Meet the Face Behind 'Yisrael Sheli,' a Right-wing Organization Which Attracts Facebook Friends and Controversy

Ayelet Shaked, 36, recently entered politics; 'I am not a fascist,' she says, 'no one has a higher regard for democracy than me.'

Ayelett Shani
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Ayelett Shani

Two and a half years ago you founded an extreme-right organization, Yisrael Sheli − My Israel.

It is not extreme.

Okay. And last week you announced you were joining Habayit Hayehudi, Uri Orbach’s party. Is your goal now to be a Knesset member?

The primaries are in November and now is registration time. Would you like to join the party?

No. Will you hold parlor meetings?

Yes. Parlor meetings, bigger meetings, talks. I will tell people who I am, where I came from, what I believe in and what I want to do.

There is a pronounced contrast between the place you come from and the things you believe in.

That’s true. I am a Tel Avivian, I grew up here in the Bavli neighborhood, I attended Ironi Dalet High School, I was a battalion leader in the Scouts and in the army I was an education noncom in the Golani Brigade, which is where I connected very strongly with the religious-Zionist public. Lovely people. Now they are helping me, my former army buddies. I graduated summa cum laude from high school, but things were harder at university. That’s it. Since then I have been working in a high-tech company, apart from a break of a few years when I worked with [Benjamin] Netanyahu when he was leader of the opposition, at his nadir. I was his bureau chief. Two and a half years ago, I founded My Israel together with Naftali Bennett, who was with me in the bureau.

What’s Naftali Bennett’s story in this? Who is he?

A Haifa guy, a dos [religiously observant], served in [elite commando unit] Sayeret Matkal, established a high-tech company, made an exit and then looked for a way to contribute to the state. When Bibi was looking for a chief of staff, he became his chief of staff. A mutual friend introduced us, and we started to work together for Netanyahu.

And now you are both continuing into Habayit Hayehudi. He is running for first place.

Yes.

Did he prove himself in the years you worked together?

He never disappointed me in any meaningful way, never.

What does he want? What is he aiming for?

I think at the moment he wants to enter politics, his aim is to go as far as possible.

To become prime minister.

Yes.

And you?

I don’t think I am made of that stuff.

What stuff?

Very determined stuff, readiness to undertake a huge self-sacrifice. I see the difference between me and him. To be prime minister you need to be very focused, very goal-oriented, very cruel.

Cruel?!

You have to be cruel.

Is there no cruelty in you?

No.

Is Bibi, your former boss, cruel?

Bibi is a different story.

Why? He’s been prime minister twice.

I don’t know if I would describe him as cruel. I would describe him as self-interested. He doesn’t see anyone other than himself and his close family.

How close were you to him?

Very, very close. His team is always very close to him. But everyone was putty in his hands to realize the goal.

Did you see the article in Vanity Fair?

People told me about it.

They claim that it’s his wife who manages the bureau and the country.

In politics every life partner is very involved.

Being involved is one thing, managing is another.

She is very involved, they are a very close couple.

Was she nice to you?

I don’t want to talk about it.

I see. You know, when you're a politician you will get asked a lot of questions.

I have been repelling them for two and a half years already. And I will go on repelling them.

Good luck. What did you learn from Bibi?

Determination, first of all. When he wants to achieve something, he achieves it. Second, I learned from him how important the media is, how important your public status is. That is his prop. He also knows how to tell the wheat from the chaff. Let’s say, during the [Mount Carmel] fire − and people tend to be cynical about this − he knew immediately that the fire had to be put out.

Wow.

Why? What’s the problem? He brought planes and put out the fire. I see that as proof that he can always distinguish between the wheat and the chaff. First of all, do what has to be done.

How did you decide to establish My Israel?

When we were working for Netanyahu, Naftali Bennett and I saw that there were a great many people who wanted to help, but we had nothing for them to do. There were a great many volunteers. And we understood that the majority of the public in Israel is national-Zionist. And then Facebook was created and we realized that we could simply unite that public and put it into action. And after we left the bureau ...

Why did you leave Netanyahu's bureau?

It wasn’t working anymore.

Why not?

Everyone leaves after a year and a half.

Why?

Because it’s impossible. That’s the way it is. I don’t want to get into it.

You now have 80,000 friends on My Israel.

Eighty-seven thousand.

That’s pretty extreme, isn’t it; as though you have an army that is subject to your authority.

They are all very intelligent people. If I say something illogical they will slaughter me.

They are mostly very young.

Sixty percent of them are under 24.

Isn’t that a bit dangerous?

I am telling you it isn’t, because they have good judgment. And they are very intelligent.

