Benjamin Ben-Eliezer hospital -  Ilan Assayag
Assaf Harofeh deputy director Yitzhak Scharf announcing last night that former cabinet minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer is on a respirator, March 8, 2011. Photo by Ilan Assayag
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MK Benjamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor ) was sedated and put on a respirator yesterday after his condition worsened, according to the military hospital where the former minister was sent last week with high fever and pneumonia.

The hospital's deputy director, Dr. Yitzhak Scharf, said yesterday that Ben-Eliezer's condition was stable and the hospital would publish a daily update.

Ben-Eliezer, 75, was hospitalized last Tuesday. Assaf Harofeh Hospital says his condition is apparently a complication of the flu, although it has ruled out swine flu. Until yesterday, the hospital had reported that Ben-Eliezer's condition was gradually improving, and that he had been put in the intensive care ward for security reasons.

MK Daniel Ben Simon (Labor ) told Haaretz that he felt there was a "connection between the operation to finish off Fuad [Ben-Eliezer] politically and the fact that he is now in very serious condition. Those who concocted this plot should have known what the outcome could be, and that at the end of the plot, there are people who have a strong heart and people who have a weak heart. And everybody knew that Fuad has a weak heart."

In his comments, Ben Simon was targeting Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Shalom Simhon, who replaced Ben-Eliezer as industry, trade and labor minister after Barak split from the Labor Party at the end of January.

"I realize that what I'm saying is not simple and could bring about harsh responses, but I have to get this terrible feeling off my chest," Ben Simon said.

The "plot" Ben Simon referred to was Barak's surprise split of the Labor Party, which the same day sparked the resignation of ministers from that party including Ben-Eliezer. The move left Ben-Eliezer feeling betrayed by Barak, the person he believed he had helped reconquer the Labor Party and become defense minister in two cabinets.

Ben Simon also said that when he told Simhon that "their wheeling and dealing was bringing shame on Israeli politics, he said to me with a smile, 'but I managed to do what no one else has done in Israeli politics; I took out two politicians in one day.'"

A close associate of Barak said: "We will not respond to Ben Simon's remarks at this time. We will only say that Barak very, very much loves Fuad and is very worried about him. A number of times over the past two days, he spoke with the hospital director and his doctors. Despite the political rivalry between them recently, after 15 years of working together, Barak's great esteem for Ben-Eliezer cannot be hidden."

A close associate of Simhon said Ben Simon's remarks "are unworthy of a response. Their very publication or utterance could be a reason for a libel suit."

Ben-Eliezer has been a key man in Israeli politics for three decades since he established the political party Tami with Aharon Abu-Hazeira, after retiring from the Israel Defense Forces with the rank of brigadier general.

Ben-Eliezer's direct and informal approach and his sense of humor have made him a colorful figure. He is also known for his connection to the people at the grassroots - someone who in recent years has to a great extent controlled the Labor Party's institutions.

Ben-Eliezer is also known as the man who brought Barak back into politics and helped him reach the chairmanship of the Labor Party for the second time in 2007.

After the 2009 elections, when Barak sought a way into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet - despite his promise to go into the opposition after Labor won only 13 seats - Ben-Eliezer laid the groundwork for Labor's joining the cabinet.

However, relations between Barak and Ben-Eliezer soon soured; Ben-Eliezer found himself out of Barak's inner circle. He frequently criticized Barak over a lack of progress in the peace process.

About two and a half months ago, Ben-Eliezer said that if Barak did not lead to a breakthrough in the stymied peace process by April, Ben-Eliezer would push for Labor to leave the coalition. Barak felt betrayed, sprouting the seeds for the split with Labor.