Vilnai in March 2001
|Date of birth||20 May 1944|
|Place of birth||Jerusalem, Mandatory Palestine|
|Knessets||15, 16, 17, 18|
|Faction represented in Knesset|
|1999–2002||Minister of Science, Culture & Sport|
|2005||Minister in the Prime Minister's Office|
|2005||Minister of Science and Technology|
|2011–2012||Minister for Home Front Defense|
|2012–||Ambassador to China|
Matan Vilnai (Hebrew: מַתָּן וִילְנַּאִי; born 20 May 1944) is an Israeli politician and a former Major General in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). A former Knesset member and government minister, he was appointed ambassador to China in 2012.
Vilnai was born in Jerusalem in 1944. His father was Prof. Zev Vilnay, a pioneer in the sphere of Israeli geography and Land of Israel studies, from whom he inherited a love of nature and hiking. Matan graduated from the Hebrew Reali School in 1962 and was drafted into the Israel Defense Forces, serving in the Paratroopers Brigade and the elite reconnaissance unit Sayeret Matkal. He was deputy commander  of the assault force in Operation Thunderbolt, also known as the Entebbe Raid, to free Jewish and Israeli passengers taken hostage by Palestinian and German terrorists after their Air France plane was hijacked to Entebbe, Uganda. Vilnai led the assault team into the airport building, while another team secured the outside. As a major general, Vilnai was the head of the Manpower Directorate, as well as the Deputy Chief of Staff.
In the run up to the 1999 elections Vilnai joined the Labor Party (which was running as part of the One Israel alliance), hoping to win a place on its Knesset list. He succeeded, and was voted in to the Knesset. Ehud Barak appointed him Minister of Science, Culture and Sport. Vilnai gave up his Knesset seat six months after the election (he was replaced by Colette Avital), but remained a minister. After Ariel Sharon beat Barak in the 2001 election for Prime Minister, Vilnai was reappointed to his post in the new government.
He re-entered the Knesset after the 2003 elections second on Labor's list, but lost his ministerial post as Sharon formed a right-wing coalition that excluded Labor. However, when several parties left the coalition in the face of the disengagement plan, Labor was invited into the government in January 2005. Vilnai was initially appointed Minister in the Prime Minister's Office. In August 2005 he was appointed Acting Minister of Science and Technology, and the post was made permanent in November.
In the run-up to the 2006 elections, Vilnai competed in the election for Labor Party leader alongside Shimon Peres and Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, but was beaten by Amir Peretz. However, he did retain his Knesset seat in the elections, placing 11th on Labor's list.
In February 2008, whilst Israeli airstrikes in Gaza were ongoing, during interview on Army Radio, Vilnai threatened that Gazan Palestinians "will bring upon themselves a bigger 'shoah' because we will use all our might to defend ourselves." A spokesman for Vilnai said he used the word in the sense of "disaster", saying "he did not mean to make any allusion to the genocide."
Vilnai won sixth place on the Labor list for the 2009 elections, and retained his seat in the subsequent election. In 2011 he was one of the five members to leave the Labor Party to establish Independence, and was appointed to the newly created post of Minister for the Home Front, having originally been made Minister of Minorities. In February 2012 Vilnai was appointed Israel's ambassador to China, a move said to be related to Israeli anxiety over Iran's nuclear program. His Knesset seat was taken by Shachiv Shnaan.
Vilnai lives in Mevasseret Zion and is a married with three children.
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