Are you familiar with the concept of the iceberg of political extremism? Prof. [Ehud] Sprinzak, who made a study of Gush Emunim, argued that, below the leadership of the party, another structure exists that is constantly expanding and is not visible on the surface. Aren’t you disturbed by the possibility that one of those people could be the next assassin of the prime minister?

Well, what can I do? My responsibility is to activate them sanely.

Doesn’t that responsibility frighten you?

It’s not like that. And by the way, I have learned from experience that caution is needed.

What experience?

For example, [the playwright] Joshua Sobol said something disgusting about the settlements. I know that when 80,000 people attack you it’s not pleasant.

But you will still attack him.

Yes, but with caution. Let’s say, I won’t publish his cell-phone number.

Let’s talk about Habayit Hayehudi. What’s a girl like you doing in a place like that? People might see it as opportunism.

Let them.

Do you and they really have values in common? You and the religious-Zionist movement?

Yes. Very much so. My feeling is that we have the same approach to 90 percent of the issues.

Do you believe in the messiah?

No. I am not sure they believe in the messiah. I asked my friends then, back then, whether they believe in the messiah. I don’t think they are sitting and waiting for him.

It is the doctrine of Rabbi Kook: that redemption will come. I think the settlers are prime examples of messianic fervor.

Some have it and some have it less. Their faith in the messiah is not reflected on a daily basis, nor in any ideological-parliamentary situation.

Doesn’t it bother you that part of the ideology of the party you have joined is to condemn everything you are as a proud secular woman? As “the messiah’s donkey,” the role of the secular public is to redeem the land physically, because that is all it is capable of.

I don’t think that is what Habayit Hayehudi stands for. It stands for upholding Jewish values and tradition. I don’t think they are making a donkey out of me. I don’t look at it like that.

Do you think your appearance serves you? Do you make use of it?

Of course. I can’t say that I don’t. It helps. People feel more empathetic. That is undeniable. I don’t have any cause to use it, I am me, but to be honest, then yes, I know it helps me.

Yesterday I read an item about you with readers’ comments. Someone wrote, “Oy, what a cute fascist.”

Yes. Many people call me a fascist.

Are you a fascist?

No. Definitely not. There is no one who has a higher regard for democracy than I do.

Among the views you hold is that the refugees should be deported, that Gaza is not our problem and that the whole Land of Israel belongs to us by historical right. Our views are so different that there is no point even talking about them. I will ask you, though: When you look at me, a leftist, what do you think? That I am naive? A bleeding heart?

Do you want a democratic Jewish state? That is the very clear line of separation I draw. Whoever believes in a state of all its citizens is foolish and naive. It’s been proved throughout history that the Jewish people in exile was abused and slaughtered. That is why we need to be a majority here, and a strong majority; otherwise we have no right of existence here. Anyone who thinks otherwise has not learned from history.

That is an argument that can be turned around. What have we learned from history? What have we learned from being persecuted? Now we are persecuting others.

We are not doing the same things. We are not abusing people for no reason or killing people for no reason. Our army is very moral.

I don’t buy that validation.

I will give you an extreme example. The soldiers who arrested the murderers of the Fogel family − I admire them for not shooting them in the head. I admire them.

Is that what you would have done?

I hope not, because I have to uphold the law.

That’s what would have stopped you? The law?

Whoever kills children deserves to die. The fact that the soldiers, with restraint, removed them from the house and brought them to the security forces shows greatness.

You made a very controversial decision in that case: You circulated photographs of the bodies of the family members.

True.

How did you come to have the photographs?

Through the Yesha Council [of settlements]. I opened them and just started to cry bitterly at work. And I am not a sentimental person. Not sensitive and not sentimental. But every mother who sees those photographs will weep bitterly. I told my girlfriends: “Don’t look.” But I understand where I live. In the world I live in, this is the game the Arabs are playing.

You made use of those photographs, you edited them into a clip that was circulated on the Internet and reached all the media. Internationally, too.

That’s right. It was a case of using, but I see us in a constant war, and we have to do everything we can, and if it were not for the photographs it would not have been talked about. It was just at the time of the tsunami in Japan, and the fact is that the photographs did shock the world.

Do you think we need to shock the world?

Our publicity is dreadful these days. It’s always from a position of apologizing. Not why we are right, where we are coming from. What needs to be explained is why we are deserving, and that is not being done.

It’s interesting that there is actually nothing in your background that is connected to your views. There is no political mutation, so to speak. You’re like a “hilltop girl” who still lives in a fashionable Tel Aviv neighborhood.

That’s so. My childhood friends and my friends from school and university, and also the family of my kibbutz-born husband lean more to the left. I have been right-wing since high school. And it grew even stronger in the army.

Is it from home?

No. There wasn’t any especially high political awareness at home. My father voted Likud right along and my mother voted Labor Alignment and Shinui.

So why are you so passionate about it?

I do think it is inborn, yes. From a very early age, when I saw a debate between Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Shamir − it was in 1984, I think − I really connected with Shamir.

You were 8!

That’s right. I didn’t completely understand what he was talking about, but I connected with him. If you were to talk to my friends from school and the army and the Scouts, they would tell you, “We always knew.” It was always there. I was always on the class committee, on the student council.

Why were you even interested in politics? Why weren’t you interested in boys and in Morrissey?

Hey, you know what, I didn’t know who he is. He was in the paper a week ago and I asked my husband about him. I was in the Scouts, I had a social life, I was a totally normal girl. I believe it is innate. It’s character.

What books do you like?

The last book I read was the one by Yair Lapid about his father. I enjoyed it very much. Before that I read the Steve Jobs book. I read a lot, all kinds of books. When I was young I read “The Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged.”

Obviously. Do you like music?

I have no understanding of music. I like Land of Israel songs, pop. A friend of mine laughed at me for just finding out two weeks ago who Adele is. I like dance. I danced for 12 years in high school and I occasionally go to dance performances.

Were you young when your mother died?

Yes, when I was 23, of bone-marrow cancer.

Were you close to her?

Very. She was sick for a year and a half. At first there was hope, but then it came back.

Do you remember that period?

I remember it very well. I took care of my mother. My brother was in the United States at the time. And my father and mother − they were a very close couple. You could say that in certain senses I was the responsible adult, because my father was hurting very badly. You know, hospitals every day. It’s very hard.

I think that when there is a girl like you, it is very tempting to place that burden on her. There is something very efficient about you, very focused.

Very efficient, that’s the word.

It must be a pattern you have encountered often in your life. In the parental role. It’s tough.

Yes, that’s true. Obviously it was hard. But you know, you function. You don’t think, “Oh, it’s hard for me”; you function. You do what needs to be done. I was with my father a great deal, he took care of my mother very beautifully. And very intensively.

I know a theory that says that political activism, no matter from which side, is related to emotional deprivations.

I am right-wing, and I am mainstream right-wing. I do not hold extreme opinions and I have no emotional deprivations.

You have no deprivations.

Let’s say, I never had psychological therapy. I didn’t feel a need.

Not even after your mother died?

No. People suggested it, but I didn’t go.

How do you see that? Mental resilience? Efficient repressions?

I don’t know. I think it’s resilience. Maybe a combination of the two things. Let’s say, my friends call me a robot. I am not sentimental, I don’t take much to heart. Things that other people take offense at − I don’t. About my children, too, my husband sometimes tells me, “You don’t understand, you are not sensitive enough.”

You don’t take offense from those reactions?

No. Those are people who are close to me, and they don’t say it out of hatred, they reflect reality. It’s a very harsh analysis. I know they are right. I am aware of it. That’s me.

You are very much a system person.

That is very accurate. I am a person of the system.

How do you understand that?

I do not rebel against systems. Let’s say, in the army or in school, I never had a desire to rebel. I always went with the system. Always.

Didn’t you rebel as an adolescent?

No. I was a very good girl. I respected my parents very much.
If we had met in high school, we would have got into a fistfight.

You weren’t in the Scouts?

I was kicked out of there after five minutes. It had to do with the uniform.
I had no problem wearing a uniform. I also think that a school uniform is very important.

What do you like in the system? What is there to like in the system?

I think most systems are good. I had a very good time in the army. Nor do I intervene in my son’s school; I trust the system. I let it do the work.

Ayelet Shaked.Credit: Ilya Melnikov
Israelis taking part in the flag parade on Jerusalem Day, May 21, 2012.Credit: Emil Salman

Comments

SUBSCRIBERS JOIN THE CONVERSATION FASTER

Automatic approval of subscriber comments.
From $1 for the first month

SUBSCRIBE
Already signed up? LOG IN

ICYMI

בנימין נתניהו השקת ספר

Netanyahu’s Israel Is About to Slam the Door on the Diaspora

עדי שטרן

Head of Israel’s Top Art Academy Leads a Quiet Revolution

Charles Lindbergh addressing an America First Committee rally on October 3, 1941.

Ken Burns’ Brilliant ‘The U.S. and the Holocaust’ Has Only One Problem

Skyscrapers in Ramat Gan and Tel Aviv.

Israel May Have Caught the Worst American Disease, New Research Shows

ג'אמיל דקוור

Why the Head of ACLU’s Human Rights Program Has Regrets About Emigrating From Israel

ISRAEL-VOTE

Netanyahu’s Election Win Dealt a Grievous Blow to Judaism