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Remember the best and hide the rest

The death of former defense minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer has writers recalling the ex-general as a smiling fighter, with (almost) everyone burying any bad blood there may have been

Labor MK Binyamin Ben-Eliezer. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Labor MK Binyamin Ben-Eliezer. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

There’s an idea in society that one doesn’t speak ill of the dead, especially when the body is still warm.

Thus it’s little surprise that Hebrew papers Monday morning are a celebration of former defense minister and Labor party stalwart Binyamin “Fuad” Ben-Eliezer, who died Sunday at 80, including gallons of ink spilled by writers and politicians who may have considered the still-breathing Ben-Eliezer less than a friend.

Much like the death of Ariel Sharon two years ago, with whom Ben-Eliezer shared the “bulldozer” nickname, coverage is replete with tributes to his careers as a tough general and a somewhat more dovish politician, with any harsh memories left on the cutting room floor. Even those who vociferously disagreed with him add to the cacophony of sadness and fond recollections.

“The bulldozer with the smile,” reads a headline in Israel Hayom, a right-wing paper which manages to praise peacenik Ben-Eliezer for his service to the country, if not for his ideologies.

“His work knew the good times. He was a wheeler dealer, but also a good man with much joy. Wanted to give something to everyone and keep arguments from breaking out,” the paper’s Dan Margalit writes, hinting at Ben-Eliezer’s later legal troubles, which get only a passing reference in much of the coverage. “He had a sense for horse-trading even in his days in officers’ school. He knew how to surround himself with movers and to latch onto himself activists in key position and make political deals which, as much as it’s not considered nice to speak about, are thought of as legitimate in the power struggles in any democratic regime.”

The word “fighter” comes up a lot in tribute to Ben-Eliezer, including in Yedioth’s headline “A fighter to the end,” likely a reference to the graft indictment he was fighting when he died.

Yet even for a tough guy, he’s remembered as a big ol’ bear by Yedioth’s Sima Kadmon.

“Fuad was an extraordinary man among politicians: big-hearted, with a big smile, a good friend, with a sense of humor. He didn’t take himself too seriously. All of these traits are rare to find among his colleagues,” she writes.

In Haaretz, which despite being the voice of Ben-Eliezer’s left wing is the only paper to not lead with his death, columnist Yossi Verter plays the two sides of Ben-Eliezer off one another, recalling him as the friendliest friend this side of the Knesset, but also, a politician who wouldn’t take any guff from anyone.

“His pleasantness, his earthiness, the fact that he had always acted humbly, even when he was at the top of the world as defense minister (in Ariel Sharon’s first government) and as chairman of the Labor party, made him a darling of the media and political inner circles. His chumminess was his best-known feature,” he writes. “But he could also be cruel, vicious and vindictive. He left a lot of bleeding bodies on the political battlefield.”

One person who apparently didn’t get the memo about only speaking nicely of Ben-Eliezer was Yossi Beilin, a former political rival who took to the airwaves Sunday night to “ harvest the deceased’s organs one after the other, even though the body was still warm,” in Verter’s telling.

Yedioth TV columnist Einav Schiff also took note of Beilin’s attack, recounting his appearance on TV Sunday night like Herb Morrison watching the Hindenburg go down.

“Veteran anchor [Yaakov Ayalon] who recognized the attack with horror, still tried to steer the interview in a less torturous direction. Beilin wasn’t impressed and continued to run roughshod over the presenter, as well as in reverse. One should hope that they had enough napkins at the station for Beilin to wipe off his makeup as well as the blood on his lips,” Schiff writes.

Put a Kurd on it

Haaretz’s decision to push Ben-Eliezer below the fold is somewhat telling, given that there’s not really major news to overtake him. Instead the paper fills the top of its front page with news only tangentially related to Israel, namely Turkey’s intensified fight inside Syria and Germany talks on the UK Brexit.

Rather than rely on wire services to cover Ankara’s offensive, the paper calls in Mideast correspondent Zvi Bar’el for some context beyond the daily accounts of battle lines and death tolls. Bar’el writes that the Turkish decision to quickly shift the fight from a shrinking Islamic State to the Kurds show how badly the international community screwed up when it balked at taking decisive action against the terror group years ago.

“If the conquest of Jarablus and the battle against the Syrian Kurds threaten to morph into a permanent front separate from the war on the Islamic State, this makes even clearer the degree to which the war on ISIS missed the target in its early stages,” he writes. “The Islamic State, which is being defeated by modest forces and is withdrawing to avoid air and ground attacks, has been showing the limits of its power. So we see the strategic errors made by the West, Russia and even Iran when in 2014 they didn’t launch a major offensive against those guys on the pickup trucks capturing large swaths of Iraq and Syria.”

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