Perhaps less well-known internationally than some of his counterparts, Meir Sheetrit has been a key figure in Israeli politics for decades, and on Tuesday came second in the election for the country's 10th president, losing in the second round to Likud stalwart Reuven Rivlin.
Sheetrit immigrated to Israel from Morocco as a child, and has been a Knesset member for almost three decades. He served as the head of the Yavne local authority for 13 years and as minister in various offices.
He was born on October 10, 1948 in Ksar es Souk, Morocco to a family of rabbis. In 1957, after a journey of a few months, the young Meir arrived in Israel with his family. At first, they settled in Netivot in southern Israel, but soon after moved to Yavne, near Ashdod, where Sheetrit began his political activity on the local level. During his IDF service, he served as a commander in the medical corps. He left the military with the rank of captain in the reserves.
Sheetrit set up a group of young people in Yavne, seeking to bring change to the community. At 25, he was elected to the local council for the first time, and served in this post from 1974 to 1987.
His success in the position, in particular in light of his relative youth, won him political recognition on the national level. In 1981, he was elected to the Knesset for the Likud, and served in the 10th and 11th parliaments. In the 1988 elections for the 12th Knesset, Sheetrit did not run for a spot for the Likud, and instead spent the next four years as treasurer of the Jewish Agency and World Zionist Organization.
Meir Sheetrit (Photo: Gil Yochanan)
But when the elections came around for the 13th Knesset in 1992, the former MK declared his intent to run for the Likud leadership, something which he never followed through, due to the serious illness of his daughter. In the 14th Knesset, he became deputy Knesset speaker, coalition chairman and head of the Likud's parliamentary faction. In 1997 he was completely cleared of charges for fraud and breach of trust during his stint as Jewish Agency treasurer.
In February 1999, three months before the elections that would see him ousted, then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed Sheetrit as his finance minister. After Netanyahu's electoral defeat and decision to step down as party chief, Sheetrit ran against unsuccessfully against Ariel Sharon for the Likud leadership.
With Sharon's election as prime minister in 2001, Sheetrit was appointed justice minister. Two years later, in Sharon's new government, he became a minister without portfolio and later a minster in the Finance Ministry, alongside Netanyahu. In July 2004, he was appointed minister of transport after the dismissal of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
Sheetrit joined Sharon when he quit Likud in 2005 to set up the Kadima party and won a Knesset seat for the party in the 17th Knesset elections in March 2006. In May 2006 he was appointed housing minister in the government put together by Ehud Olmert, who replaced Sharon following his stroke. Between August and November 2006, he served as acting justice minister when Haim Ramon resigned due to sexual assault charges.
Sheetrit became interior minister in July 2007, and ran for the Kadima leadership in September 2008, following Olmert's resignation, but finished in third place far behind Tzipi Livni and Shaul Mofaz.
He left Kadima in late 2012, to join Livni in her new Hatnua party. Since the last Knesset elections in 2013, he has served as chairman of Hatnua faction and deputy Knesset speaker.
Sheetrit is married with two children, and still lives in Yavne. He has a BA in microbiology and biochemistry and a master's degree in public policy from Bar-Ilan University. He is a trustee of the University of Ben-Gurion and of Bar-Ilan University.