MK Binyamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor) withdrew his presidential candidacy on Saturday, calling an investigation into allegations he wrongfully accepted funds a “targeted assassination.”
As a result, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein asked opposition leader and Labor Party chairman Isaac Herzog whether he should postpone the vote, scheduled for Tuesday, by two weeks and said he would take the Labor faction’s decision on the matter into consideration.
Labor lawmakers met on Saturday night to discuss their options, but did not come to a decision about the election’s timing or whether to support on of the remaining five candidates.
MK Itzik Shmuli (Labor) asked that they be given freedom to vote for whomever they like.
Edelstein plans to meet with Knesset Legal Adviser Eyal Yinon on Sunday to discuss a plan of action in light of the new playing field in the presidential race.
Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar (Likud Beytneu) said on Saturday night that he opposed delaying the election, something that would “harm the Knesset, the presidency and Israeli democracy.”
Finance Minister Yair Lapid, Construction and Housing Minister Uri Ariel, and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz also said they opposed delaying the vote.
A day after police questioned him for five hours, Ben-Eliezer released a long message questioning the motives behind the investigation.
“On Friday, in the final stretch of a long campaign, four days before the vote in the Knesset for the job of president, in which, and I say this modestly, I was the leading candidate, I was called with a 20-minute warning to the police for an investigation of how my apartment [in Jaffa] was funded,” Ben-Eliezer said, adding that every shekel used to pay for the apartment was earned in an honest and transparent manner.
The former Labor Party chairman said he deliberated for 24 hours on what to do, because giving up would go against his character, and he expressed concern that pulling out of the race would look like an admission of guilt. He said he was sure the truth of his innocence would soon come to light.
Ben-Eliezer said that he was sure that the recent “ugly wave of defamation” against him – a television report that he was a serial gambler, in addition to the police probe – were a result of his presidential candidacy.
The police investigation is only one of several recent reports that have rocked Ben- Eliezer’s campaign.
On May 2, it was reported that Ben-Eliezer was about to receive a kidney transplant from his son and that he underwent dialysis three times a week, leading some to question whether the 78-yearold was healthy enough for the job.
Soon thereafter, Channel 2 investigative program Uvda reported that Ben-Eliezer regularly gambled in casinos in London while he was defense minister. He denied the allegation.
“From the moment I announced that I am running for the job, the well-timed, aggressive defamation and accusation against me did not stop. It was clearly meant to prevent me from running and serving as president,” Ben- Eliezer said.
“With a heavy heart, I decided to drop out of the race,” he said. “My good name is with me from the day I was born and I want to protect it, my dignity and the truth.
“I have total trust in the authorities and justice in the State of Israel and I am sure that at the end of the investigation they will verify the truth that I already know. I did not break the law and the sources of my income were and are open and transparent.
The information about a loan I received is backed with documents and is known to the authorities.”
Ben-Eliezer said he would like to know how long the police had information about him and why it decided to open an investigation four days before the Knesset chooses the next president, when he has been living in the apartment, which is estimated to be worth several million shekels, for over a year.
“Could it be that the legal authorities were used as a tool for those who have ulterior motives to influence democratic processes?” he asked.
Ben-Eliezer expressed hope that his case would “lead to self-examination and end the culture of ‘targeted killings’ that became part of our everyday life.”
Meanwhile, Herzog scheduled a meeting with candidate former Supreme Court justice Dalia Dorner for Sunday.
On Saturday night, Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On announced she supports Dorner.
Other candidates called the end of Ben-Eliezer’s candidacy unfortunate.
“He has many positive attributes and served in many significant roles and I hope his innocence is proven,” former MK Dalia Itzik said. “This is not what we wanted the presidential race to look like.
Whoever is elected, his first mission must be to strengthen the public’s trust in the institution of the presidency.”
MK Reuven Rivlin (Likud Beytenu) called “the difficult atmosphere surrounding the presidential election” and Ben-Eliezer’s pulling out of the race “unfortunate.”
MK Meir Sheetrit (Hatnua) said he hopes that Ben- Eliezer’s innocence is proven.
“The current presidential race, unfortunately, has touched on inappropriate themes for such an important and central institution for our nation. I call on the other candidates to use the three remaining days to focus on what’s really important: Who is the best-suited candidate with the life experience and record that makes him best for the job,” he said.
Sheetrit then listed his achievements and called for MKs to vote for him.