Fuad Should Have Been Barred From the Start

Benjamin Ben-Eliezer should have learned from the cases of Katsav, Hirchson and Olmert: Running for higher office is a self-destructive act for people who have for years failed to distinguish between wrong and right.

Michal Fattal

Benjamin “Fuad” Ben-Eliezer should have been barred from the presidential race from the outset. He long since should have retired from politics in order to devote himself to his hobbies and his grandchildren, to relax on his 100-square-meter balcony in Jaffa, to look at the sea and thank God for completing decades of public service without a single indictment or prison sentence. For him, that’s a kind of miracle.

Fuad should have learned his lesson from the cases of Moshe Katsav, Abraham Hirchson and Ehud Olmert: Running for, and especially achieving, higher office is a self-destructive act for people who for years, almost systematically, failed to distinguish between wrong and right. Had they not been tempted into reaching the golden pinnacle of the pyramid, all three of them would likely have avoided harsh convictions and custodial sentences.

Ben-Eliezer was sure it wouldn’t happen to him, even if a few people who know him well cannot comprehend his complacency. “Do they have anything on you?” responded a former cabinet minister to Ben-Eliezer’s request for formal support.

“There are no skeletons in my closet,” came the confident reply, “The only thing they can harp on is my health.”

The retired politician could not understand Ben-Eliezer’s fearlessness, and wondered how he was able to afford a 9-million-shekel apartment.

A businessman who once had political ties has said in recent months, in private conversations, that during the years that he and Ben-Eliezer were close, the businessman was asked repeatedly to give large sums of money to relatives of the former defense minister. The man deliberated for months over whether to talk and ruin Fuad’s presidential bid, before deciding to keep his mouth shut and thereby keep a few major Israeli figures out of the disaster zone.

The new information was a by-product of a Tax Authority investigation into a different affair. When this information was added to other intelligence suggesting that Ben-Eliezer was fond of big money, it led Tel Aviv District Prosecutor for economic and tax crimes Liat Ben-Ari – who successfully prosecuted the Holyland case – to convene an urgent meeting last week with Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein and the heads of the state prosecution. It was decided to call Ben-Eliezer in for questioning.

“We thought maybe we’d get answers that would explain the fund transfers to family members,” a figure close to the investigation said last night.

But Ben-Eliezer’s evasive answers deepened the suspicions against him, and he was questioned under caution on suspicions of taking bribes from Avraham Nanikashvili, a businessman who is being investigated in connection to the Ashdod Port corruption affair. In that case, the head of the port’s trade union, Alon Hassan, was recently held for several days as a suspect in a brewing corruption investigation at the port. In a different investigation, the Ashdod-based Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto is suspected of giving bribes to a police officer and to local businessman Jacky Ben-Zaken, who faces charges of stock manipulation and was recently questioned under caution in connection to the Ashdod Port affair.

Ben-Eliezer has been Ben-Zaken’s patron for years. Ben-Zaken introduced Ben-Eliezer to his wealthy partner, Nanikashvili, and to Pinto. Ben-Eliezer extended his patronage to them; he became a guest of honor at their family events, praised them in public and, allegedly, received financial favors from Nanikashvili.

The Nanikashvili affair destroyed Ben-Eliezer’s presidential fantasy, but in a normal country he never would have gotten that far in the first place.

Earlier scandals – the improprieties in the Housing and Construction Ministry, the jobs given to friends, the favors from an arms dealer, the testimony of Eldad Yaniv – should have disqualified Ben-Eliezer as a worthy representative of the Labor Party in the eyes of chairman Isaac Herzog. But Herzog, like his party colleagues, some of whom owe their political careers to Ben-Eliezer, preferred to shut their eyes and their mouths. His disgrace is their disgrace.