‘What you see from there, you don’t see from here” goes a famous Israeli expression and song, most recently appropriated by former prime minister Ariel Sharon to explain his change from the settlements’ greatest supporter to the evacuator of Israelis from the Gaza Strip.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, at 39 among the youngest senior ministers the state has ever seen, does not buy it, she told The Jerusalem Post in a wide-ranging interview.
Shaked now conceives of the Justice Ministry bureaucracy less in terms of being more left-wing than right-wing, as many of her supporters view it, and more in terms of a nonpartisan debate about the legal establishment being more activist versus more conservative.
But other than that, Shaked says she has not changed her colors.
This approach impacts Shaked’s view of the wave of terrorist violence gripping the country, the proper balance of security versus human rights, how she interacts in the diplomatic context with foreign officials and her view of the roles of the Supreme Court and the attorney-general.
Asked if terrorism had reached the level of severity that would warrant it being called the “third intifada,” Shaked replied in her crisp signature style: “I hope not.”
She added that it was “too early to say” and she hoped that local Israeli- Arab officials would win the information war with what she considered the problematic agenda of the national Israeli-Arab parties as well as the Islamic Movement’s northern branch.
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The justice minister said local officials care about local issues, like education, more than inciting the Israeli-Arab sector to violence. She complimented Nazareth’s mayor Ali Salam for recently upbraiding MK Ayman Odeh (Joint List) for “causing damage” to the Israeli- Arab cause. What makes the current conflict unique, noted Shaked, is that it is not poor West Bank Palestinians being manipulated by Hamas to commit suicide bombings. “This wave comes from a successful campaign of incitement and deception by the Islamic Movement about al-Aksa. It’s not about socioeconomic issues, that people have nothing to lose; it comes with [east Jerusalem] Arabs in a relatively good economic situation. They receive National Insurance Institute doles, Israeli education and health benefits. They’re more integrated in Israel – but then they’re brainwashed,” she said.
It is because of incitement to violence by the Islamic Movement that Shaked is pushing hard to declare the movement illegal.
SHAKED ALSO had tough words for US Secretary of State John Kerry, saying that his recent analysis connecting the current round of violence to Palestinian frustration with greater building in the settlements was “not correct,” and implying that he had missed the boat on the dynamics in the area.
Defending the closures and special checkpoints placed at entrances between various mostly Arab east Jerusalem neighborhoods and mostly Jewish west Jerusalem areas, she said there is no solid closure. Rather, there is a temporary and limited push to deter potential lone-wolf and other attackers.
Shaked said that these are measures not to divide Jerusalem, but rather, part of a package of measures, along with house demolitions, to tell Palestinians considering terror that with “someone who goes to terror, there is no coexistence, and their family will be hurt.”
On the diplomatic front, where her predecessor, MK Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union), tried to be Israel’s “good cop” and smooth over foreign diplomats’ objections to certain Israeli policies, Shaked takes the opposite tack, going on the offensive.
Shaked has regular access to top foreign officials and makes sure to press them about NGOs that their countries fund that she characterizes as anti-Israel. In her no-nonsense style, she presents the ministers with a list of the NGOs and asks them to put a lid on the funding.
“I do this with every European minister I meet,” she said. “Sometimes they have no idea. They think these are human rights organizations and don’t realize they are working with BDS.”
Shaked gave the Post the list she showed to Spanish Justice Minister Rafael Catala Polo, who told her during a July visit that he opposes attempts to boycott, divest from or sanction Israel.
The list included six organizations, three in Israel, receiving a total of NIS 1,622,202, and three under the Palestinian Authority, receiving an unknown sum from the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation and Development.
The justice minister is also looking into ways to push back against anti-Israel boycott activities by researching which countries have laws against discrimination and racism that might give grounds for Israelis to sue the boycotters.
SHE WAS tight-lipped about efforts to fight the potential involvement by the International Criminal Court in investigating Israeli soldiers for alleged war crimes relating to the IDF’s wartime killing of 2,100 Palestinians during the 2014 Gaza operation.
Implying that the issue was highly sensitive, she just stuck to the government’s line that the ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has no jurisdiction to get involved because there is no Palestinian state. Though Bensouda has already recognized a Palestinian state and is investigating Israel, Shaked expressed hope that the prosecutor’s preliminary examination would stop before it led to a full criminal investigation.
