Photo Credit: Ayelet Shaked's Facebook
Ayelet Shaked, March 17, 2022.

On June 10, 2012, the die was cast. “We need a traditional-Jewish-Zionist alternative that is not afraid to speak the truth. We came to bring back the beautiful, proud Zionism, and

I hope that Habayit Hayehudi will welcome me with open arms” wrote Ayelet Shaked at the time. She was then the head of the My Israel extra-parliamentary movement. 


This was her first statement declaring that she was joining politics as a member of Habayit Hayehudi, a faction that only had three Knesset seats at the time and was in danger of not making it into the parliament. She announced her political ambitions, which were shattered last week as it became clear that she was not going to pass the electoral threshold. 

Essentially, for the first time in ten years, Shaked is out of politics, which is why Israel Hayom took a journey down memory lane to look back at her career: the highs, lows, and everything in between. How Shaked went from being nicknamed Israel’s own Margaret Thatcher to garnering only 50,000 votes in the latest election. 

Quite a few officials approached by Israel Hayom to be interviewed on the matter refused to do so. “I am not interested,” one prominent activist said. “She is at her most vulnerable, it wouldn’t be right,” said another. 

Ayelet Shaked, early in her career

“I was first familiar with Naftali Bennett,” said Yotam Zimri, who went from being one of the most ardent supporters of Yamina to its most outspoken critic since the Bennett-Lapid government was formed. A prominent media personality, news anchor, and right-winger, Zimri immediately took a liking to the Bennett-Shaked political duo. 

“We were in contact on social media and I felt it was the beginning of something new, that there was something real there. That’s when I also met Ayelet. I held both of them in high regard. She came across as someone with an ideology, someone unbreakable, who understands what is truly important for Israel. She was incredibly promising.”

Shaked came in fifth in the Habayit Hayehudi primaries and in October 2013 became a full-fledged Knesset member, the first secular lawmaker of a national religious party. 

Two years later, in 2015, when the Knesset dissolved and another election was held, Habayit Hayehudi received eight mandates and after intense coalition negotiations, Shaked was appointed justice minister at the last minute, which is one of the most prestigious positions in the government. She became one of the most beloved figures in Israel. 

“I was very impressed by her,” a senior official who worked with Shaked over the years, said. “From the very beginning, she proved that she was hardworking, energetic, ideological, came to work and had absolutely no ego. She led the Justice Ministry with ease. She trusted her advisors very much. She had an excellent team and we were able to revolutionize. She was very ideological but also pragmatic. She knew when to fight for something until the end, and when to reach a compromise in order to achieve the most. She was a very effective minister.”

Shaked was on a winning streak. She promoted the Judea and Samaria law, appointed dozens of judges, spearheaded a move that transfers judicial power in administrative matters from the High Court to the administrative court and more. 

“I saw a very serious, simple and modest woman. An idealist who promoted important moves for the State of Israel,” described Sara Ha’etzni-Cohen, who leads My Israel today and who was also close to Shaked at the time. 

At the end of 2018, Bennett and Shaked began a process that led to the political spiral that continues to this day, by establishing The New Right faction in the run-up to the election. In retrospect, it was a big mistake, analysts say. 

Explaining the move at the time, Bennett said Habayit Hayehudi had “lost its power to influence” government policy. Shaked, in turn, said she was grateful to religious Zionism for opening its door to me. I have always felt at home. I feel love for this community.”

Splitting from Habayit Hayehudi would prove to be a fatal mistake. In April 2019, in what was the first of five election rounds Israel would go on to hold, Bennett and Shaked lost everything. They came 1,400 votes short of making it into the Knesset. 

Today, Shaked says she regrets the move and would have stayed with Habayit Hayehudi perhaps even at the expense of parting with Bennett. 

Although this was the beginning of the whirlwind that led to a left-wing government that relied on an Arab faction, Zimri says he does not hold the split against Bennett and Shaked. 

“True, they betrayed the Right, but political bets can backfire. It was not an ideological bet but a political one, to get out of the shackles of the rabbis. I was disappointed, but it didn’t make me hate her, on the contrary. She followed her truth to the end.”

Ha’etzni-Cohen agreed, “They crushed the right-wing camp, and because of them we were dragged into endless rounds of elections, but The New Right met a need. The idea was ideologically excellent, but their execution was a catastrophe. They ran a very flawed campaign, and we all paid the price. In my opinion, The New Right suffered from a lot of megalomania, which did not come from Shaked but from Bennet.”

Shaked got another chance in 2019, with the second round of the election, when she took over The New Right, which merged with Habayit Hayehudi and the National Union. The faction won seven seats. But the success did not last as then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form a coalition, plunging Israel into another – now third – parliamentary election. 

