Israel Elections: Shaked, Hendel announce joint run as 'Zionist Spirit'

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked will lead the faction with Hendel and Hauser placed in the number two and four slots, respectively.

 Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked and Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel launch the Zionist Spirit party (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)
Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked and Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel launch the Zionist Spirit party
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked’s Yamina Party and Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel’s Derech Eretz Party will run together in the upcoming Knesset election under the new name “Haruach HaTzionit” (The Zionist Spirit), the two announced on Wednesday evening.  

The merger marks the end of over two weeks of speculation which began after Hendel and Hauser were left out of the merger between Blue and White and New Hope on July 10.

The two spoke about the schism in Israeli society and instability of the system, and repeated what many party leaders have already said: What the country needs is a broad, stable government.

“The coming generations will have a hard time understanding how the start-up nation arrived at this situation – political polarization that like a snowball became the number one cause for the political instability in Israel.”

“Every group is fighting a fight to the death in order to delegitimize the other side.”

 Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked and Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel (credit: ARIEL ZANDBERG) Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked and Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel (credit: ARIEL ZANDBERG)

“The coming election is a critical junction for the state of Israel, as each bloc strives to form a narrow government that will deepen on extreme elements,” she said.

“The coming election is a critical junction for the state of Israel, as each bloc strives to form a narrow government that will deepen on extreme elements.”

Israeli Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked

Shaked praised Hendel, calling him a “go-getter” with many accomplishments in the government as Communications Minister.

Shaked's regrets, Hendel's ambitions

She also spoke briefly about the lessons she learned during the past year.

While the former government was necessary at the time, “in hindsight the move did not work and a narrow government cannot create political stability.”

Another lesson was that “Israel cannot depend on an Arab party,” and that “the Zionist enterprise cannot be dependent on votes of representatives of the Arab sector in Israel.”

“Something was missing – and it was a nationalist and Zionist spirit,” Shaked added.

Shaked noticeably did not mention opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu. She also mentioned the need for a “Jewish and sovereign state,” a noticeable phrase that differed from the oft-used “Jewish and democratic state.”

Hendel in his speech was more direct. He repeated Shaked’s point about the need for stability but added specifics.

“We are determinedly against a narrow government [led] by Netanyahu which will only deal with whatever is good for him. We are determinedly against a left-wing narrow government with the Joint List and extreme elements.”

Israeli Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel

“We are determinedly against a narrow government [led] by Netanyahu which will only deal with whatever is good for him. We are determinedly against a left-wing narrow government with the Joint List and extreme elements,” he said.

Each extreme was untenable, Hendel argued, since one side with Otzma Yehudit’s Itamar Ben-Gvir will fire the attorney-general and halt Netanyahu’s trial, while the other will be forced to make concessions to the Joint List or continue on with the election cycle.

“We have had enough,” he said.

“In Israel, there is a statesmanlike Right. We will not be forced to choose between the Center-Left and the ‘only Bibi’ camp.”

“We will force stability,” he stressed.

The only way forward is a unity government between the Likud and the Center-Left, Hendel argued. He did not say whether in such a scenario he would be willing to sit under Netanyahu as prime minister.

Hendel explicitly said that he wants to be the next public security minister to make Israel safer. He also stressed the high cost of living as a priority for the new party.

Fittingly, Shaked and Hendel entered the press conference hall to a song by Shlomi Shabbat, “Only because of the spirit,” and the words, “You, me and God next to me will win, not because of the strength but because of the spirit [or wind] blowing at my back.”

According to the agreement, Hendel will be placed in the number two slot after Shaked and Hauser will occupy the number four slot.

Deputy Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana, who is still officially connected to Shaked but had considered running in a different party, was not mentioned and it is unclear whether he will be a part of the party.

Yamina repeatedly did not pass the electoral threshold in polls, but the addition of Hendel and Hauser will likely give her a boost, since the addition of the former New Hope members may attract right-wing voters who opposed New Hope’s merger with Blue and White.

Hendel and Hauser first entered the Knesset in 2020 after the third election of the current cycle as part of the “Telem” faction, which was part of Blue and White.

Telem broke away from Blue and White after its chairman and current Defense Minister Benny Gantz decided to enter into a rotation government with Likud leader and then prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In response, Hauser and Hendel, who supported the rotation government, broke away from Telem and formed their own faction – Derech Eretz.

In the March 2021 election Derech Eretz joined Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope party but did not officially merge with it. The two were inserted in slots four and eight on New Hope’s list. The party won six seats, but three out of the six – Sa’ar, Construction and Housing Minister Ze’ev Elkin and Hendel – quit the Knesset as part of the Norwegian law. Hauser thus entered the Knesset and served as Deputy Speaker.