Labor Party MK Binyamin Ben-Eliezer’s bid for the presidency went up in smoke Friday after police questioned him for nearly five hours on suspicion that he illegally received millions of shekels from various sources, using some of the money to purchase a luxury apartment home in Jaffa.
Police also investigated whether Ben-Eliezer, a former general and minister of defense, failed to file taxes on millions of shekels in his bank accounts.
Police officials said that investigators were highly unlikely to complete their work by Tuesday, when the 120 Knesset members are to cast their votes to elect the next president of Israel. Incumbent Shimon Peres’s seven-year term ends on July 27. Ben-Eliezer, 78, is one of six candidates for the job.
Ben-Eliezer formally dropped out of the race, stating, “It appears I have been the subject of a targeted assassination. From the moment I announced my candidacy, I have been the target of a campaign to defame me.”
Ben-Eliezer was not the frontrunner for the post – Likud’s Reuven Rivlin is the favorite – but was considered to have a chance of making the second-round run-off between the two top candidates. (A Channel 10 poll Friday among the Israeli public, who have no say in the presidential election, gave Rivlin 35%, Nobel chemistry Laureate Dan Shechtman 24% and Ben-Eliezer just 6%; the poll was taken before news of the allegations against Ben-Eliezer.) Some analysts speculated that the derailment of Ben-Eliezer’s campaign might work to the advantage of another center-left candidate, Hatnua MK Meir Sheetrit.
Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein ordered police to investigate Ben-Eliezer after receiving information earlier this week regarding the latter’s allegedly improper dealings, Channel 2 reported. Weinstein reportedly agonized over the decision, knowing that if Ben-Eliezer were summoned, his presidential campaign would likely be over, but that if police only investigated after Tuesday’s vote, and Ben-Eliezer had been elected to the symbolic but highly prestigious post, the repercussions could be still more problematic.
Read more: The Times of Israel