Opinion |

A Right-wing Party’s Leader-like Woman and Childish Man

Habayit Hayehudi's No. 2, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, will be busy helping choose Israel’s judges, while her boss Naftali Bennett merely wants to kill and destroy in Gaza

Tal Niv
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Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked at a press conference, Jerusalem, November 19, 2018.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked at a press conference, Jerusalem, November 19, 2018.Credit: Emil Salman
Tal Niv

The childish and inflammatory blather of the education minister, Habayit Hayehudi Chairman Naftali Bennett, against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu once again revealed to the public that the party’s only real leader is Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked.

In a speech that was a political stunt, basically a confession of his surrender to Netanyahu after his demand to receive the defense portfolio was refused, Bennett gave a performance that was both comic and pathetic.

It was a speech lacking charm in which he combined a demand for greater violence against the Palestinians with name-dropping: He attributed to Prof. Robert Aumann, a Nobel Prize winner for economics, the proposal to demand the justice portfolio for Shaked back when the current government was formed, as well as for his latest decision not to resign. The fact that Prof. Aumann is a bereaved father, having lost a son in the first Lebanon war, gave Bennett the chance to do a typical Bennett improvisation: He characterized Aumann’s voice as “delightful.”

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Shaked’s speech echoed the most recent speech by Netanyahu himself, who called for national responsibility. It’s foolish to resign from Israel’s most right-wing government ever. When Bennett complained that the army doesn’t demolish enough houses, as opposed to complaints about illegal balconies built by Tel Aviv apartment dwellers, and is postponing the demolition of the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar, he showed that he isn’t ripe to lead.

Employing hollow and banal slogans, he expressed regret at the observance of international law and the Israeli army’s ethics code, while he wants to kill, destroy and eradicate, or as he puts it, “to win.”

For her part, Shaked said she actually has something to do. Unlike Naftali’s Education Ministry, which she praised to the best of her ability but with a certain acerbity, she will be busy with the Judicial Selection Committee.

The message was crystal clear. She’s a leader. Poor Naftali, who didn’t get the portfolio he wanted, will have to wait. Shaked spoke in a businesslike manner, though the strange press conference turned into an admission of failure. The education minister behaved, and is still behaving, like someone forced to repeat the same grade twice.

It’s interesting that Shaked mentioned the expression “the storm will rage.” Indeed, everything is seething around the right-wing government. To a great extent, Shaked is the one who will decide how the next Israeli government will look. Netanyahu fought to create “another year” that he needs, and succeeded. The same Netanyahu who called an election to benefit the right-wing daily Israel Hayom can’t call an election now for national security reasons, as he puts it.

What will the right-wing rank and file say? That he’s a leftist. They’ll say what Bennett said, that Netanyahu isn’t violent enough. Maybe it’s actually the upcoming Trump peace plan, maybe it’s Netanyahu’s problems at home that explain his attempts to hold on a little longer.

It seems Netanyahu simply doesn’t know what condition he’ll be in when the next election comes. Israel is right-wing in the same way Israel is drying up. It’s a fact. The investigative files on him, the thinning out of his team of movers and shakers, the challenges from within Likud (Gideon Sa’ar has yet to say the last word), his wife’s legal problems – all this is making it difficult for Netanyahu to enter an election phase. As has been shown, he prefers to manage his risks.

Bennett’s embarrassing performance and Shaked’s evident attempt to support and console him on the podium show even further that in a world of a wall-to-wall right-wing government, the left at the moment has no importance, influence or hope for a political future. Even Bennett’s childishness won’t change the fact that in the current state of affairs, Netanyahu is managing to keep the reins, and the key question is which centrist party will seek to join Likud in the coming election.