Noam Shalit -  Yaron Kaminsky - 10012012
Noam Shalit outside his home in Mitzpeh Hila yesterday, before announcing that he would be seeking election to the Knesset. Photo by Yaron Kaminsky
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Noam Shalit, father of abducted soldier Gilad Shalit who spent five years in Hamas captivity in Gaza, said on Monday that he would run for a place on the Labor Party list in the next elections.

"After years of public campaign, during which I got to know Israeli society thoroughly in all its beauty and ideology, I have decided to join public activity," Shalit told reporters.

A party member since 1996, Shalit informed Labor leader Shelly Yachimovich of his decision Monday.

"I want to serve the public and be where I can influence the character of Israeli society," he said.

Shalit and his wife Aviva joined the party after the murder of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. In 1999 Shalit served as Labor branch head in his local region. His father, Zvi, was active in Labor MK Isaac Herzog's primaries campaign last year.

Yachimovich spoke to Shalit several times over the past month and the two met in her Tel Aviv home. After further consultation Shalit decided to run for Labor's Knesset list in the primaries.

"Labor is a social-democratic, peace-seeking party, so it is my natural home. I believe that, under Shelly Yachimovich's leadership, Labor will be able to do important things for Israeli society," he said.

Yachimovich congratulated Shalit, saying, "Shalit and his family's struggle to free Gilad started as a private battle, but turned into a campaign encompassing the basic values of Israeli society - solidarity, mutual support and Zionism.

"Noam's battle is an example of an admirable public campaign, restrained yet determined and effective at the same time," she said. "This campaign united the whole of Israeli society around shared values. Noam has been a Labor Party man for many years, and I am convinced his contribution as a Knesset member will be a great one."

Shalit and his family became the focus of public attention after their son was abducted, and over the past five years gained an image of a reserved, composed, down-to-earth family.

Shalit refused to come out of his Mitzpeh Hila home on Monday evening to speak to reporters and photographers waiting outside his door in the pouring rain.

"He should understand he's no longer an abducted soldier's father. He's a politician now," one impatient photographer said.

Shalit had planned on having his photograph taken on Tuesday at a news conference at party headquarters in Beit Berl to explain his decision. Finally he came out for a few seconds, faced the flashing cameras and returned home. He told Haaretz he does not see himself as a politician yet.

"It's too early to describe me as a politician," he said.

He said he hoped the experience he has acquired over the years in dealing with the public and the media will help him in his new direction.

Shalit's announcement took many activists from the campaign to free Gilad Shalit by surprise.