Why Ayelet Shaked is worried about American Jews following US trip

POLITICAL AFFAIRS: Shaked called on American Jews to stop donating money to US universities.

 INTERIOR MINISTER Ayelet Shaked speaks at last month’s Jerusalem Post Conference. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
INTERIOR MINISTER Ayelet Shaked speaks at last month’s Jerusalem Post Conference.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked was maligned following last month’s Jerusalem Post Conference in a video spread on social media and right-wing websites by opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s advisers. 

They circulated a 17-second clip of her speaking in English at the conference and stopping to ask how to translate a Hebrew word for “appreciate.” 

“In the end, I believe that the public will know how to appreciate politicians that work for them,” she said in the 20-minute interview, in which she made no significant mistakes with the language.

Rather than dwell on the attempted shaming, Shaked immediately took steps to prove what she said in that particular quote.

Shaked went to the United States for a series of meetings, in which no one complained about her English, and her accomplishments for the public spoke for themselves.

 SHAKED WITH US Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas. (credit: Courtesy) SHAKED WITH US Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas. (credit: Courtesy)

The peak of her trip last week was a meeting with US Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, with whom she had already built up a relationship when she was justice minister under Netanyahu. Shaked and Mayorkas initiated a process that is set to lead to the US granting a visa exemption for Israeli travelers to the US in the beginning of 2023, a step Israelis have been seeking for decades to avoid dreaded American bureaucracy.

They established governmental teams to tackle the remaining challenges to end the phenomenon of Israelis waiting to get permission to enter the US. The US team will visit Israel in January, and Shaked and Mayorkas will follow up by meeting once a month on Zoom, a privilege rare for any interior minister around the world.

“Mayorkas is very dedicated to overcoming the challenges to make it work,” Shaked said in a phone interview – in Hebrew this time. “I think we will succeed at fixing the problems once and for all.”

The problems include allowing American immigration officers to check if Israelis who seek entry to the US have a criminal record, which could require a bill enabling a foreign country to access the Israeli criminal records system.

Shaked’s efforts were boosted by a bipartisan group of 58 congressmen, who sent a letter to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Mayorkas, urging them to add Israel to the Visa Waiver Program. Shaked described Mayorkas as a warm Jew. 

She also met with congressmen, Israeli diplomats and incoming US Ambassador Thomas Nides, in one of his last meetings with Israeli officials before arriving in Israel next week, following his Thanksgiving weekend with his family in the US.

Michael Thomas McCaul, a Texas Republican, who is the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee in the current Congress, tweeted about how much he enjoyed his meeting with Shaked.

WHILE THOSE meetings in Washington were uplifting for Shaked, she came out worried from some of her talks with American Jewish leaders. She addressed the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the World Jewish Congress in New York. 

In a Facebook post, she said WJC President Ron Lauder told her that young American Jews are afraid to say in their interviews for universities that they support Israel. 

“This is a dangerous situation that cannot be accepted,” she wrote. “We need to draft every organization to fight this, including by stopping contributions to universities that encourage anti-Israel activity. We need to strengthen our students on the campuses and arm them with content and facts to help them fight for justice and defend Israel from the blood libels and fake news of the BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] movement.”

She called the campaign against Israel “a new kind of antisemitism” that must be fought with “all-out war.”

Asked in the interview if urging Jews to end donations was not going too far, she said such a step is imperative, and could be effective because Jews tend to be among the top donors of leading North American universities. 

“If everyone joins the effort, threatening to take away their contributions can have a significant impact,” Shaked said. “The situation is tough, and action must be taken immediately to remedy it.”

Shaked said she knows the American Jewish community is strong and well established, but that she is still very worried about the challenges faced from assimilation and anti-Israel campaigns. 

She lamented that Jews are often among the leaders of anti-Israel groups. She revealed that a non-Jewish senior American official told her he wished the American Jewish community were as pro-Israel as he is. 

FOLLOWING THE trip, Shaked came back to fights in the Supreme Court Judicial Selection Committee and the Knesset. In the committee, she joined forces with Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar to block a deal that she did not think went far enough to make the court more conservative.

In the Knesset, Shaked quashed an effort by Ra’am (United Arab List) to expand efforts to hook up thousands of illegally built Arab homes to the national electricity grid. She lamented that the same step cannot be done with unauthorized outposts in Judea and Samaria, whose planning status is more complicated. 

She revealed that she will convene a meeting in her ministry next week with relevant authorities about how the outposts can be helped. 

Shaked is facing unprecedented pressure from her base on the Right which is angry at her for enabling the formation of a coalition with Meretz and Ra’am. But she said that at this stage, she has no regrets about joining the government.

“We are working hard, and the government is functioning much better than previous governments,” she said. “It’s definitely a challenge. It’s easier being in a more homogeneous government. But Bennett is doing terrific work, and I am thankful we are not facing the alternative, which was additional elections and chaos.”

One of the heads of a Jewish organization who heard her speak to the Conference of Presidents said he was surprised to hear her English had been criticized.

“She knows how to avoid answering questions just as well in English as she does in Hebrew,” the American Jewish leader said."