Olmert slams Gaydamak's activity in Sderot
For first time, prime minister blasts business mogul for evacuating residents from southern town to Eilat. 'Is this what we want to see, that when Qassams are fired people run to five-star hotels?' Gaydamak responds: Prime minister is worried that if elections were held today I would take votes from him
Published: 11.19.06, 16:21
Enough already with Gaydamak?
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert harshly slammed Russian billionaire Aracdi Gaydmak's activities in the southern town of Sderot.
On Thursday, Gaydamak sent buses to the rocket-battered city to evacuated residents to Eilat, an act which angered Olmert.
"I am against causing southern residents to flee their homes, and against millionaires' PR maneuvers on the account of people for other considerations," the prime minister told the ministers.
He added: "Do they want to portray us as people who flee their homes? Will we leave Kiryat Shmona, Tiberias and Safed empty? Is this not a declaration of surrender?"
"Is this what we want to see, that when Qassams are fired we run to five-star hotels? I regret the embarrassing scenes, the bus seats, and the disappointed people," he said.
Olmert added: "Someone is abusing the public and someone is joining the prank, and someone is not expressing doubts over the terrible tastelessness. True, it is not easy to come to the residents and talk to them about staying in Sderot and instead take them by busses. But this is not a serious move. We as a government have to be there, and we will come with an overall solution."
Gaydamak, for his part, responded in kind: "It' strange that the prime minister chooses to attack me of all people," he told Ynet.
"I am an Israeli citizen and I have received a request from parents of children in Sderot who live under attack. They asked me to help them and relieve some of the tension, and that is what I did. I did it as a Jew who can help.
"I am very surprised from the prime minister's onslaught on me. I am not a politician, I don't have a party and I don't have votes. It's true that people appreciate what I do and I am recognized in Israel and around the world, the prime minister is worried that if elections were held today I would take votes from him.
"This is their fear. For them, the residents of Sderot only count as votes. They don't care, the government, what is happening in Sderot and what pressure the children are under," he said.
Gaydamak added: "I am far away from Sderot. I am in Moscow, and I did not ask for anything. I just thought about the children. A mother who thinks she can save her children is more important to me than what the prime minister thinks and the entire Knesset. The prime minister is here to serve the public and that is his job. The Jewish people need to help those who need help. If the prime minister thinks otherwise, it's his own problem."
Olmert's remarks were the harshest criticism voiced in the government so far over the activities of Gaydamak, who in an interview with Yedioth Ahronoth gave the ministers very low grades. Referring to Defense Minister Amir Peretz , he said: "What does he know, to be a taxi driver?"
These remarks caused anger among some of the ministers.
"This is a miserable statement, which humiliates the person who speaks this way," Tourism Minister Isaac Herzog said. "I think that it is even insolent that a person thinks he can label public figures, and with all due respect, I have no intention to refer to it."
"Also as a tourism minister, I believe that driving a taxi and waiting on tables are honorable professions," he added.
Meanwhile, bus confusion goes on
And in Sderot Sunday, more rumors were spreading that Gaydamak will again send residents of the bombarded city to Eilat. Hundreds of residents gathered in the center of town, almost double the amount which were signed up during the morning hours.
Gaydamak's people repeatedly called the residents who did not sign up to return to their homes, but the residents where have already arrived with all their belongings and their children waiting for the trip south to Eilat.
Until the noon hours, the area was in chaos and police forces arrived for fear of Qassam attacks while hundreds of people are in the area. Meanwhile, in Eilat, some residents were refusing to leave their rooms and return to Sderot.