Until six months ago, as the head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), Avi Dichter had to limit his appearances in the public eye as he battled against terror behind the scenes.
Now, as a Kadima candidate for Knesset, Dichter has begun touring the country to meet ordinary Israelis and battle for votes for his adoptive party.
Dichter decided to make his first campaign stop the Sharon Mall in Netanya, which has been the site of three high-profile terrorist attacks. He said the decision was symbolic because, at his old job, he saw the mall in troubled times - and now he was seeing it crowded with people as he started his new life as a civilian and politician.
"It was natural to come here because I know this mall from a different perspective in tragic circumstances," Dichter said. "It's inspiring to see this place so full of life."
Dichter looked like a fish out of water shaking hands with shoppers at Steimatzky. He smiled widely like a politician, but the way he looked people in the eyes intensely and spoke to them in five different languages showed that he is still a Shin Bet man.
He talked with high school kids about Harry Potter, spoke in Arabic with modestly-clad Muslim women at a clothing store and joked with a septuagenarian shopper in Yiddish.
Dichter genuinely looked interested as Revital, the head of the cosmetics department at Super-Pharm, explained how sales have skyrocketed despite terrorist attacks.
But he didn't look completely at home until he went outside the mall and talked to security guards about where last month's suicide bombing took place and how the mall was working to prevent another such incident.
Unlike recent shopping mall trips by Labor chairman Amir Peretz and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, where the faces of the politicians were well known to the shoppers, very few people at the mall recognized Dichter or the candidates accompanying him, Deputy Internal Security Minister Ya'acov Edri and former Education Ministry director-general Ronit Tirosh.
The shoppers at the Netanya mall asked questions like "Who is that guy with all the cameramen?" "Are they making a movie here?" and "What is the head of the Shin Bet doing at the mall?"
Asked whether he was disappointed that so few people recognized him, Dichter appeared perplexed by the question. "I am surprised that anyone [at all] knows me - I'm not from Netanya," he said.
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