Politicians, officials, friends and others paid tribute to former defense minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer following his death Sunday, recalling the general and 30-year Knesset veteran as a person who devoted his life to securing and serving the state of Israel.
Ben-Eliezer, known affectionately as Fuad, died at the age of 80 after complications from a routine dialysis treatment.
His 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.
The former Labor Party chairman and Israel Defense Forces general who emigrated to Israel from Iraq in 1950, serving in several military campaigns before entering politics in 1984, was lauded by lawmakers at home as a public servant who courageously defended the Jewish state throughout his career.
“For decades, Fuad served the State of Israel as a fighter, commander public servant and senior minister,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. “In many conversations I had with Fuad, he expressed his concern and commitment to the future of this country which he loved so much.”
Opposition head Isaac Herzog, who chairs the Labor Party Ben-Eliezer once led, praised his long-time colleague as “a brave warrior that finished his military service as a brigadier general and went on to an impressive political career, reaching the positions of defense minister and chair of the Labor Party.”
Ben-Eliezer 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. He was indicted in 2015, but never stood trial as his health declined.
President Reuven Rivlin, who beat out Ben-Eliezer, praised his former rival for “giving his best years to defend and fortify the state.”
“In his many years as a parliamentarian and minister, he served faithfully and wholeheartedly,” the president said. “In his passing, we salute his love of Israel.”
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman hailed Ben-Eliezer’s “significant contribution to the security of Israel,” and recalled the former minister as a “good man in the fullest sense, with a smile and a friendly slap on the back.”
Ben-Eliezer had suffered from various health issues for a number of years, and in December 2014 underwent a kidney transplant. Several months later, he was hospitalized with a serious case of influenza, at which time he was hooked up to life support until his condition improved.
Ben-Eliezer was being treated at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv when he passed away from complications stemming from routine dialysis treatment.
Former president Shimon Peres on Sunday evening said he would remember Ben-Eliezer as “a fighter and brave commander in the IDF, a warm and loving man whose heart was deeply planted in the soil of this country and the fate of its people.”
Many from the opposite side of the political spectrum also praised Ben-Eliezer.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan called him “a beloved public servant who loved the people.”
Recalling him as a “warm and sensitive man,” Erdan hailed Ben-Eliezer for his “many years of service in defense of the State of Israel.”
Education Minister Naftali Bennett called the former minister “a fighter for the security of Israel.”
“From the Suez crisis in ’56 to the Second Intifada, his life was intertwined in the history of our people,” Bennett said. “He was a fighter, a public servant, and above all — a man,” Bennett said.
Born in southern Iraq, Ben-Eliezer went on to have a storied career as a military commander, politician and peace negotiator in Israel. He was known for being the first Israeli minister to meet with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in 1994 and for his convivial relationship with Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak.