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Born in pre-state Israel in 1945, Ami grew up on Kibbutz Maagan. He is married with three children and four grandchildren, and currently resides in Kerem Maharal.
Ami did his national military service in the Israel Navy, serving in its elite Flotilla 13 commando unit and winning Israel’s highest military honor, the Ribbon of Valor, for his part in the raid against the Egyptian fortress at Green Island in 1969. He became Flotilla 13’s commander in 1979, earning the Chief of General Staff’s Citation for leading operations again terrorist cells in Lebanon. In 1992, Ami took the helm of the Navy, building up its Dolphin submarine fleet as a strategic arm of the State of Israel.
Having stepped down as top admiral in 1996, Ami was again called upon to serve, this time as director of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency). He is credited with rehabilitating the service, which had been demoralized by the assassination, a year earlier, of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. He also instituted a “Code of Ethics” in the Shin Bet and campaigned for it to be enshrined in law. For these contributions to Israel’s security apparatus, the Movement for Quality Government honored Ami with the “Knight of Quality Government” award. He retired from the Shin Bet in 2000.
Between 2001 and 2004, Ami was board chairman for Netafim, an Israeli irrigation conglomerate. In parallel, he and Prof. Sari Nusseibeh of Al-Quds University formulated a grassroots Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative based on a set of core principles for two-state coexistence. To date, 450,000 people from both sides have signed a declaration of support of the Ayalon-Nusseibeh Statement of Principles.
Ami formally enrolled in Israel's Labor Party in 2004, securing a seat in the Knesset a year later. He served on the parliamentary committees for Foreign Affairs and Defense, State Oversight, Health and Welfare, and Ethics. He chaired the Knesset Subcommittee on National Emergency Readiness, authoring a key assessment of Israel's home-front during the 2006 Second Lebanon War. Those findings were adopted by the State Comptroller’s Office, providing the basis for its formal audit.
In September 2007, Ami joined the Cabinet of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as minister with responsibilities for national civilian service in Israel. He also served as chairman of the Ministerial State Control Committee. Ami quit the Olmert government in December 2008 and, ahead of the national election the following year, announced his retirement from the Labor Party and political life.
Ami holds a BA in economics and political science from Bar-Ilan University (1980); is a graduate of the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island (1982); holds an MA in public administration from Harvard University (1992); and an MA in Law from Bar-Ilan University (2010).
Ami is a senior research fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI) and heads the "Liberal Democracies facing Asymmetric Conflicts" (LD/AC) research program which is a joint project between the IDI and the Herzl Institute at the University of Haifa.
Ayalon serves as the Chairman of the Executive Committee of the University of Haifa and as the Chairman of AKIM Israel (the National Association for the Habilitation of Children and Adults with Intellectual Disabilities); he also heads the "National - Civic Service Forum" whose aim is to create a civic alternative for those wishing to serve the State of Israel and cannot be drafted for army service for various reasons.