Who do you see at Jerusalem's Western Wall, aka the Kotel, at 1 A.M.? Mainly kabbalists, people having trouble finding a mate, people afflicted with Jerusalem Syndrome – and secular politicians waging an election campaign.
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On the night the government fell last week, at 1:02 A.M., Ayelet Shaked’s bureau sent the press a photo in which the interior minister could be seen standing in front of the Kotel, a book of Psalms in hand, her lips apparently moving voicelessly. What was the rush about going to the plaza there? Couldn’t it have waited till later in the morning? Who was the target population the photo was supposed to move? This was unclear.
Shaked is embarking on one of the most confused election campaigns ever held here: She is a cabinet member, but also the great hope of the coalition’s opponents. If she passes the electoral threshold and gets into the Knesset, she will bury her colleagues and coronate their big rival. If she fails, she may bring the camp she actually belongs to down with her.
Hold on: the camp she belongs to? Where in fact is Shaked situated now, in the summer of 2022? It’s difficult to discern whether she is in favor of this government or against it, or whether she's abstaining. Is she continuing along the path set by Naftali Bennett, as she hinted in a tweet last Friday in which she thanked the former premier – or has she “not been so close to him for the last few years,” or does she have “significant conceptual disagreements” with Bennett, as declared that morning by his former adviser, Shimrit Meir, in an interview to the daily Yedioth Ahronoth.
The truth probably lies with Meir. Shaked, the best operations officer the right wing has had in recent years, was and remains more right wing than Bennett. This can be gleaned from appointments she’s made at the Interior Ministry, from the campaigns she’s waged despite the cold shoulder he’s shown her, and by that term she served in the Justice Ministry.
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Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud may just leave her alone this time, and their reasons for that are clear. But Shaked's former partner, Bezalel Smotrich, will not forgive her. Forgiveness is not what’s in his heart. He will wage a personal and toxic campaign, portraying her as a tricky agent who has already toppled the right-wing camp, and as someone whom voting for would constitute a danger to the entire Zionist enterprise (exaggeration has never hurt anyone during an election campaign).
In the face of harsh crossfire, Shaked usually freezes. She doesn’t know how to lash back at the required speed. This is essentially a laudable quality, which has made her a respected politician in the past, but it’s bad in a campaigner. Since she’s also not so good when it comes to making decisions, the upcoming election will be a minefield for her. In fact, from the beginning of her political journey, Shaked has excelled at reacting to decisions made by others, mainly by Bennett and Netanyahu. Thus, in 2015 Bennett tried hard to get her the Public Security Ministry; her stint at the Justice Ministry also came to her following a decision by him. She joined Hayamin Hehadash despite objecting to its very establishment.
Who are the voters being targeted by Yamina under its new leader? Ostensibly, it’s those who are filling the crack between Gideon Sa'ar and Amichai Chikli. These are people who are disappointed both by Netanyahu and by the government, who are willing to see Netanyahu return to Balfour, but are not praying for this to happen. Does this crack consist of the 140,000 voters needed for a Knesset seat? And can one really not hold an unequivocal opinion on the question of just-not-Bibi or only-Bibi?
One may add to this Shaked's chronic hesitancy; her pretense of being both things at once – thank you, Bennett, together with thank you, Netanyahu; the existence of a party that will participate in cabinet meetings but also, at the same time, in a campaign that distinguishes itself from the government; and the attempt to woo right-wing public influencers who, on the whole, curse her openly. All this leads to a campaign in which even the reading of Psalms in the middle of the night at the Kotel will likely be of no avail.