Analysis

Is Ayelet Shaked Just a Younger, Female Version of Netanyahu?

That’s what she would like you to think, but on socioeconomic and other issues there are striking differences – and they don’t favor Shaked

Ayelet Shaked in Tel Aviv, July 25, 2019.
\ Ilan Assayag

In conversations with close associates and with the media, Ayelet Shaked has sought to portray her socioeconomic ideas as neoliberal. She’s a believer in the trickle-down theory of economics whose ideas are “close to Netanyahu’s,” she says.

To prove how close her ideas are to the prime minister’s, she’ll talk about how Israel suffers from excessive regulation and the need for something to be done to reduce it. That’s a recurring theme of Netanyahu’s, too. The message to voters is that Shaked will give Israel the best of everything – the same conservative policies as Netanyahu, but without Netanyahu’s corruption, the criminal investigations and family spectacles.

Is that right? Will Shaked offer Israel a younger, female version of Bibi, as she has been marketing herself to the public and the Likud Party she still aspires to join? Or is Shaked a politician of a different order that the prime minister?

>> Read more: Shaked, a secular woman, heading a political party? Oh, the joys of liberal fascism | Opinion

Shaked, who for now is settling for leadership of the alliance of right-wing parties, gave some hints in a cover-page interview in Yedioth Ahronoth’s Seven Days magazine on Friday.

Under the influence of U.S. President Donald Trump and Sheldon Adelson, Netanyahu in recent years has adopted a more staunchly pro-business attitude, akin to what the Republican Party espouses. But before that Netanyahu believed in competition.

He appointed a government competition committee whose recommendation’s for breaking the power of Israel’s big holding groups was adopted by the prime minster and approved by the Knesset. The Business Concentration Law, which has no precedent anywhere else in the world, forced the tycoons to choose between divesting either their financial or non-financial holdings and severely limited the use of pyramid-structured holding groups.

By contrast, Shaked used her powers as justice minister in the Netanyahu government to allow Eduardo Elsztain to exploit a loophole in the Business Concentration Law that enabled him to retain the pyramid structure of his IDB group.

Shaked routinely uses the premises of Israel’s largest law firms – the ones that represent the tycoons and biggest, most powerful companies – for political meetings. She exhibits a friendliness with powerful business interests that Netanyahu has not.

It’s perhaps no coincidence that Shaked got a cover story in Yedioth Aharonoth. The publishing group’s boss, Arnon (Noni) Mozes, is a bitter enemy of Netanyahu, and Shaked is high on the list of politicians who could succeed him. They have a deal – they both attack Netanyahu and Shaked gets favorable coverage, on condition that she doesn’t do anything to harm Mozes’ interests.

Other politicians have made similar deals, including Avigdor Lieberman (Yisrael Beiteinu), Yair Lapid (Kahol Lavan) and Naftali Bennet (New Right). In the past Tzipi Livni did the same. The papers detailing the prospective quid pro quo between Netanyahu and Mozes – the basis for Case 2000 against the prime minister – shows they once cooperated with each other and we’re seeking to renew the old alliance.

When he saw the Yedioth Aharonoth interview last week, Miki Rosenthal, a former Labor Knesset member, suspected he knew what it was all about. As he recalled in a Facebook posting, he had tried to convince Shaked, when she was justice minister in the previous government, to support legislation he was advancing to crack down on hidden advertising (advertorials, in which the sponsor is not cited).

“She told me explicitly: ‘Are you crazy? I won’t hurt Yedioth. Noni is against it.’ Harming the public is no problem, but Noni – God forbid. And here Noni pays her back with a flattering article in Yedioth,” Rosenthal said.

In response to the post, Shaked told Haaretz that Rosenthal’s remarks were “a complete lie -- it never happened.”

Over the years, Netanyahu has spoken a lot about deregulation and about overhauling the justice system, but he has done very little about either. Since he lobbied to get the natural gas framework approved, he has waged no other campaigns on the socio-economic front – or, for that matter, on the other issues he frequently talks about in public.

Could it be he is just mouthing the kinds of things his base wants to hear, but that he doesn’t really believe in? No matter, Shaked, by contrast, not only talks, but acts.

Though September of last year, she has appointed no less than 272 judges – a third of all the judges in Israel. She worked to weaken the law protecting tenants and has made it more difficult to pursue class-action suits against businesses.

So it goes with the immunity law. Netanyahu plays a double game -- he wants a law that will protect him from criminal prosecution and weaken the High Court of Justice, while at the same time portraying himself as doing nothing to advance this legislation.

Shaked doesn’t play that game at all. In the Yedioth interview, she makes it clear she has no problem with the immunity law. “It’s not something I would rule out, but I haven’t yet determined my position, because if, God forbid, they decide to indict, it will depend on what it contains.”

There is, however, at least one thing where Netanyahu and Shaked are one and the same – the willingness to engage in give and take with business interests when it’s a win for both sides.

In Netanyahu’s case, the trade-off is evident in Cases 1000, 2000 and 4000. With Shaked, the Efi Naveh affair shows the same kind of quid pro quo at work. The former Israel Bar Association chairman and Shaked ally has been accused of corrupt deals in the appointment of judges, but to this day Shaked has never publicly condemned him.