The sound of jaw-dropping could be heard across Israel on Wednesday evening, during Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked’s announcement that she and Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel had forged a new faction – Haruach Hatzionit (the Zionist Spirit) – to run in the November 1 Knesset elections.
The collective gasp was not a result of the revelation itself. Earlier in the day, it had been advertised that her declaration would be televised on the evening news.
No, the amazement derived from the chutzpah of her remarks, which she opened with a cliché about the current religious mourning period marking what she dubbed the “most difficult chapter of Jewish history.”
“We are now well into the three weeks [between the day that walls of Jerusalem were breached by the Romans in 69 CE and the destruction of the holy temples on Tisha Be’av],” she said, proceeding to point to the “societal schism” that led to “political boycotts between different groups [and] a lack of willingness to cooperate with the opposing camp.”
Sigh. If we Israelis were granted a shekel every time this example was used as a call for modern-day unity, we’d be sitting pretty, not panicking over the soaring cost of living coupled with low wages. Still, we’ve grown inured to the reference, particularly when made by candidates professing to possess a magic potion for healing internecine rifts.
HAD THIS been the only tone-deafness exhibited by Shaked, who replaced former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the helm of the Yamina Party as soon as the Knesset dissolved itself on June 30, she might have been excused for the stale material. But the fact that she was instrumental in concocting the coalition that just fell – a year after its inception, and based on an identical false promise – warranted the disdain it received.
The gall didn’t end there.
“Future generations will have trouble understanding how the ‘start-up nation’ ended up in such a situation,” she stated, adding that “political polarization… has become the No. 1 cause of Israel’s governmental instability, [with] each group fighting to the death to disqualify the others.”
She conveniently omitted mention of four key factors.
The first is that the phenomenon is nothing new. The second is that the coalition system lends itself to small parties pushing for their own parliamentary seats, even when their platforms are indistinguishable from those of their larger counterparts.
The third is that all the players whose sole goal was to break Likud leader Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu’s streak as the country’s longest-serving prime minister were previously at one another’s throats, but closed ranks around a shared hatred for him.
Never mind that Yamina, which ran against Bibi from the Right, was key among these very paragons of “unity” that banded with the Left and the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Ra’am Party – five minutes after vowing never to do so. On the other hand, let’s not forget that former prime minister Naftali Bennett went as far as to sign a written pledge on live TV, on the eve of the last round of elections, that he would never sit with Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid.
IT’S A wonder that Shaked didn’t blush or bat an eye while going on to insist that the upcoming round constitutes a “critical juncture,” as each bloc is striving to establish a narrow government that relies on the fringe.
“Whatever the results,” she warned, “half of the public will feel that the country was stolen from them.”
At this, the small crowd of her supporters and those of Hendel’s virtually non-existent Derech Eretz Party erupted in applause. This was ironic, to put it mildly, since it was Yamina, with the help of Derech Eretz, Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope Party and other self-described members of the “national camp,” which actually stole the country – astonishingly, from their own voters.
So, when she told her audience that “together, we’ll bring an end to the unprecedented loop that politics imposed on Israel,” she and they must have been engaging in the willful erasure of their short-term memories. Ditto for her subsequent claim that only a vote for her new party “will guarantee a broad, national-Zionist government.”
If she thinks that changing the party’s name can camouflage Yamina’s betrayal and Bennett’s humiliation at the hands of his partner in coalition manipulation, Prime Minister Lapid, she’s kidding herself. Israelis may be ballot-box weary, but we’re not blind.
IT NEEDS to be noted here that polls for which she paid heftily showed that Yamina wouldn’t pass the electoral threshold. Derech Eretz’s chances were even slimmer. The impetus for the merger, then, had zero to do with Zionist ideals; it was a Hail Mary maneuver on the part of Shaked and Hendel not to have to kiss the Knesset goodbye.
To top it all off, if these two government ministers have any chance of receiving cabinet positions again – in the hopefully unlikely event that they garner enough votes to pass the threshold – they will have to emulate the Bennett-Shaked ploy that brought us the crumbled coalition, or wheel and deal with either Lapid or Netanyahu to enable one of the two to have a parliamentary majority.
Speaking of Netanyahu, Shaked hinted that she wouldn’t rule out joining a coalition with him. “The housing crisis and the cost of living are of no interest to ‘yes Bibi’ or ‘no Bibi,’” she said. “Only a stable national government will be able to promote the free market in Israel and promote the prosperity of life in the country.”
“Only a stable national government will be able to promote the free market in Israel and promote the prosperity of life in the country.”Israeli Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked
Here’s the rub, however. There could have been a “stable national government” three and a half years ago, if not for the “anybody but Bibi” contingent on the right side of the pie chart.
What does she imagine has changed?
Does she think that Yisrael Beytenu chairman (and Finance Minister) Avigdor Liberman – instigator of this whole electoral mess in the first place, when he reneged on his assurance that he would back Likud after the first round of elections – will suddenly have a change of heart?
Or is she telling herself the lie that Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz (who just joined forces with Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar) are in the “national” camp? Perhaps she’s entertaining a fantasy that they’re going to sit in a government headed by Netanyahu. Maybe she moved to la-la land and believes that the haredi parties will have anything to do with Lapid or Liberman.
ADDING EMBARRASSMENT to delusion, Shaked completed her performance with a poor excuse for an apology to the voters Yamina betrayed.
“I know that many of you were hurt,” she said. “A year ago, when the government was formed, we wanted to prevent the madness of a fifth election. We were thinking about what was right at the time for the State of Israel.”
She then boasted about the government’s ostensible right-wing accomplishments, before grudgingly acknowledging, in retrospect, that things hadn’t worked out so well.
“Looking back, the move didn’t succeed, and a narrow government was unable to produce stability,” she admitted. “In addition, throughout the entire period, something was missing. There was a lack of spirit, a Zionist spirit. Citizens of Israel, today we are bringing back the spirit, bringing back a national, Zionist spirit.” What an impressive segue to introducing the party’s name.
She concluded with a “lesson” learned from the experience: “The Israeli government cannot rely on an Arab party. The Zionist enterprise cannot depend on the votes of Israel’s Arab [Knesset members].”
It wasn’t exactly an expression of sincere introspection. Soul searching requires some kind of penance, such as bowing one’s head and issuing a genuine apology. In Shaked’s case, it should also include leaving the arena.
Instead, she spent a hefty sum in tax-payer shekels on a survey proving that she should step aside, and will waste hundreds of thousands more on ensuring that she won’t have to do so. There’s the “Zionist Spirit” for you.