Analysis

Shaked Wants to Lead the Right. Netanyahu Will Do Anything to Stop Her

The former justice minister has outgrown her former party, and Netanyahu's main obsession is keeping himself from having to face her in coalition negotiations

Ayelet Shaked at the Hayamin Hehadash press conference in Ramat Gan, July 21, 2019.
\ Moti Milrod

Sic transit gloria mundi, with 1,400 missing votes and one sign. Naftali Bennett is out, Ayelet Shaked is in, alone at the helm of the Hayamin Hehadash party’s campaign. “Ayelet Shaked. Responsibly” is the slogan she has chosen, as if she sought to imply that the new leader has better judgment than her predecessor, who sometimes seemed like a reckless youngster.

Sunday night, the outgoing chairman nobly handed over the reins to the woman who has been his number two ever since they entered politics together. One must admit this duo is a rare phenomenon: Despite their electoral failure, which was preceded by many hurdles and serious disagreements, they have managed to preserve a relationship of mutual respect, with no dirty laundry aired outside.

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This partnership, which survived the hell of April 9, 2019, will be tested anew by the challenge of the do-over election on September 17. It’s not yet clear in what form they will run, but most of the signs point to a broader joint ticket. Shaked didn’t come to lead a party of six or seven seats. She’s already outgrown that. She aims to head the Union of Right-Wing Parties.

For now, the main obstacle that stands between her and her goal is the fact that she’s a secular woman from Tel Aviv. But anyone who had read nothing but a transcript of her speech on Sunday night, without knowing who stood behind it, would have guessed that the speaker was an accredited rabbi’s wife. The Jewish people, the Jewish state, the 17th of Tammuz (a Jewish fast day that fell on Sunday), kings, judges, prophets, Deborah the prophetess – the whole Jewish bookshelf got an airing there, with large helpings of pathos. David Ben-Gurion’s speech at the ceremony declaring Israel’s independence was more restrained.

Thus not only has worldly glory passed, but there has been a role reversal. A religious man in a kippa came to the podium and spoke secularese, mocking the ultra-Orthodox religious Zionists who will apparently be his partners. He was followed at the rostrum by a secular woman fluent in Biblical idiom, clearly intended for the synagogues and yeshivas in the settlements.

The polls that predict success for a united ticket under her leadership (12 to 13 seats) are the wind beneath her wings. Unity is also the prevailing sentiment among the right-wing public. If, as Channel 13 News reported Sunday night, two of the most extreme of the ultra-Orthodox religious Zionist rabbis – Eli Sadan and Shmuel Eliyahu – support her, she has done some pretty good work. The days of Rabbi Rafi Peretz, the representative of the Middle Ages, in the Union of Right-Wing Parties are apparently numbered. This is how every bizarre episode (apparently) ends.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu informed his Facebook followers Sunday night that he "hasn’t decided yet" whether to intervene in the goings-on in Likud’s sister parties (He's intervened, he intervenes and clearly will intervene in the future). He’s still debating over what would be better for him – two parties to his right, or one. There are arguments on both sides.

What’s clear is that he’ll do everything in his power to keep Shaked from leading a joint ticket and keep himself from having to face her and Bennett in coalition negotiations, with demands that go far beyond the justice and education ministries. At the moment, this is the prevailing obsession at the prime minister's residence.  

The broad smile on Shaked’s face Sunday night stemmed not only from her coronation festivities, but also from the reports of Sara Netanyahu’s efforts to thwart Shaked's overtaking of Rafi Peretz. Sara, according to a report on the Ynet news site, summoned Peretz’s wife Michal and ordered her to oppose the idea of Peretz and Shaked trading places. This was not, heaven forfend, due to logical or electoral considerations, but to an uncontrollable urge and a burning hatred that a thousand glasses of pink champagne wouldn’t suffice to cool.