JERUSALEM (JTA) – Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, a former Israeli Labor Party leader and defense minister who served in the Knesset for 30 years, has died.
Ben Eliezer, who withdrew from the country’s presidential election in 2014 over corruption charges, died Sunday in a Tel Aviv hospital. He was 80.
Known by the nickname “Fouad,” Ben-Eliezer served in the Knesset from 1984 through 2014. He led the Labor Party in 2001 and 2002.
In the early 2000s he was the defense minister for four years under prime minister Ariel Sharon during the second Palestinian intifada. The West Bank security fence was built during his tenure.
In December 2014, Ben Eliezer resigned from the Knesset for health reasons. A year later he was indicted for receiving more than $500,000 from businessmen in return for political favours. He paid a nearly $3 million fine in a plea bargain in May, which kept him out of prison.
Along with being defense minister, he served in the Cabinet as housing, infrastructure, communications, and industry and trade minister.
Ben-Eliezer was born in Basra, Iraq, in 1936 and immigrated to Israel as a teen immediately after the birth of the state. He had a distinguished military career in Israel, beginning his service in the Israel Defense Forces in the Golani Brigade, which he served as an officer. He served as deputy battalion commander during the Yom Kippur War, and was appointed battalion commander of the IDF brigade responsible for protecting the Lebanese border. He was the first commander of South Lebanon, and served as commander of the Judea and Samaria region for four years until 1982, when he retired from the IDF, returning in 1984 for one year to serve as coordinator of government activities in the West Bank and Gaza.
On a visit to Tunisia in 1994 with prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, Ben Eliezer became the first Israeli minister to meet PLO chair Yasser Arafat.
In December 2014, Ben-Eliezer received a kidney transplant and several months later was placed in a medically induced coma with a serious case of the flu until his health improved.
“Fouad served the State of Israel for decades as a fighter, commander, public servant and senior government minister,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement. “I knew him and I esteemed his contribution and his special personality. In my many conversations with him, Fouad expressed his concern for – and commitment to – the future of the State of Israel that he loved so much. May his memory be blessed.”