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
Early on Thursday morning, he succumbed to a two-year battle
with lung cancer at age 74.
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. He 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.
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
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 legislature
described him as an honest, hard worker who was up for any
“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 the
funeral in his hometown of Kochav Yair attended by thousands.
not try to buy the public’s heart with falsehoods or smooth talk. Your voice was
always heard, and it was always relevant, even if your opinions were not always
“You always knew what he was thinking. He said it straight out,
sharply, clearly,” former Kadima leader Tzipi Livni, whom Ezra supported in the
party leadership primary earlier this year, said at Ezra’s funeral.
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
In the 1980s and early 1990s, Ezra commanded three key sections
in the Shin Bet, those dealing with the Gaza Strip and Sinai; the north and
Lebanon; and Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, including during the first intifada.
He was made Shin Bet deputy director in 1994, and left the service in
Kadima chairman and former IDF chief of staff Shaul Mofaz recounted
working with Ezra when he was the Shin Bet’s No. 2 in the 1990s.
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
Mofaz pointed out that many of Ezra’s successes in the Shin Bet
cannot be revealed, but said he stopped many terrorists and saved thousands of
Ezra entered 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.
“He had a strong feeling of responsibility, that if he
did not lead, things would be damaged,” Rivlin said. “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
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 north 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 the number of plastic recycling bins throughout the
When Kadima did not form the government after the 2009 election,
Ezra went from minister to opposition MK.
“Some politicians might see
that as falling,” Ezra’s legal adviser in the Knesset, Hila Netaneli, said, “but
he didn’t care. He just wanted to serve the public any way he
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 in
2009, Netaneli would bring Ezra ideas for legislation relating to trendy topics
in the media.
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 to help.
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 that was being prepared for them.
The Welfare and Social
Services Ministry got behind Ezra’s bill. It passed its first Knesset reading,
and is being reviewed by the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health
Ezra also continued working to protect the environment, and
proposed and passed related bills in the 18th Knesset.
Binyamin Netanyahu expressed “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
“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 talented.
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 the country’s security, was an honest man, and served the public
throughout his life.