The opposition is scrambling as Benjamin Ben-Eliezer withdraws days before elections. The Left’s best candidate may well be on the Right, but political tribalism looks set to triumph.
Labor’s candidate for president, Benajmin “Fuad” Ben-Eliezer announced on Saturday that he is withdrawing from the race, just four days before the vote. Ben-Eliezer’s decision came after he spent much of Friday being interrogated concerning allegedly illicit cash transfers from an Israeli businessman, which allowed Ben Eliezer to purchase a luxurious penthouse apartment in Jaffa late last year.
Questions have been asked about the house before, as the Labor candidate’s 60 years on state salaries – first in the IDF and then as parliamentarian and minister – made such an ostentatious purchase somewhat suspicious. The prosecution and police, however, moved in only after businessman Abraham Nanikwashwili was implicated in another investigation, that of bribery and nepotism at the port of Ashdod. According to several reports in the Israeli media, police reviewed Ben Eliezer’s bank accounts without his knowledge and found transfers that the veteran parliamentarian failed to report to the Knesset.
The candidate was called in for questioning on Friday morning, and when interrogators deemed his replies unsatisfactory and evasive, he was told that he was now being interrogated under caution. On Saturday afternoon, Ben Eliezer announced that he was withdrawing his name from the race, decrying the timing of the questioning as suspicious and the entire investigation as a “targeted assassination attempt” against his political career.
A scramble for candidates
The withdrawal leaves the center-left without its most senior candidate, and sent parliamentarians scrambling for a figure behind whom they can unite – if not for the first round of votes then for the crucial second one, which will be held to determine which of the two leading candidates will receive over 60 votes (in other words, over half the votes available in the Knesset to become Israel’s 10th president). The challenge is made all the greater considering the vote, by law, is private and confidential; at the end of the day, each MK will be voting according to his or her conscience, and party discipline cannot really be enforced.
To add to the opposition’s woes, for each characteristic they might require of a centrist president, there is more than one candidate to choose from. Centrist? All four: former Knesset speaker Dalia Itzik, former finance minister Meir Sheetrit, Nobel Laureate Dan Shechtman...Read More