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Ben-Eliezer drops out of presidential race after police probe
By LAHAV HARKOV
07/06/2014
Candidate calls last-minute investigation "targeted assassination," was plagued with scandals in recent weeks.
 
MK Binyamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor) rescinded his presidential candidacy Saturday, calling an investigation into allegations he wrongfully accepted funds a "targeted assassination."

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 recounted, adding that every shekel used to pay for the apartment was earned transparently.

The MK said he deliberated for 24 hours 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, though, he said, he is sure the truth of his innocence will soon come to light.

Ben-Eliezer added that he is sure that the recent "ugly wave of defamation" against him - a television report that he is a serial gambler, in addition to the police probe - are a result of his presidential candidacy.

The police investigation is only one of several scandals that rocked Ben-Eliezer's campaign.

In the beginning of May, Ben-Eliezer revealed that he was about to receive a kidney transplant from his son and that he underwent dialysis three times a week, leading some to question whether he was healthy enough for the job.

Soon after, Channel 2 investigative program "Uvda" reported that Ben-Eliezer regularly gambled in casinos in London while he was Defense Minister, which the Labor MK denied.

"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 added. "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 only four days before the election, 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 will "lead to self-examination and end the culture of 'targeted killings' that became part of our everyday life."

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein plans to meet with Knesset Legal Adviser Eyal Yinon on Sunday to discuss the new playing field in the presidential race.

Labor held a faction meeting Saturday night to discuss who to support in lieu of Ben-Eliezer.

MK Itzik Shmuly (Labor), asked for the party's MKs to be granted freedom to vote for any candidate, adding that he is considering not voting at all.

Meanwhile, opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Labor) scheduled a meeting with candidate Dalia Dorner for Sunday, who Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On announced she supports on Saturday night.

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," Dalia Itzik said. "This is not what we wanted the presidential race to look like. Whoever is elected, his [or her] 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 added.

Unlike the other candidates who released statements about Ben-Eliezer's decision, Sheetrit then continued to list his own achievements and called for MKs to vote for him.

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