Throughout his 30-year career in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and 16
years in politics, Gideon Ezra could always be seen with a cigarette. Early
Thursday morning, he succumbed to a two-year battle with lung cancer at age
Bad habits are not usually the first thing mentioned about the
deceased, but in Ezra's case, smoking is a major part of his legacy. Ezra had
dedicated himself in recent years to educating youth about the dangers of
cigarettes. He would point out his gaunt figure and hairless pate to groups of
high school students visiting the Knesset.
"I've come to warn you about
something that hurt me," Ezra said to a Knesset auditorium full of teens in
February 2011, in a speech that can be viewed on YouTube. "I had hair on my head
six months ago. I was fatter. This is all because I have lung cancer. It's not a
nice disease, neither is the medical care, and the people who suffer most are my
family members." On his way out of the auditorium, Ezra asks the students how
many of them will think twice before smoking, and most raised their hands. Then,
he turned to the camera and said: "See, it was worth it." Ezra's friends and
colleagues in the Knesset described him as an honest, hard worker who was up for
"Gideon, you were a man of the brutal truth, who unlike
other politicians, did not try to moderate your truth. You did not hide it, you
did not dull it," Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin said in his eulogy to the MK at
a funeral attended by thousands. "You did not try to buy the public's heart with
falsehoods or smooth talking. Your voice was always heard, and it was always
relevant, even if your opinions were not always liked." "You always knew what he
was thinking. He said it straight out, sharply, clearly," Former Kadima leader
Tzipi Livni , who Ezra supported in the party primary earlier this year, said at
Ezra had an illustrious career, beginning in 1962, when
he joined the Shin Bet. After a two-year stint working for the Mossad in Europe,
Ezra returned to Israel to manage the Shin Bet department dealing with Arabs in
the north of Israel.
In the 1980s and early 1990s, Ezra commanded three
key sections in the Shin Bet, including Gaza and Sinai, north and Lebanon, and
Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, during the First Intifada. He was made Deputy Shin
Bet Commander in 1994, and left the security force in 1995.
and former IDF chief of staff Shaul Mofaz recounted working with Ezra when he
was the deputy Shin Bet commander in the 1990s.
"It was then I learned of
your many values – your seriousness, your judgment, how you took responsibility
and made decisions," Mofaz said at Ezra's funeral. "You were a people person, a
thinking, planning man, but also an extraordinary man of action." Mofaz pointed
out that many of Ezra's successes in the Shin Bet cannot be described, but said
he stopped many terrorists and saved thousands of lives.
politics in 1996, and was elected to the Knesset as a member of the Likud
faction. He was considered one of the party's most dovish MKs, advocating talks
with Palestinians, and left to join Kadima upon its founding in 2006.
had a strong feeling of responsibility, that if he did not lead, things would be
damaged," Rivlin recounted. "In every discussion, Gideon would be ready, awake
and listening, asking the most difficult and profound questions that could not
be avoided or swept under the rug." Ezra was appointed Public Security Minister
in 2001. In the next five years, he also served as a Minister without Portfolio,
Tourism Minister, and again as Public Security Minister, before becoming
Environmental Protection Minister in 2006.
Ezra enacted major
environmental reforms, including closing the Reading power station in Tel Aviv,
because it did not meet the ministry's standards, and forced it to switch to
natural gas. He also legislated an increase in plastic recycling bins throughout
When Kadima did not form the government in 2009, Ezra went from
minister to opposition MK.
"Some politicians might see that as falling,"
Ezra's legal adviser in the Knesset, Hila Netaneli, recounted, "but he didn't
care. He just wanted to serve the public any way he could." Netaneli recounted
Ezra's work ethic, saying he would arrive at the Knesset at seven in the
morning, and be one of the few MKs to stay in the plenum until the very last
speech or vote.
When the 18th Knesset began, Netaneli said she would
bring Ezra ideas for legislation relating to trendy topics in the media at the
Ezra's response, she explained, was representative of his
personality: "He never wanted to pass laws just because they were populist or
would get him a headline. He looked for bills that would be practical, helpful
and could actually pass." Every letter or request sent to Ezra's office in the
Knesset would be read, and together with Netaneli, Ezra would try to find a way
One of Ezra's most successful endeavors in the 18th Knesset was
regulating assisted living complexes for the elderly, a topic that had not yet
been legislated. Ezra was concerned about those who lived in the complexes:
their money, what kind of nurses were chosen to take care of them and the food
they were being prepared.
The Welfare Services Ministry adopted Ezra's
bill. It passed its first Knesset reading, and is currently being reviewed by
the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee.
Ezra also continued
working to protect the environment, and proposed and passed related bills in the
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu expressed his "deep
sorrow" over Ezra's death, saying that he "loyally served the Land of Israel
throughout his entire life. His contribution to the security of the state was
considerable; most of it will remain secret." "Gideon Ezra worked courageously
for decades to keep Israel safe, with unending dedication," Defense Minister
Ehud Barak said, adding that Ezra was fair, responsible, and
President Shimon Peres described Ezra as someone "who spoke at
eye-level and reached hearts. I will always remember him as a friend." According
to Peres, Ezra made a unique contribution to Israel's security, was an honest
man, and served the public throughout his life.