Hi-tech marketing manager by day, Zionist crusader by night. It may sound like
the life of a comic-book character, but that is how Ayelet Shaked, 36, has been
living for the past two years, as the leader of hasbara (public diplomacy) NGO
“My Israel.” Now, Shaked wants to turn Zionism into her day job, vying for a
seat on Habayit Hayehudi’s list for the next Knesset.
as that may seem, there’s a catch – Shaked is secular, and she wants to
represent what is essentially heir to the National Religious Party in the
Knesset. Habayit Hayehudi began a membership drive this summer, which ended
early this month, ahead of the party’s first-ever primary in
Plus, Shaked is a former Likud member, working with Habayit
Hayehudi leadership candidate Naftali Bennett in Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu’s office when he was opposition leader, before the two founded My
Sitting on a couch in the living room of the northern Tel Aviv
home she shares with her husband, an IAF pilot, and a son and daughter aged four
and seven, across from shelves packed with autobiographies (Winston Churchill,
Jack Welch, Richard Feynman) and popular fiction (The Da Vinci Code, Q&A),
Shaked explained why she is trading in hasbara for politics, and the incongruous
choice of religious politics, at that.
Why Habayit Hayehudi?
leading My Israel earlier this year, when there were rumors of an upcoming
election. I decided, together with Bennett and [former IDF Chief] Rabbi Avichai
Rontzki, to enter politics.
Our goal was to combine religious and secular
and, based on the values of the Torah, be to the right of Netanyahu. We are
strong Zionists, and we want to be Netanyahu’s spine.
We hoped to stop
boycotts of Israel, and fight those who want to turn Israel into a “state of all
Habayit Hayehudi fit our values, especially because, for
the first time, it is allowing the public to elect its
Plus, the Right is too divided, and we want one strong
party to the right of the Likud.
You didn’t think it was a problem to
join a religious party as a secular person?
I deliberated the issue a lot.
Bennett and Rontzki pushed me to do it, even though most people in my close
environment said I shouldn’t. I believe in being brave and trying things, and I
believe in partnerships between religious and secular people, even if it isn’t
There have been columns in the national-religious press debating
whether you should be allowed on the Habayit Hayehudi list. What kind of
reactions have you been getting on the campaign?
I understand the suspicion. My
rivals try to use the fact that I’m not one of them against me, but I believe in
the wisdom of crowds and democracy.
The public is smart.
I go to a
different campaign event in a different town each night, and I feel
strengthened. I get positive Facebook messages and emails. People think a
secular-religious partnership is important.
They see from my record that
we share values. Religious people, even serious rabbis said they support me, like Rabbi Benny Kalmanson of the Otniel
Hesder Yeshiva, and Rabbi Yuval Cherlow of the Petah Tikva Hesder Yeshiva, and
former NRP leader Rabbi Yitzhak Levi.
If you, Bennett and Rontzki want to
make a difference, why did you choose a party with only three seats in the
Knesset that focuses on a specific sector?
We hope the party, under Bennett’s
leadership, won’t stay small. The NRP reached 12 seats in the past, and if all
religious Zionists vote as a bloc, they can get 15 seats. Our goal is not to
stay with three seats, but to grow to be a significant political
When that happens we can deal with general issues, not just
sectorial ones. Money for yeshivot and ulpanot (religious girls’ high schools)
is important, but we want to do other things, too.
Likud was my home for
many years, and I value the party, but a sole MK does not have a major influence
on Netanyahu. He froze settlement construction without considering ministers
that oppose it. Same with judicial appointments. He also stopped the bill to
freeze funding for left-wing NGOs that undermine our country, which Likud MKs
tried to promote.
As a small party, you have more freedom, because you
aren’t under the prime minister’s authority.
If, in the future, another
disengagement is planned and you’re in the coalition, would you act differently
than Orlev, or would you compromise?
I can’t predict the future. I don’t believe
in removing Jews from their homes, and I hope I will be strong and stand up
against it. If there is talk of another disengagement, I won’t be a part of
What about reports that Netanyahu unofficially supports MK Zevulun
Orlev in the leadership race?
I know there have been meetings between Orlev and
Netanyahu, but there’s no way to know what the prime minister feels personally.
It’s natural that the Likud wants Habayit Hayehudi smaller, because we take
seats from them. It makes sense that they’re supporting a leadership that will
bring our party less seats.
You and Bennett have a history with
Netanyahu, leaving his office due to differences of opinion. Do you think that
could hurt you politically, when the next coalition is formed?
is one of Netanyahu’s natural partners. Over the years, the party has
worked with Likud and there is no reason for the situation to change. We will
back him as prime minister without preconditions.
I know Netanyahu well.
I know his advantages and disadvantages. In the past, Foreign Minister Avigdor
Liberman was director-general of Netanyahu’s office, and they were very
suspicious of each other, but now they work well together. Defense Minister Ehud
Barak has said terrible things about Netanyahu, and look at their partnership.