Moving on to the status of efforts to legalize certain Jewish settlements and outposts in the West Bank, the justice minister was low-key, especially after a July announcement she made which came off as a rallying cry for change.
On July 21, a committee led by cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit was given a deadline of September 21 by Shaked for ending a situation where “the residents of Judea and Samaria” must live in “the ever-present fear regarding the ownership of their homes” because of “endless legal interpretations” about the issues.
Nearly a month after that deadline passed, Shaked said there was no single major announcement or report about to come through on the issue.
Rather, she said Mandelblit’s committee “was working on the issue on an ongoing basis,” addressing specific cases “before the High Court of Justice,” and targeting other “specific [settlement] problems” within the country’s legal framework.
A source in the Prime Minister’s Office said that the committee has met seven times, that “the legal issues are complex” and the “work is ongoing,” but made no specific commitments about announcing results.
Shaked has a complicated relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. She and Education Minister Naftali Bennett worked for him in 2006-8 when he was opposition leader.
While the Bayit Yehudi duo do not discuss the circumstances under which they left Netanyahu’s office, it is generally acknowledged that they did not leave on good terms with the prime minister or his wife. As a result of the rumored bad blood between Netanyahu and Shaked, the fact that she has not had a single one-on-one meeting with the prime minister yet, long after she entered the Justice Ministry, has raised a lot of eyebrows.
Shaked shrugged the talk off, saying that one-on-one meetings are not necessary for her and Netanyahu to do their jobs or even work well together.
“I’m part of every discussion in the smallest forums,” she explained. “Not meeting one-on-one doesn’t impact our day-to-day work. Meetings between two people aren’t about work; they’re usually personal or political discussions. When we meet, we usually have our advisers with us.”
An example Shaked gave to indicate that she and Netanyahu have a working relationship was the government legislation to increase the minimum penalty for dangerous rock-throwing to four years in prison. “The idea came up in a discussion with the prime minister, and then I implemented it quickly,” she recounted.
The coalition as a whole works smoothly together, Shaked said, pointing out that no parties have appealed any of the votes in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation that she leads, and she finds the coalition to be very stable, though adding that “in politics, anything is possible.”
As for talk that the Zionist Union may join the coalition, Shaked did not think there is a “realistic political scenario in which Bayit Yehudi stays and the Zionist Union is in, because in this coalition’s guidelines, there is no mention of a Palestinian state.”
“I don’t see [Isaac] Herzog entering a government with clear right-wing guidelines, and [Bayit Yehudi] won’t stay if we don’t maintain influential positions, so I think there’s no likelihood that it will happen,” she added.
SHAKED’S SELF-ASSUREDNESS in her views has also translated to her using the pulpit of being the country’s top legal official to take shots at the Supreme Court and Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein.
While expressing respect for both of them professionally, Shaked criticized the Supreme Court for declaring unconstitutional the state’s three recent policies to deal with 50,000 illegal African migrants. The justice minister went so far as to claim that the Supreme Court rulings are at least partially responsible for a new flock of migrants crossing the Egypt-Israel border after a period in which the flow had stopped.
Relating Israel’s migrant problems to the current crisis of European countries being overwhelmed with Syrian refugees, Shaked said that German Justice Minister Heiko Maas “told me the biggest problem for them is the migrants and he asked me what to do.”
Her attacks on Weinstein have been somewhat less direct, but she has criticized the attorney-general as being overly proactive, including characterizing him as not fighting hard enough against Supreme Court orders to demolish Jewish settlement outposts.
On the controversial practice of administrative detention, which has raised numerous diplomatic objections, Shaked called the measure “draconian,” saying it should “only be used in extreme circumstances.” Still, going against the grain of her supporters on the Right, Shaked unabashedly supports the August administrative detention of three well-known Jewish settlers following the infamous attack on a Palestinian family in Duma due to law enforcement’s proof that the three are a “danger to the state.”
Israel has been criticized for years for administrative detention of as many as hundreds of Palestinians at any given moment, but detention of Jews has been more rare.
Standing her ground and making waves in so many controversial areas could be seen as shocking, given Shaked’s age, and probably will not win her any diplomatic awards.
But she said that her tough reputation, which has earned her nicknames like “robot” or “the computer,” reflects her razor-sharp focus on her goals, and her ability not to be distracted by incitement from her political detractors.
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