Former Tourism Minister and Religious Zionist leader Rabbi Binyamin “Benny” Elon died on Friday after a decade-long struggle with cancer.
The son of late Deputy Chief Justice Menachem Elon, and brother of one-time star among National Religious scholars Rabbi Mordechai (Motti) Elon, Benny Elon succeeded in carving his own, unique path as educator and politician.
Born in Jerusalem in November 1954, Rabbi Elon studied at the Mercaz HaRav yeshiva, and Kollel HaIdra on the Golan Heights, before receiving his rabbinical ordination in 1978. He co-founded the Beit Orot Talmudic College, together with the late Hanan Porat, and served as its first dean.
Elon was first elected to the Knesset in 1996, as member of the nationalist Moledet party, which appealed to both religious and secular Israelis. In 1999, Moledet joined a coalition of right-wing parties that ran under the name National Union. Following the assassination of Moledet leader Gen. Rehavam Ze’evi (Gandhi) in 2001, Elon was elected to replace him as party chairman and as Tourism Minister, a post he kept for two terms, from 2001 to 2002, and from 2003 to 2004, both in coalition governments headed by Ariel Sharon.
During Elon’s second term in office, Prime Minister Sharon fired him and Minister Avigdor Liberman, over their objection to his plan to expel some 8,000 Jews from their homes in the Gaza Strip, pull the IDF from the strip and abandon the entire area to the Arabs.
After his retirement from politics, Rabbi became president of International Israel Allies Caucus Foundation (IIACF), a lobbying group promoting ties between the Jewish State and pro-Israel Christians around the world.
In February 2006, Elon was diagnosed with throat cancer, and continued his political activity for another two and a half years before he had to retire. He is survived by his wife, author, journalist, and women’s rights activist Emuna Elon and their six children, his mother Ruth Elon, widow of Justice Menachem Elon, and four siblings.