(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Former defense minister and Knesset member Binyamin “Fuad” Ben-Eliezer died on Sunday afternoon at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv from heart and kidney failure at the age of 80. He will be buried Tuesday at the Holon cemetery.
Ben-Eliezer had been in and out of the hospital over the past few weeks after battling heart and kidney problems for five years. He is survived by his wife, Dolly, and five children.
The former minister had been embroiled in a legal scandal, including charges of bribery, money laundering, fraud, breach of trust and tax offenses, but his ill health prevented the prosecution from advancing the case.
In fact, a judge recently threatened Ben-Eliezer that he would be forcibly hauled into court for missing hearings, since the judge thought he was faking being sick to avoid the trial. In February, he was arraigned by the Tel Aviv District Court, but was exempt from appearing at the hearing given his old age and poor health.
Ben-Eliezer’s lawyers stressed that he died an innocent man, never convicted of anything.
Had he been healthier, they said, he would have been able to work to clear himself of the charges against him.
“He always told us he wished he had the strength to fight,” said his lawyer, Amit Hadad.
Before the case against Ben- Eliezer broke in June 2014, he was expected to be a front-runner in the election for the presidency that was won by Reuven Rivlin. But he was summoned for questioning four days before the election, forcing him to quit the race.
Ben-Eliezer resigned from public service in December 2014 at 78 years of age, ending decades as a public servant, in order to focus on fighting for his innocence and his health.
Born in Basra, Iraq, in 1936, Ben-Eliezer made aliya in 1950 on his own. At Kibbutz Merhavia, he adopted the name Binyamin, but was referred to often as Fuad, his birth name.
He entered the Knesset in 1984 and held several portfolios during his political tenure.
At the peak of his politicalcareer, Ben-Eliezer became defense minister and head of the Labor Party in 2001. He served as defense minister during the second intifada, in the government of former prime minister Ariel Sharon. He was replaced by Amram Mitzna as leader of the Labor Party in November 2002.
A former IDF brigadier-general, he served in the Six Day War, the Yom Kippur War and was the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories from 1983-1984. He commanded IDF forces in southern Lebanon, helping form the Southern Lebanese Army and the Good Fence.Yonah Jeremy Bob, Ben Hartman and Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.