Benjamin Netanyahu, Joseph Gutnick.
(photo credit: EZRA LANDAU)
Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu surprised the world when he came from behind to defeat heavily favored incumbent Shimon Peres in the May 1996 election and win the premiership for the first time.
The last-minute boost that enabled Netanyahu to win the election came from a campaign started two days before the May 29 election, when banners went up at junctions across the country with the slogan “Netanyahu is good for the Jews.”
The campaign was financed by Australian billionaire Joseph Gutnick, a Chabad rabbi who made a fortune from taking the advice of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, to mine diamonds in Australia’s Northern Territory.
Twenty-two years later, Gutnick has told The Jerusalem Post
exclusively that he has chosen his candidate to succeed Netanyahu whenever he leaves office: Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked.
Gutnick revealed that he has built a relationship with Shaked in recent years and pledged his resources to her success. He chose Shaked because of her right-wing views, her leadership, her ability to unite Israelis as a secular Jew who respects religion, and because he believes the time has come for Israel to have its second female prime minister after Golda Meir.
To accomplish her goal, Gutnick has secretly been advising Shaked to leave Bayit Yehudi and join Likud.
He wrote her a week ago, telling her that the time had come to make the change.
“I am very happy to endorse her to be Bibi’s heir,” Gutnick said. “Only when Bibi leaves should she then lead the Likud. I fully endorse her as the next prime minister only after Bibi leaves.”
Gutnick has maintained a close relationship with Netanyahu, who sent him a letter a few days ago thanking him for his enduring support and friendship. He said he hopes the prime minister will emerge unscathed from his criminal investigations, but meanwhile Gutnick is taking steps to ensure Israel will continue to have right-wing leadership in the post-Netanyahu era.
One obstacle to Gutnick’s goal is the head of Shaked’s current party, Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett, who he said should stand aside and not “be selfish.”
“He should encourage Shaked for the sake of shleimut ha’aretz (maintaining all of the Land of Israel) and the Jewish world, because he has no chance to be prime minister, and he can be foreign minister,” Gutnick said.
Gutnick was pleased by a poll published in Friday’s Ma’ariv newspaper, which found that if elections were held now and Shaked headed Likud, she would win 33 seats, the same as Netanyahu would win, and would expand the Right bloc to 73 seats from its current 66.
The poll found that Shaked would also do well if former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz took over the Zionist Union. Her Likud would win 31 seats compared to 24 for the Zionist Union under Gantz. If Netanyahu led Likud, he would win 32 seats and Gantz’s Zionist Union 22.
The Panels Research poll of 578 respondents representing a statistical sample of the Israeli adult population had a margin of error of 4.3% and was conducted Wednesday.
Four days earlier, former coalition chairman David Bitan surprised people with his praise of Shaked Saturday at a speech in Eilat.
“If she ran, she would get first place,” Bitan said, referring to the 2019 race for the Likud’s slate of Knesset candidates after Netanyahu.
Bitan said Shaked would be able to beat former Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar, Transportation Minister Israel Katz and “anyone who may run.” He added that Shaked is loyal to Bennett and that his statement was in reference to how the Likud party “unlike other parties” is able to accept “serious people who can contribute to the Likud and to the state.”
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