Elections 2013: Shkedi’s comeback

The former longtime deputy mayor explains why he is coming out of retirement to lead a breakaway from the Bayit Yehudi party.

Shmuel Shkedi 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Shmuel Shkedi 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
‘Look at me,” former deputy mayor Shmuel Shkedi said to this journalist three months ago during a casual encounter in Baka. “I have never been happier in my life since I quit politics. I will never go back to it.”
Three months have passed, and Shkedi is now at the head of the party that split from Bayit Yehudi, running for city council.
In an interview with In Jerusalem, he does not deny his recent declaration, but explains that “the circumstances have changed so dramatically that I had no other choice.”
Shkedi leads the United Jerusalem Party together with Arieh King, who revoked his candidacy for mayor and joined forces with the members of the local Bayit Yehudi branch who refused to accept what they call the “dictatorship” of that party’s leader, Naftali Bennett.
What made you change your mind and go back into politics? The situation has changed dramatically. When I decided five years ago to leave politics, my mind was at ease because I knew that I was leaving the representation of my party, Bayit Yehudi, in good hands with my deputy, David Hadari. He did a very good job and was elected to the local branch of the party in a democratic election.
So what changed? The two other members of the party on the city council left the party. Yair Gabai joined the Likud, and Edna Friedman joined Naomi Tsur [in the Ometz Lev Party]. And despite the fact that Hadari was elected democratically [in a party primary two months ago], the chairman of the party, MK Naftali Bennett [now economy and trade minister], instructed us to put his men on the list for the city council.
Are you accusing Bennett of acting undemocratically? Absolutely! And you can quote me on that. Bennett told us that he wanted us to put his men in the top spots of the council list. Disregarding the democratic process we had in the branch of the party, he ordered us to put aside the elected members and replace them with his men. I could not stand by and watch that happen without reacting. Two hundred and eighty members of the party council in Jerusalem voted for the candidates and formed a list, and Bennett came and asked us to dismiss them and replace them.Was there a specific person he requested to advance? Yes, he wanted to get Herzl Yeheskel inside without having to present himself for the verdict of the party’s council members.
I told him, ‘Let him run like all the other candidates and win his spot in a democratic process.’ Hadari, whom he wiped off from the beginning, went to see Bennett three times and tried to convince him not to do it, but he wouldn’t listen.
Wasn’t there anything else you could do? Zevulun Orlev, the chairman of the local branch of the party and former leader of the list in the Knesset, went to see him to try to convince him, but he also failed. Nothing helped. It was 27 hours before the closure of the lists to present to the election committee. We had no other choice but to split.
How did it finally come to you? The members of the party’s local council asked me to take part.
They said, “Come. We have no other choice.” I felt I couldn’t let them down. This party is part of my life. I served it for 25 years on the city council, since [former mayor] Teddy Kollek’s time. I was deputy mayor for 20 years. I felt I had a responsibility.
How did you form this new party? What were your methods? I presented two conditions. First, that I would get the support of the local branch to try to reestablish as much unity as possible in our ranks. Second, that I would include as many new young faces as possible in the new party. Both terms were accepted.
Twenty-four hours before the deadline, we presented our party and joined the campaign.
The first person you approached was Arieh King. He is young (39), but he has rather extremist views which, as we remember from your years on the city council, you do not share.
When you promote a partnership, you have to realize that you’re not going to attain 100 percent of your objective. Those are the rules of the game. I didn’t have the time to contact some additional people I wanted to have at my side.
Who, for example? I would have tried to bring back Edna Friedman... as well as Tsur herself. I also would have tried to talk to Rachel Azaria, who is part of the national-religious camp. I just didn’t have the time.
In fact, you don’t have a woman in any of the three first places on your list, which is totally contrary to Bayit Yehudi’s regulations.
As I said, I simply didn’t have time.
How would you summarize this whole move? I will never forgive Bennett. Because of him, I had to get back into the business of politics.
THE LOCAL Bayit Yehudi faction chose not to respond to Skedi’s charges that the results of the primary were not upheld. “In principle, we do not respond to parties who will not pass the threshold and will waste the public’s votes,” a spokesman said.