Despite being scheduled to undergo a kidney transplant this week, presidential candidate Binyamin Ben-Eliezer showed up on Tuesday at President Shimon Peres’s Independence Day reception.
Peres traditionally hosts past and present high-ranking soldiers, chiefs of staff and defense ministers from the War of Independence to the present day.
In addition to being a former defense minister, Ben-Eliezer, who has the rank of brigadier general, is a former career soldier who served as a commander in both the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War, was wounded in the War of Attrition, and was the first Israeli commanding officer in South Lebanon serving as the military liaison between Lebanese Christian militias and the IDF. From 1978-1981 he was military governor of Judea and Samaria, and was the coordinator of government activities in the territories from 1983 to 1984.
Ben-Eliezer was swamped by former comrades-in-arms on arrival at the presidential complex, and people vied with each other to be photographed with him on the presidential red carpet, saying that in two months such photos will be worth a lot.
Asked by The Jerusalem Post reporter whether he thought that he would eventually be standing in the same spot as Peres, Ben- Eliezer replied in English “with God’s help.” Former prime minister, defense minister and chief of staff Ehud Barak, who is the most highly decorated of Israel’s soldiers, greeted Ben-Eliezer with the words: “Shalom, president.”
Ben-Eliezer was showered with good wishes both for a successful outcome of his surgery and for his chances to win the presidential race.
Arguably the oldest of the veteran commanders in attendance was Polish-born Alex Zielony, who will celebrate his 99th birthday in one and a half months. A resident of Tel Aviv, Zielony, who arrived with his Sri Lankan caregiver quipped: “Don’t write my age. It will spoil my success with the ladies.”
An immigrant to Israel early in his youth, Zielony still remembers the Arab riots of 1929. Before fighting in the War of Independence he was a member of the Hagana. Following the creation of the IDF, he served as the head of combat resources at the Tel Nof Air Base, near Rehovot.
Among more recent officers and officials seen in the crowd were Amos Yaron, a former commander of the Airborne Battalion and the Paratroopers Brigade, Moshe Arens, a former defense minister, former Mossad chiefs Danny Yatom and Efraim Halevy, and Deputy Chief of Staff Maj.-Gen. Gadi Eizenkot who is likely to succeed Lt.-Gen.
Benny Gantz as chief of staff when the latter’s term concludes in nine months.
Also present at the event was Israel’s fifth president Yitzhak Navon, 93, who for the first time in many years did not participate in the annual International Bible Quiz but remained for the whole of the outstanding soldiers ceremony, and even stayed afterwards to partake in the buffet brunch that was served in the garden.