Israel Elections: Ayelet Shaked is in the fight of her life - interview

POLITICAL AFFAIRS: Ayelet Shaked is in the fight of her life to cling on to her Knesset seat, and stay in government

 An election campaign poster of Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, in Jerusalem, September 12, 2022 (photo credit: OLIVER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
An election campaign poster of Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, in Jerusalem, September 12, 2022
(photo credit: OLIVER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

Interior ministers are not supposed to have a security detail, and yet Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, leader of Habayit Hayehudi party in the upcoming election, has one. And she blames followers of Bezalel Smotrich and Benjamin Netanyahu.

Shaked, 46, joined the current government in June 2021 as No. 2 on the Yamina list under then-prime minister Naftali Bennett and 16 months after the government’s formation, she is the leader of a party with a different name – Habayit Hayehudi, and campaigning heavily to surmount the electoral threshold so that she can be part of a new right-wing government.

A month before the November election, Shaked is polling below the electoral threshold but she is slowly gaining ground and is in a race against time to gain the 3.25% vote barrier to make it into the next Knesset.

Her life since joining the government has not been easy, she said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post.

 AYELET SHAKED: Resigning would be a populist and irresponsible move (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST) AYELET SHAKED: Resigning would be a populist and irresponsible move (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

“Over the past year we suffered very difficult verbal abuse from emissaries of [Religious Zionism party Bezalel] Smotrich and [opposition leader Benjamin] Netanyahu. Smotrich incited against us in the most severe way possible when he called on synagogues to block me from entering. This is not a Jewish thing to do,” Shaked said.

“It is unfortunate that they did these things themselves. It is unfortunate that they did not apologize until today and it is unfortunate that they are not condemning violence against protesters,” Shaked said, referring to a slew of violent assaults on anti-Netanyahu protests in recent weeks.

“It is very worrisome,” she said.

However, for Shaked, at least above surface, personal grievances did not matter. What matters is that Netanyahu understood – quickly – that he was making a mistake by pushing her to quit the race.

“If we do not run, this will strengthen the Left, since our seats will shift to [Defense Minister and National Unity party leader Benny] Gantz. Only if we cross the threshold will the right-wing bloc have 61 seats. We currently have three seats and we need one more”, Shaked said.

It’s time that Netanyahu came to his senses,” she said.

Netanyahu and others, however, argue that Shaked’s refusal to resign from her current position in a government alongside left-wing parties is proof that she cannot be trusted to be part of their bloc.

“Resigning would be a populist and irresponsible move,” she said. “I’ll give you an example just from the past couple months of things that would not have happened if I weren’t in the government – there was direct pressure from the Americans and the Prime Minister’s Office not to allow new construction in Jerusalem.... I heard them, and then allowed it,” Shaked said.

In addition, regarding immigration, Shaked said that “it is necessary for there to be a person who understands the job [of Interior Minister] – not just how to score points with the press, but also to safeguard the state’s Jewish character.

“A number of right-wing activists even told me personally not to make the populist move and leave,” she said.

In a hyped-up speech before Rosh Hashana, Shaked apologized to her supporters for breaking her promise not to enter a government with Arab parties or to enable Prime Minister Yair Lapid to enter that role. This, perhaps, signaled the final break away from Bennett, who announced that he would not run in the election but continues to support the government and Lapid.

Shaked, however, refused to discuss Bennett, and seemed eager to put him in her rear-view mirror.

“Today I am navigating the party, I am leading it. I promised and am promising that it will be a part of the right-wing bloc.” She and Bennett are in constant touch but are not coordinated on all issues, she added.

Bennett’s close ally and friend, former Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana, broke with Shaked and joined National Unity – and on this Shaked did not mince her words.

There are three reasons, she said, not to vote for Gantz’s party.

First, Gantz cannot form a government without the Arab parties – something Shaked assumes right-wing voters oppose, and she has vowed that she will refuse to sit alongside any of the Arab parties in the next coalition, even Ra’am, which has stated that it accepts Israel’s Jewish character.

The reason for ruling out Ra’am despite its moderate views, Shaked explained, was that it still avoided certain votes that it could not stomach, such as the Citizenship Law. At the end of the day, a party in the coalition must pledge to vote with the coalition no matter what, and Ra’am could not be counted on, she said.

The second reason Shaked gave why voters should choose her over National Unity, was that both Gantz and No. 3 on his list, former chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot, were left-wing. 

Although the two have not declared explicitly that they support a two-state solution, but rather, they want to “shrink the conflict” in order to eventually “separate” from the Palestinians, this for Shaked is tantamount to a two-state solution. 

She, in contrast, believes that Israel must annex all of the West Bank’s Area C, and leave areas A and B as they are for the time being so that the IDF can continue to root out all terror cells, she said.

Shaked aims for National Religious voters

The third reason Shaked thinks that voters should choose her over Gantz was that although National Unity has religious members in its ranks, it does not look out specifically for the National Religious community, which she said her party would do.

Habayit Hayehudi is the home for moderate National Religious voters, Shaked argued, and it has one other advantage – three of the party’s top six are women, and Shaked herself is the first-ever woman leader of a right-wing party, making it a worthy choice for women from the National Religious camp.

“In the past year, we elected women as halachic advisers on rabbinical councils, and we will act so that at least one of the next chief rabbis will be [from the] National Religious [camp]. Smotrich, [Noam MK] Avi Maoz and the Likud cannot do these things, because they are hostages of the haredi [politicians],” Shaked said.

Many of the current government’s successes on this front were thanks to Kahana, however, and Shaked did not refute the fact that her potential future coalition partners will not go out of their way – to say the least – to advance women’s rights, especially in the religious sphere.

Still, Shaked felt that National Unity was not a home for those who defined themselves as right-wing – and that Habayit Hayehudi was the appropriate vote for the thousands of what she called “homeless” voters, who feel as if they have no one to vote for.

Finally, another population Shaked felt close to was Israel’s English-speaking voters.

“We have two [such] representatives on our list – both [MK] Yomtob Khalfon, who represents the different communities of new olim – French, Anglo and others, and Nitzana Darshan-Leitner, who herself is very active in the [English-speaking] community, and is a fighter for justice in US courts against funding of terror organizations. 

This is a list that is very oriented towards the English-speaking community,” Shaked concluded.