives of thousands of citizens," Eldar said, explaining the municipalities' decision. "For his initiative and blessed deeds, Carmiel expresses its appreciation and gratitude and bestows this honorary title."
Gaydamak, Mayor Adi Eldar and Minister Pines-Paz
Before receiving the honor Gaydamak spoke with Ynet, saying that "it is a great honor to receive this title." When asked whether he intended to enter the political arena he replied, "The people should be asked. It's not up to me but the citizens of Israel. In any case I don't think that I can submit my candidacy because there is certain knowledge and qualities that are required. I don't know if making a small contribution to the community qualifies me to be a minister or prime minister."
When asked if he was aware of the extent of the northern public's admiration of him, Gaydamak answered: "People do not understand the difference between the deeds I have done on behalf of the community and what is called 'professional politics'. I am trying to show people that in three months I have done much more for the public than all of the politicians together. If I can retain that reverence I could be a politician." As for the festival, Gaydamak declared that he would not participate in the dancing festivities. "If people saw me dance, they would understand that I simply do not know how to do it," he explained.
"Soldiers didn't imagine country's leadership lacked understanding of situation"
Upon receiving the honor, Gaydamak spoke before the tens of thousands of people who attended the opening ceremony. He used the platform to sharply attack the governments' helplessness during the war.
"We believed that the actions of our government were calculated. Our soldiers were confidant in the measures taken by the government during the war. They absolutely didn't image that the country's leadership completely lacked any understanding of the situation. There was no organized plan to evacuate the public and on the very first day Magen David Adom was already left without the resources to fuel the ambulances," he said during the speech.
"Don't do politics here," came a cry from the audience, to which Gaydamak replied: "This isn't politics, this is our lives." He continued, saying "I look on with concern, because nothing has changed. You and your children are in graver danger today than you were two months ago. You had better check is Magen David Adom is operating properly, where the nearest bomb shelter is and its condition, it’s the one you'll be fleeing to in the time of danger."
Gaydamak at the folkdance festival, said he wouldn't dance
Gaydamak closed his speech with a clarification: "I have no desire to be man of the year or an honorary citizen of your city, I want you all to show solidarity and by doing so defend our country."
Many of those attending the festival revolted after the speech. "It was inappropriate in this setting, and in broken Hebrew no less, it was shameful," Avraham Orgad from Givat Shmuel told Ynet. "I respect new immigrants but that he, as a new immigrant, would dare smear the government is just wrong. We came here to enjoy the festivities, not listen to political speeches. He embarrassed the event and those presenting the title, which he doesn't even deserve… Gaydamak's Nitznim gesture was a gesture he made for himself. This whole festival has been translated into money. We were sold for money and that's a disgrace."
Minister of Science, Culture and Sports Ophir Pines-Paz, who attended the opening ceremony of the festival which is supported by the ministry, was surprised to see the honor bestowed on Gaydamak.
"There's no doubt that Gaydamak did a lot during the war and that cannot be taken away from him. If the mayor of Carmiel decided to give him this title then that is his decision and we respect it. I don't know if this event was the place to do it, it's unfortunate that we were not consulted," he said.
The festival expects to see some 250,000 people who will attend 100 performances and participate in group dances held throughout the day, until Friday morning.
Ahiya Raved contributed to this report