The past few days may have been the toughest of Ayelet Shaked’s political life since her successful career took off. It’s too early to say whether, or to what extent, the Efraim Nave "sex for judgeship" scandal, with its terrible stench, will infect the justice minister, who up to now has had the steepest climb ever in Israeli politics. But Nave can boast one achievement: For the first time in three and a half years, it isn’t the judicial system’s leftists who are quaking in their boots.
That’s not all. Shaked and Naftali Bennett’s exit from Habayit Hayehudi and establishment of Hayamin Hehadash emits a sour smell of unripeness. Despite some flattering poll numbers, there’s a sense the move was disorganized and only half-baked. A little like the ultimatum over Bennett getting the defense portfolio, which turned out to be a double-edged sword. Shaked will never say so, but many people on the right have the impression that the move to a new party was forced on her, and that in hindsight, she might have planned her route to the Prime Minister’s Office differently.
So far, they haven’t managed to create the impression that they’re indeed challenging the big chief, Benjamin Netanyahu; they still seem like children dancing to the tune of his destructive pipes. Moreover, somewhere deep in her brain, she realizes that the road to the crown, the road she wants, inevitably passes through the backstabbing of her political partner, Bennett.
Shaked is admittedly a robot with populist tendencies that could well be devastating, but contrary to what many people think, she has a conscience. This won’t be easy for her.
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Shaked is still very popular with right-wing voters, who are rushing to her defense with characteristic loyalty. Before the latest contretemps, she had planned an additional term as justice minister, in which she would push through an amendment to the Basic Law on the Judiciary that would make it harder for the High Court of Justice to overturn laws — another nice gift to her right-wing voters, who, alongside persecuting asylum seekers, see castrating the judiciary as a cornerstone of right-wing ideology.
The slogans “Ayelet gets the job done” and “Ayelet knows what she’s doing” were voiced by right-wing voters throughout her term, because Shaked could deliver the goods — and the PR.
Now, when it’s clear to everyone that the accomplishments of which Shaked was so proud, like appointing conservative judges, were achieved thanks to an alliance with a dubious type like Nave — someone accused of crimes that would disgust anyone with any moral sense, whether right-wing or left-wing — not only are they being cast in an ugly light, but so is her political judgment and good sense.
Someone who wants to climb to the highest levels of leadership needs at least a minimal sense of smell to prevent them from getting tangled up with people like Nave, who, as they go down, tarnish everyone who has been in contact with them. And that’s true even if we can assume that Shaked wasn’t aware of his alleged misdeeds.
Despite all the obvious differences, just as Meretz Chairwoman Tamar Zandberg made a serious mistake when she chose to consult with Moshe Klughaft, the father of the ugly, ad hominem persecution of leaders of human rights organizations, Shaked erred when she tied her fate to Nave. The difference between these cases and their ramifications is enormous, but what they have in common that an enormous desire to succeed rode roughshod over healthy judgment and the ability to look more than a short way ahead.
Shaked is now facing her big political test. But alongside the great difficulties it presents, it also has the potential to reveal a hidden power to cross the Rubicon. Admittedly, Shaked and Bennett are the creators of the slogan “Stop apologizing,” but it’s not certain this mantra will serve her now.
If Shaked is made of leadership material, she must stand up, despite the embarrassment, and clearly dissociate herself from Nave. And yes, she must even apologize for having joined forces with someone like him.
If not, she can dog paddle in the inane river of right-wing talking points, which blame the left even for this screwup. Those shallow waters are where people from a completely different league go swimming.