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Ayelet Shaked's Poor Attempt at Coming Up With a Political Vision

זיוה שטרנהל
Ziva Sternhell
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Haaretz cartoon: Yamina's leader and former Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked.
Haaretz cartoon: Yamina's leader and former Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked.Credit: Eran Wolkowski
זיוה שטרנהל
Ziva Sternhell

The oath to values that Ayelet Shaked proudly announced last week, and which she said members of United Right would be signing, provides a good opportunity to examine the worldview of the woman who the media have already crowned as a possible future contender for prime minister.

Indeed, her intelligence and self confidence, her ability to be both forceful and pleasant and – what can you do? – her appearance, have helped Shaked stand out against the gallery of men who control Israeli politics. But Shaked is also seeking to portray herself as an intellectual, one whose political conduct is the product of a deep ideology. That’s why it’s worth carefully examining the texts she’s written to try to understand what’s behind the personality that has drawn so much public attention, which helped her quickly put the failure of the last election behind her to assume the leadership of a new party.

Former Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked attends the launch of the political party "Yemina" in the Israeli city of Ramat Gan on August 12, 2019.Credit: AFP

In 2016 Shaked wrote a long essay for the journal Hashiloah, in which she explained her worldview, the foundation for her conduct as justice minister. The article is full of references to important thinkers and theoretical definitions that are meant to validate her struggle against the High Court of Justice, to explain the concept of “governability” to which she frequently refers, and to expound on how she views the idea of a Jewish, democratic state.

That she wrote the essay is certainly praiseworthy. Very few Israeli politicians today are capable of laying out any kind of theoretical doctrine to supply intellectual validation for their political machinations. The problem is that the essay reveals that the pious theoretical cloak in which Shaked is trying to wrap herself is thin and full of holes, in part because morality – as a universal value – is totally absent from her views.

Her quotes from the writings of thinkers like John Locke, Alexander Hamilton and Alexis de Tocqueville, upon which she relies, show that Shaked either hasn’t read or didn’t understand the thinking and essence of these intellectuals’ positions. She also took a quote from former Supreme Court President Aharon Barak that doesn’t represent his views.

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Moreover, the completely baseless thesis she develops in the essay, to the effect that it was Judaism that gave rise to democratic principles, demonstrates the volatile link between Israel’s secular education system – which has disengaged itself from sources of universal culture – and messianic conceptions.

When the essay was published, it got devastating reviews from both left and right, decrying the extent of the writer’s ignorance and her refusal to acknowledge the existence of other cultures, assuming she is even aware of them. The fact that in a recent interview with Yedioth Ahronoth, Shaked cited economist Milton Friedman and Avichai Ronski, the former chief rabbi of the Israel Defense Forces, as the two people who most influenced her outlook, indicates the limits of her intellectual world.

Friedman, to whom she refers frequently in her essay, has been depreciated in recent years. He is considered by many to be one of the fathers of the social destruction sown by global capitalism. Her reliance on Ronski, who also had been chief rabbi of the radical settlement Itamar and ruled that the value of keeping Shabbat outweighed that of saving a gentile’s life, reveals in all their nakedness Shaked’s efforts to present herself as the moderate right and a counterweight to her party’s extremist elements.

From all this, one can also understand her new declaration regarding loyalty to values. Behind the lofty statements and the seemingly mild wording, the principles that this refined politician has been fighting for and will continue to fight for emerge. As far as she’s concerned, moral values adhere only to the Jewish people. The Palestinians are not human beings whose rights, or objections to having others assume sovereignty over their land, need to be taken into account. Since this is her worldview, she had no problem with vigorously promoting the nation-state law, just as she had no problem including Itamar Ben-Gvir in her party. After all, the Kahanist Ben-Gvir also believes that moral values are only important to the Jewish people.

This selective approach to morality characterizes Shaked’s position in the social realm as well. As a fan of Friedman and Ayn Rand, the world, as she sees it, belongs to the strong and successful. It turns out that social disparities don’t particularly engage the knight of democracy who is fighting the elitist High Court in the name of “the people.” In one of her interviews, she said proudly that her best friend describes her as a robot. Robots, as we know, have no compassion for the weak and no moral values.

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