For people who describe their positions as “conservative,” New Right leaders Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked use the word “revolution” a lot. Seven times in one hour this week, to be precise.
After a political partnership of six years and a working relationship that goes back more than twice that – they were senior aides to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he was opposition leader and then founded an Israel advocacy organization – the dynamic duo of the Israeli Right is once again promising to barrel through any opposition from the establishment to achieve its goals.
Those can be summed up in the slogan of a New Right billboard that has gone up around the country: “Shaked will win over the High Court; Bennett will defeat Hamas.”
Shaked and Bennett have had a bit of luck during this election campaign, with a series of events beyond their control that fit right into their campaign message – first, the High Court disqualified Union of Right-Wing Parties candidate Michael Ben-Ari, and then Hamas decided to intensify its attacks on Israel and launch rockets into the Tel Aviv area.
This week’s escalation in Gaza gave Bennett plenty of opportunities to advocate for himself as the next defense minister, the portfolio he has long coveted. After years of saying that he was the one who pushed for the IDF to destroy Hamas’s tunnels into Israel in 2014 – which is backed up by portions of the Operation Protective Edge protocols leaked to Israel Hayom on Wednesday – Bennett has come back to that point, that only he will be tough on Hamas.
In that vein, Bennett presented “Burning the hametz,” as one does ahead of Passover, a five-point plan that involves “pounding Hamas from the air,” “targeted assassination of Hamas commanders,” “a house used for terrorism will be destroyed,” while “temporarily evacuating residents of the Gaza border communities” and “not one IDF soldier entering Gaza,” followed by “keeping Gaza permanently demilitarized.”
“Until now, there was an idea about Hamas that they have weapons, we’ll strike them, and they’ll be deterred,” Bennett told The Jerusalem Post from the New Right’s campaign headquarters in a Ramat Gan high-rise. “It doesn’t work, because our leaders don’t have the courage, because they don’t want to have to fight so often.”
Bennett called the situation unacceptable.
“If someone comes at you with a gun, you don’t try to deter them; you take the gun and break it. We have to uproot Hamas’s ability to hurt us, not just to hurt their motivation. We have to empty out and neutralize their abilities, and then we have to mow the lawn – don’t let them grow strong again,” he said.
Bennett’s vision for responding to Hamas is similar to Israel’s strategy for Iranian proxies in Syria, he explained.
“People don’t understand the hell that the people of the Gaza border communities, Ashdod and Beersheba live in,” he lamented.
Bennett spent Monday night in Kibbutz Alumim near the Gaza border – something he said he does whenever there is an escalation – and was woken up five or six times by rocket sirens.
“The kids in Sderot and the kibbutzim of the Gaza border communities can’t sleep at night.... It shouldn’t be like that in a normal country,” he said.
Israel has heard promises on Gaza before. In 2008, Netanyahu said that if he becomes prime minister, he will defeat Hamas. Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman said, before he became defense minister, that if he were appointed to that role, he would kill Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh within 48 hours, if he did not return captive civilians and the bodies of IDF soldiers.
As for how he’s different from Liberman, who also talks tough, Bennett said that he’s already been able to effect change, like in the case of the tunnels in 2014, and that he and Shaked stopped the release of terrorists from prison as part of peace talks with the Palestinian Authority that same year.
“Listen, Haniyeh, I’m not Liberman; I’m new. New Right,” Bennett said in Arabic in a campaign video.
And Netanyahu, Bennett said, “is a great statesman who works well with [US President Donald] Trump and [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, but he needs to let me do the work against Hamas.”
“What needs to be done is to shake up the spirit of the security establishment, which is paralyzed, accepts things and kicks the can down the road,” he said. “Can anyone remember the last time the IDF won? The worst thing is that people are used to this situation, in which the IDF doesn’t win.”
The other contribution that outside events made to the New Right’s campaign was the High Court deciding to ban Ben-Ari’s candidacy on grounds of racism, while allowing extremists on the opposite side of the political spectrum, like the Balad Party and candidate Ofer Kassif of Hadash, to run in the upcoming election.
Basic Law: Knesset says that “rejection of the State of Israel’s existence as a Jewish and democratic state, incitement to racism, [or] support for armed conflict of an enemy state or terrorist organization against the State of Israel” is grounds for disqualification from an election.
“The High Court flattened the law,” Shaked told the Post. “They don’t ban candidates who don’t support a Jewish and democratic state. It’s wrong [to follow the law] on just one side.
“Anyway, Ben-Ari was already in the Knesset and the sky didn’t fall,” she added.
Shaked has long been an opponent of judicial activism, and she came into the Justice Ministry in 2015 rearing for a fight. The biggest change that she’s been able to make to the Supreme Court is negotiating a change in the balance of power in the Judicial Selection Committee such that she was able to get more conservative judges on the bench.
And while Ben-Ari ended up out of the election, she pointed to Justice David Mintz – who was against banning any candidates, arguing that none met the standard of the law – as one of her conservative successes.
“The Likud has been in power since 2009 and they did nothing,” she said. “They only promoted the judicial revolution – it started under [former justice minister and Likud MK] Dan Meridor. Until I was justice minister, Netanyahu was proud of stopping laws to change the judiciary.”
