Moshe Kahlon, one of Likud's most popular ministers and a favorite with the public and media for opening up the cellphone market, announced he was quitting politics on Sunday, for now at least, and would not run in the January election.
"I've decided to take a break and not to run for the Knesset," said Kahlon, who heads both the Communications Ministry and the Social Affairs Ministry. "I support Likud under [Benjamin] Netanyahu, and I have agreed with the prime minister that I will be part of his 100-days team on financial and social welfare matters, as well as promoting future reforms in the next Knesset, led by Likud and Netanyahu."
Several Likud ministers either called on Kahlon to reconsider or said they hoped his break from politics would be brief.
"Kahlon has an important contribution to make to the Likud party," said Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan. "It is important for the citizens of this country that he remain within the political system."
Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat said she was sorry to hear Kahlon was leaving. "I hope he'll be back soon," she said. Associates of Kahlon rejected suggestions that the announcement was a product of a political disagreement or motivated by any factors other than "rest and vacation," as his spokesman, Nadav Sheinberg, put it.
"I've been through four intensive and difficult years, and I think I need a break," said Kahlon.
Some details about the decision prompted a slight disagreement with Netanyahu's office.
Kahlon told Channel 2 news that he had informed Netanyahu of his decision two weeks ago and was asked to hold off on making the announcement. But representatives of Netanyahu said his office was not informed of the decision until last night.
More than a year ago, Netanyahu was urging all his ministers to act like Kahlon. "Be Kahlons and find solutions," he said in response to the consumer boycott of cottage cheese and the related protests over the high cost of living.
Netanyahu, who made the comment at a cabinet meeting, was referring to Kahlon's introduction of greater competition into the Israeli cellphone market. Kahlon's critics have said he has not been as successful with the Social Affairs Ministry.
Kahlon's first significant victory came in 2006, when he placed second, after Netanyahu, on the Likud ticket. In the last election Kahlon ranked sixth and was appointed communications minister. He was assigned the social affairs portfolio as well after the Labor Party quit the coalition.
He recently said he was interested in becoming finance minister after the next election.
Kahlon's brother Uri said he was convinced the minister was stepping down solely so he could experience a bit of a time-out. "This is about rest and a break that my brother took," he said. "I am convinced that this is about resting and not about anything else - not fears or concerns or disagreements."
Uri Kahlon said he expected to see his brother back in the saddle within two years.
"What's for sure is that he's still a Likud man," he said. "He is staying in Likud."
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