Marking a departure from the stream of praise heaped upon former defense minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer who died on Sunday, former minister Yossi Beilin criticized the newly deceased politician — and accused those who didn’t follow suit of being guilty of “hypocrisy,” in interviews on Sunday night and Monday morning.
As news came out that the long-ailing Ben-Eliezer had succumbed to complications from a routine dialysis treatment on Sunday, politicians from across party lines released statements referring to the former general and statesman, and one-time candidate for the presidency, as a “brave warrior” and a lover of Israel.
But Beilin, who served alongside Ben-Eliezer in the Labor Party, remembered Ben-Eliezer not as a refined statesman, but as “an aggressive, destructive politician,” in an interview on Channel 1 on Sunday night.
“It is a sad night, but I’m not prepared to participate in ‘do not speak ill of the dead,'” Beilin said.
“He was a politician who should not have been the presidential candidate of a party like the Labor Party,” he said.
Ben-Eliezer, known affectionately in Israel by his nickname Fuad, ran for president in 2014 and was considered a strong candidate for the largely ceremonial post — usually reserved for well-liked politicians at the twilight of their careers — before being forced to drop out when graft allegations arose.
Beilin first encountered Ben-Eliezer in 1984. Following the election that year, Beilin was named cabinet secretary, while Ben-Eliezer served in the Knesset as a member of Yahad, a short-lived centrist party.
Four years later, Yahad dissolved and both Beilin and Ben-Eliezer served in the Alignment Party, a predecessor to today’s Labor.
In the 15 years that followed, Beilin went on to hold several ministerial positions, including justice minister and minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, before he dropped out of political life in 2008. Ben-Eliezer also filled multiple ministerial rules, but his peak came in 2001 when he was named defense minister by then-prime minister Ariel Sharon.
However, according to Beilin, this was in name only. “Sharon really held that position,” he said.
Ben-Eliezer’s years in politics and the IDF, as well as efforts to build relationships between Israel and the Arab world, made him a singularly popular and well-regarded figure both in Israel’s halls of power and elsewhere in the region.
But not to Beilin, who said the former Israel Defense Forces general, who emigrated to Israel from Iraq in 1950, marred his military service and his personal achievements with a political career that ended in a corruption trial.
“I hope that the other years, the years of his immigration and military service, were more proper than his years in Israeli politics,” Beilin said, in a monotone.
Ya’akov Eilon, the presenter for Channel 1 news, professed himself “shocked” by Beilin’s remarks.
On Monday morning, the former justice minister was invited to speak on Army Radio to clarify his statement.
In the radio interview, Beilin refused to back down from the claim and went on to accuse his colleagues of duplicity.
“When I hear people who used to say harsh things about him now going on television and competing over who can praise him more — I have to say there’s some limit on hypocrisy. [He was] the ugly politician in Israeli politics,” Beilin said.
“Tell me, are you not ashamed of yourselves?” he asked his fellow politicians rhetorically.
Criminal proceedings against Ben-Eliezer began in January 2015, when the attorney general at the time, Yehuda Weinstein, accepted a police recommendation to indict the politician and 10 of his associates.
Ben-Eliezer was indicted in December by state prosecutors for allegedly demanding and receiving more than NIS 2 million (over $500,000) from business people in exchange for actions he allegedly took as a public servant.
In May, state prosecutors offered Ben-Eliezer a plea bargain aimed at punishing the octogenarian without forcing him to serve time in prison. He was offered the option of paying an NIS 11 million ($2.86 million) fine in exchange for not serving time in prison.