Bennett chimed in: “What Shaked did requires courage. It’s scary to mess with the judiciary.... It would have been the easiest thing to let four years pass and not start a campaign to change the system. She worked smartly and assertively to bring change.... The next stop is not just a change in manpower, but a structural change.”
Shaked has farther-reaching proposals than just appointing like-minded judges. She wants to pass a Basic Law to regulate the relationship between the courts and the Knesset, including an override clause that would allow the Knesset to repass laws struck down by the Supreme Court. She also wants to get rid of the Judicial Selection Committee for Supreme Court justices and have the Knesset vote on nominees instead.
Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, the Likud’s biggest attack dog against judicial activism, has blamed Shaked for not getting much done, downplaying the new judges. But Shaked said those are “political attacks with no truth behind them,” and pointed out that Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and his Kulanu Party had veto power in the coalition against any changes to the judiciary. This time around, Kahlon has said he won’t get involved in the issue anymore, which means that Shaked would have freer rein if she returns to the Justice Ministry.
Two days before Purim, the New Right released a video featuring Shaked acting like a model in a commercial for expensive perfume – but in this case, the perfume is named “fascism.” Shaked flips her hair, puts on an earring and descends a staircase, while a narrator listed her goals and achievements as justice minister: “Judicial revolution. Reducing [judicial] activism. Appointing judges. Governance. Separation of powers. Restraining the High Court of Justice.” Shaked sprays herself with the “fascism” perfume, raised her eyebrows, and says: “It smells like democracy to me.”
The video made waves in Israel, with outrage from left-wing critics and from abroad, where much of the foreign press missed the whole Purim thing and interpreted it as actually advocating fascism. But the pair said they’re pleased with the uproar.
Shaked and Bennett blamed Israeli journalists for tweeting incomplete translations of the video and for not saying “it was for Purim and done ironically.”
“The ones who twisted the message then complained that the world saw it negatively,” Bennett said. “It’s like someone who kills his parents and asks for sympathy because he’s an orphan.
There are two or three leftist journalists who took this the wrong way. It’s the usual people hurting our image in the world. Shaked is saying this is democracy, not fascism.”
“I think it’s sharp, funny, clever, sarcastic, and uses the narrative of the progressive Left against them. We’ll see if Haaretz continues to call me fascist,” Shaked said.
The justice minister also said she met with CEOs from a major American entertainment company, which she asked not be named, who complimented her on the video and were surprised that a senior minister could make a joke at her own expense in that way.
“WE NEED 12 seats so Shaked can finish the judicial revolution,” Bennett said.
In this week’s polls, New Right averaged around six seats. The party’s internal polls show it’ll get seven seats, and that the right-wing bloc led by Likud will have 64 seats.
Former Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline Glick holds the sixth spot on the party list, something the duo repeatedly emphasized in the interview, with Shaked calling her “an amazing woman and representative of the Right and the English-speaking community.”
Another point Shaked and Bennett made several times is that they’ve found, in their travels and parlor meetings, that many English-speaking voters are deciding whether to vote for them or Moshe Feiglin’s Zehut.
Shaked said that “people debating between us and Feiglin should think whether they want to bring Caroline into the Knesset, or Libby Molad from the Green Leaf Party,” which advocated for legalizing cannabis. “They should think if they want politicians who have already brought great changes – before we entered, a Palestinian state was a fait accompli, and so was not touching the judiciary – or Feiglin, who for 20 years has done nothing but sell slogans and fantasies.”
Later in the conversation, Bennett compared Feiglin to the pied piper and called him “a philosopher and critic” who complains but doesn’t know how to do anything.
But they backed up their criticisms by bringing up their economic platform, which, with its free-market ideas and calls to cut red tape, can compete with Zehut’s quasi-libertarianism.
“We have a detailed, liberal economic platform. We’re for breaking monopolies. Bennett broke up the cement monopoly and opened the dairy market to imports [as economy minister in 2013-2015]. I required the Histadrut [labor federation] to be more transparent. We have a clear line of free market and liberty and strengthening the business sector,” Shaked said.
Bennett pointed out that both of them come from the tech sector – Bennett was a CEO of multiple tech companies that were sold for hundreds of millions of dollars, and Shaked, a software engineer by training, used to work for Texas Instruments.
“We each spent a decade in hi-tech, and it shaped our worldviews,” Bennett said. “We understand businesses have to be able to be flexible, fast and unregulated. It’s in our souls. In the cabinet, people would tease us that we’re the ‘Iron Dome of hi-tech,’ because we shot down any bill that could hurt the tech sector, this wonderful thing that is keeping our economy going.”
They also pointed out that, in her capacity as justice minister and therefore chairwoman of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, Shaked fought overregulation by blocking 97% of bills proposed.
“The Knesset is the parliament that passes the most laws in the world. It’s a disaster for the business sector,” Shaked lamented.
And in case this just looks like an argument against Zehut, this week a video of Bennett speaking at a parlor meeting that was closed to the press was leaked to Kan 11. In the clip, Bennett said that if they cannot have their ideal portfolios – defense and justice – then he and Shaked would both like the Finance Ministry, and they would have to work out who would get it.
No matter which ministries Shaked and Bennett end up with, they’re ready to start a revolution after April 9.
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