Bennett and I never hurt Netanyahu.
Our judgment of Netanyahu is by topic. I totally trust him on Iran, for
All of the analysts and the general public don’t have the
knowledge that he does. A leadership call needs to be made.
How do you
think your experience in My Israel will help you in politics?
My Israel exposed
me to a lot of people – 90,000 Facebook fans, whom I spoke to every day. I
learned what bothered the public and how to speak to them. Today, I deal with a
lot of the same topics, but the work is different. I always spoke very directly
and bluntly, and I plan to continue, but I’ll do it in Knesset committees and by
passing laws. I’ll have to compromise sometimes.
One of the major
campaigns you led with My Israel was against migration from Africa.
the past two years, I worked with residents of south Tel Aviv on this
Until recently, people thought the infiltrators were refugees. My
Israel warned people that it isn’t true, that 2,000 to 3,000 – mostly Muslim –
infiltrators came every month. We organized rallies, tried to get right-wing
politicians to join us. We held rally after rally, and no one paid attention
until [south Tel Aviv residents] got violent.
The official number of
African migrants is 70,000, but unofficially there are 100,000 or more. Fifteen
percent of births in Joseftal Medical Center [in Eilat] are Africans. They’re
How do you plan to deal with the issue in the Knesset?
solve Africa’s problems. I know they have problems, but this is the Jewish
state, not Africa.
Now that we woke up the government, the problem can be
solved. The first solution is to stop employing infiltrators.
that step, not even a border fence will help. They should be put in detention
camps, that are spread out. The government is working on a law that won’t let
them send money out of the country – last year infiltrators sent over a billion
shekels! The next step is to deal with the infiltrators that are already here.
Policy should depend on how long a person is in Israel. If they are here for
over a year, they should work, but if they’re newer than that, they shouldn’t
get visas. We should try to negotiate with thirdworld countries and send them
My Israel also worked to stop boycotts of Israel. Will you continue
working toward that cause in the Knesset?
We can’t leave the arena open to only
to our enemies, BDS [Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions] activists. My Israel
produced online videos and got others to try to stop boycotts. When we knew
anti-Israel people were pressuring artists from abroad, we had our members
explain to the singer or band that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle
East. When thousands send that message, the artist then sees that there is more
than one side to the story.
We have been fighting for almost a year so
that pro-Palestinian organizations do not convince the Red Hot Chili Peppers
[who performed in Tel Aviv last week] not to come.
I’m still not sure
what I’ll do with this issue if I’m in the Knesset. I will try to work in
cooperation with the government. The Foreign Ministry, Public Diplomacy
Ministry, Prime Minister’s Office and Education Ministry all have hasbara
budgets. If I get there, I'll see how I can help and improve their efforts."
economy is a big political issue at the moment, with a new budget on the way.
What is your position?
I believe in a free market with social sensitivity. We
need to be more open and have fewer blocks on enterprise.
There are basic
problems that can be taken care of to lower the cost of living – not by giving
more money to people, but by removing obstructions. For example, there are huge
monopolies, like the port workers, which people don’t have the courage to take
apart. If they do, the cost of living will be lower.
The state needs to
take care of people, but not everyone and every detail of their lives. People
need to be independent.
Habayit Hayehudi’s primary committee decided not
to designate a place for new immigrants on the party’s list for the Knesset. Did
you support the move?
It would be a good idea to save a spot for immigrants. The
topics that concern them are important, and a lot of our potential voters are
However, I understand why they didn’t want to make a change
after they already announced [the rules of the primary]. If they had thought of
it at first, they should have done it, but you can’t change the game in the
How do you think you can help immigrants, if you reach the
Bennett’s parents are from San Francisco, and although he was born
here, he is very aware of problems new immigrants face. We set a goal to reach
immigrants. Bennett speaks English fluently, and does a lot of hasbara for
Israel by talking to the foreign press. We translate speeches into English and
put a jingle on YouTube [with English subtitles]. We also have Dr.
David on our list, who is trying to bring French immigrants into Habayit
I held a campaign event in Tel Aviv for English-speaking
immigrants and returning Israelis, and about 150 people came. I think Habayit
Hayehudi can be their home. They’re all Zionists who left comfortable homes out
of ideology and identification with Israel. These people are important to us,
because our party is their natural place.
As Shaked prepared to go to the
West Bank, where she planned to give a speech, a PR adviser to her and Bennett
loaded her campaign poster on his computer, which featured the slogan: “Ayelet
Shaked does Zionism.” At his feet were a tiny pink backpack, toy cars and
How do you balance raising two small children with a political
It’s hard to be a mom on a campaign [Shaked sighs]. My husband helps.
I’m used to working hard, between my hitech job during the day and ‘My Israel’
in the evenings.