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Israeli political scene runs hot and cold

January 9, 2012 | 12:56 pm

REPORTING FROM JERUSALEM -- According to schedule, Benjamin Netanyahu's government has until November 2013 before elections, but a recent flurry of activity is already injecting new life into the Israeli political system.

On Monday, Noam Shalit announced he would run for a seat in parliament with the Labor Party. Shalit, a soft-spoken engineer from a quiet northern community, was forced into celebrity during the five years he campaigned for the release of his son Gilad from captivity by Palestinians in Gaza. Gilad's release came two months ago as part of a prisoner exchange between Israel and the militant group Hamas.

Labor Chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich welcomed the candidacy. The Shalit family is a role model for "running a reserved and honest public campaign," she wrote as she welcomed Noam on her Facebook page. Noam Shalit and his wife, Aviva, are long-registered members of Labor, joining shortly after its then-leader, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, was assassinated in 1995.

Noam Shalit is the second local celebrity to plunge into national politics this week. A day earlier, popular television anchor Yair Lapid announced he was quitting journalism to form an independent political party and run for public office.

The flurry of activity prompted a senior member of Netanyahu's government, Minister Gilad Erdan, to turn to journalists, television celebrities and performers and advise them not to quit their day jobs. "Elections are not being held just yet," he joked.

Indeed, they are not supposed to be held until late next year, but few Israeli governments have lived out their full term in the last few decades. Netanyahu's coalition is typically described as stable by political observers but Monday saw a dispute in his ruling Likud party, with rumors -- quickly denied -- that the prime minister was reserving a party slot for Defense Minister Ehud Barak, originally of Labor but very close to Netanyahu in recent years.

If some segments of Israel's political system were getting overheated with celebrity buzz and early elections speculation, others were on hand to provide a cold shower, literally. During a meeting of the Knesset's Education, Culture and Sports Committee, lawmaker Anastassia Michaeli poured a glass of water over another lawmaker, Ghaleb Majadleh, whom she accused of calling her a "fascist." 

The fracas occurred during a discussion concerning an Arab principal reprimanded for taking his high school students to a human rights march. Majadleh said Michaeli aggressively interrupted him when he had the floor and asked her to "shut up please." The incident will be further discussed by the Knesset's Ethics Committee, after a complaint by Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin against Michaeli.


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-- Batsheva Sobelman

Photo: Noam Shalit, right, escorts his son Gilad Shalit just shortly after the young Israeli soldier's release from Palestinian captivity in October. Also in the photo are Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minster Ehud Barak, far left. Credit: Israeli government