Two Longtime Israeli Lawmakers Say They're Quitting Politics

MK Yuval Steinitz announces end to political life after 23 years in Likud, while Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Freige says he is leaving Knesset but will continue to work to draw Arab voters to Meretz

Noa Shpigel
Noa Shpigel
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Likud MK Yuval Steinitz poses for a photograph during an interview with Reuters, in Jerusalem in 2016.
Likud MK Yuval Steinitz poses for a photograph during an interview with Reuters, in Jerusalem in 2016.Credit: Ronen Zvulun/REUTERS
Noa Shpigel
Noa Shpigel

Two veteran lawmakers – Likud Knesset member Yuval Steinitz and Meretz lawmaker-turned-minister Esawi Freige – announced on Tuesday that they would not run in the upcoming Knesset election.

The 64-year-old Steinitz said that “After 23 years as a Knesset member – during which I was honored to serve as finance, intelligence and energy minister and as chairman of the [Knesset] Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee – I felt that my family and I deserve to breathe a little fresh air."

“I thank members of Likud and all the people of Israel for the rare privilege I had to serve the homeland and to influence issues concerning the country’s existence and prosperity,” Steinitz said.

Likud and opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu called Steinitz a “faithful partner in the successful economic policies that guided Israel though the best decade in its history.” He wished him success and added that he was “sure that Yuval will continue to contribute to the citizens of Israel and our beloved country.”

Sources in Likud said they believed Steinitz was leaving politics out of fear that he would win a relatively low spot in the party’s election slate in the upcoming primary.

However, a person who has been close to Steinitz in recent years told Haaretz that polls showed that if he had run he would have garnered a place between 10th and 20th in the list and would have received a cabinet portfolio, should Likud form a government. The source said Steinitz had weighed leaving politics on at least two occasions over the past few years, mainly because he had become tired of it after so many years.

In February, the Judicial Appointments Committee named Steinitz’s wife, Gila Canfy Steinitz, a Supreme Court justice. Formerly a Jerusalem District Court judge, Canfy Steinitz won the backing of Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar as well as Supreme Court President Esther Hayut and Justices Isaac Amit and Uzi Vogelman.

A year ago, Haaretz reported that Steinitz, who has a doctorate in philosophy, told police investigators probing the submarines affair that “there are all kinds of figures in Likud, whose names I don’t want to mention, who are connected with the underworld." He added, “I’ve never asked them for a donation and when they ask to meet with me, I never agree to sit with them alone.”

Also on Tuesday, Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Freige announced that he will not run in the next election on Meretz’s Knesset slate, but will continue to work for the party’s success in the Arab community.

Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Freige at a Haaretz convention in 2021, in Jaffa.Credit: Hadas Parush

“I have wholeheartedly decided to take a timeout from the Knesset, not from public life,” he tweeted. “I’ve mobilized fully for Meretz’s success and the bloc’s victory ... Free of personal interests, I intend to work on the Arab street to convince people that voting is important for the Arab community’s future.”

Despite his praise for Meretz, however, he criticized party leader Nitzan Horowitz. In an interview with Channel 12 News, he said that Horowitz was a good man, “but he won six Knesset seats and didn’t know how to maintain them. Nitzan failed the test of leadership.”

Horowitz would be an excellent Knesset member, he added, “but he can’t be a leader.”

Horowitz retorted that he had made Meretz “a significant factor in the government after 20 years in opposition,” and that Mertz under his leadership “racked up big achievements on abortions, the health system and LGBTQ rights.”

Freige’s colleagues in the party expressed regret at his decision not to run.

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