Binyamin 'Fuad' Ben-Eliezer’s decision to contend for the presidency, which he had contemplated for years and which looked like a walk in the park, proved to be disastrous, a real Shakespearean tragedy.
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On the one hand, it unleashed slumbering investigators who for a long time had not bothered to check the information accumulating on their computers. On the other hand, because he was competing for the presidency, he put off what would have been a fairly simple kidney transplant until after he was elected. When he was forced to withdraw in disgrace, first from the presidential race and then from the Knesset and public life, it was too late to do a transplant.
Overnight he lost his health, which continued to deteriorate, his political life, which had been his whole life for some three decades, and his dream of the presidency. He spent his last two years in his Jaffa home. He was not alone. Many politicians kept in touch, visited, and asked his advice. This role of tribal elder, “the Babi Sali of politics,” as he put it, he had planned to fill from the President’s Residence. It was not to be.
On television he watched as transcripts and recordings of conversations he had with his interrogators were broadcast. He watched the pictures of fat wads of dollars being pulled out of his safe deposit box at the bank. To his last day he was certain who it was that told police about the safe deposit box. He shared his suspicions with several people.
Stories of corruption accompanied him all along, like a dubious silhouette. At best, he was perceived as someone who was always walking on the edge between legal and criminal, between the proper and the foul, between the permitted and the forbidden. Hair-raising media investigations and serious state comptroller’s reports were a staple of his rich career as a minister in various ministries. He extracted himself from all of these entanglements, almost without a scratch.
His pleasantness, his earthiness, the fact that he had always acted humbly, even when he was at the top of the world as defense minister (in Ariel Sharon’s first government) and as chairman of the Labor party, made him a darling of the media and political inner circles. His chumminess was his best-known feature.
But he could also be cruel, vicious and vindictive. He left a lot of bleeding bodies on the political battlefield. One of them was that of his bitter rival Yossi Beilin, who conducted a sort of victory tour among the news stations Sunday night. With his cool style, rich language and icy calm, Beilin harvested the deceased’s organs one after the other, even though the body was still warm.
It was a belated and ice-cold revenge. During the Labor primary 13 years ago, Ben-Eliezer, who was at the height of his prowess, "took out a contract" on Beilin. He took more pains to see his arch-nemesis pushed out of the party roster than he did to get elected himself. And indeed, that's what happened.
The public’s sympathy and his repeated luck led Ben-Eliezer to believe that he was invincible, human Teflon. His purchase of the luxury apartment in Jaffa for millions of shekels – some of which, according to the indictment against him, he acquired through fraud and bribery – was what they refer to in these parts as the “springboard” for the renewed investigation. Questions were asked, eyebrows were raised, and people started to look through the drawers in the right offices. If he had been tried and convicted of the crimes he was accused of, he would have been sent to prison for many years.
For the past two weeks Ben-Eliezer was hospitalized in Assaf Harofeh Hospital in Tzrifin with stomach and kidney problems. During his stay he had a heart attack. Some 24 hours before his death he spoke with a close friend, strategic consultant Shaya Segal. Segal urged him to ask to be transferred to the cardiac ward at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, which is considered more advanced and better equipped. “The doctors are recommending this,” Ben-Eliezer told him.
On Sunday, when his condition worsened, he was taken to Ichilov, where he died. His family and many friends can be comforted in knowing that he left this world an innocent man.