Israeli ex-minister Yaakov Neeman dies aged 77

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Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Yaakov Neeman, an Israeli politician who served as justice minister and finance minister under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, died in his Jerusalem home on Sunday. He was 77.

Yaakov Neeman in 2012
Image: Oyoyoy.

Born in 1939 in Tel Aviv, Neeman, alongside future President Chaim Herzog, founded law firm Herzog, Fox and Neeman in 1972. He was appointed finance minister in 1979, a position he held until 1981. He was later appointed justice minister by Netanyahu, based on his legal training and loyalty.

Unusually for a senior minister, he had never served in the Knesset. He held the job for two months before resigning; he was being investigated for perjury. Michael Ben-Yair, Attorney General of the day, launched the probe after Neeman testified at a bribery trial. Neeman was cleared.

Neeman regained the Justice Ministry post in 1997, resigning again the next year. He blamed insufficient support from Netanyahu and resumed law. In 2009 Netanyahu was reelected, again appointing Neeman minister of justice. In 2013 this role passed to the Hatnua party's Tzipi Livni.

Neeman's last resignation, in 2013, came as he was under investigation by the Israel Tax Authority for evading tax via his law company. The Tel Aviv Magistrates Court ultimately acquitted him.

Outside law and politics Neeman was also an industrialist. He worked with Israel Aircraft Industries, airline El Al, and the Israel Atomic Energy Commission. In 1986 he was credited as key to convincing business partner Herzog, who was then president, with pardoning members of the Israel Security Agency; after a bus was hijacked, security forces shot dead two Palestinians once the hijack had concluded.

Neeman specialised in tax law. A fluent English speaker, he had degrees from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and New York University. His wife and six children survive him.

Current President Reuven Rivlin spoke of a good lawyer and advisor whose wisdom he had sought as recently as last week. "The entire Justice Department bows his head", said current Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked. Herzog's son Isaac Herzog, leader of the opposition Zionist Union, spoke of "a tender-hearted, broad-minded and generous man" who "was a mentor and close friend for tens of years."

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein said Neeman was "a unique figure in our public life, blessed with talent and pleasantness, who believed in his heritage and his people with his entire body." Netanyahu called Neeman "one of the senior jurists in the country, of a sharp mind and a warm Jewish heart."

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