This time, Shaked was third on Yamina’s electoral list, after Bennett and Bezalel Smotrich, and the faction won six seats. Yamina went to the opposition after Netanyahu chose Benny Gantz over them in the interim government that was formed at the time. 

In March 2021, Israel held another election – the fourth – in which Yamina won seven seats. Bennett and Lapid formed the unity government with the support of the Islamist Ra’am faction, despite strong opposition from the Right. 

Bennett was accused of being a traitor and Shaked, his political partner, agreed to the coalition despite obvious reservations. She was heavily criticized as well, including by some of the most prominent activists of Yamina. 

“That was the big crack,” Zimri explained. “We tried to reason with her before the announcement. We met with her, I and a few other close friends. She said she understood us and she seemed to be convinced, but in the end, she went to this bad government.”

Associates of Shaked, who was appointed interior minister, said she was damaging her political career but was putting the good of the country before personal interest. She made an effort to be the government’s right-wing symbol and helped Jewish matters. But her voters were not quick to forgive her for breaking her promise. 

“Bennett and Shaked were a political power couple” 

When Bennett resigned from politics four months ago, Shaked was furious. 

“Bennet gave power to Lapid on a silver platter and thereby thwarted the establishment of a right-wing government,” she said at the time. “When he called to tell me about it, I told him: What?!” And just last month she said she was unlikely to partner with Bennett in the future. 

The last sentence reflects one of Shaked’s most significant limitations – she is often the second in command. 

“For better or worse, she was undoubtedly in second place,” the official, who had worked with her, said. “It was always good for her to have Bennett – the leader, the pusher, the explosive force. She was the one who thought things out, examined them, and didn’t make explosive statements. That’s why they were a power couple. There are good things about that because she could excel at her job at the Justice Ministry without needing to quarrel with Netanyahu, for example. 

“The public needs people that are second in command, and this should not be seen as hesitance. In my opinion, Shaked was also an excellent interior minister, but Bennett’s wrongdoings, which she went along with, ended the current phase of her career.”

When Bennett announced he was taking a hiatus from politics, many advised Shaked to do the same. But she refused to leave the national religious sector in the hands of Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir. 

“I believe that religious Zionism is not just the two of them and that there must be an alternative,” she told her associates at the time. 

Shaked herself has said that she is great at being second-in-command, but in the latest round of elections, in which she was a leader, showed that she is capable of being in charge. 

“She demonstrated exceptional leadership. She took a broken party and led a good campaign under an unprecedented attack. She explained to the people who opposed her completely why she entered the government, and people showed forgiveness. The problem is that the public has experienced such incitement against her that there wasn’t enough time to change their minds. Had there been enough time, maybe she would have succeeded in garnering enough votes for the Knesset.”

Shaked persisted in the election race, despite all the odds pointing to an upcoming defeat. It later became clear that her chances of making it into the Knesset stood at zero, she decided, in coordination with the Likud, to continue to the end in order to increase the right-wing bloc’s chances of winning the election. To some extent, the emerging right-wing government is the result of her sacrifice. 

Shaked visiting the United Arab Emirates as interior minister

The question of whether Shaked will ever be forgiven by her voters remains controversial, even among the activists who were once closest to her. 

“I have no feelings of hatred or pity for her, she is simply irrelevant,” Zimri said. “Her excuse for apologizing was amazing. She blamed Bennett, but a leader has to take tough steps even when someone is leading her to the other side. That’s her excuse? That she was following someone else? It doesn’t work like that. The public understands that too. A real leader would have convinced the voters that she is right. Had she been a real leader, she would have created a wave. The very act of apologizing for the move proves that she failed to lead even the few who followed her.

“It’s a shame because I thought she was a leader. She was so promising. After the failure of The New Right, she was stable, principled, and uncompromising. I thought the Right would have its own Iron Woman, but it was a fantasy. I would call it suicide. Not even Netanyahu could have eliminated her as she has done herself. She went to the top of a building, and everyone told her to stop, but she jumped. Shaked can now be a cautionary tale to all future politicians who think they are bigger than their public. If you cross a line – the public will not stay with you.”

Haetzi-Cohen, on the other hand, says Shaked should not be blamed. 

“She is a good woman who made serious mistakes that I opposed publicly, but she is an idealist. She supported this bad government and paid a heavy political, personal and image price for it, but it must be said that within this constellation she was truly a right-wing woman. I hope we will come back and see her after a timeout. We must not throw the baby out with the bath water.”

What the future holds for Shakes is indeed an intriguing question. Many politicians have returned to politics, and it is not unreasonable that Shaked will do so as well. Even now, she has received offers from Likud and Habayit Hayehudi, but is expected to return to the business market for the time being. 

Meir Rubin, head of the Kohelet Forum said that it is too early to write Shaked’s political career off. 

“I don’t see the failure as the end of her career. She is a very talented and idealistic woman, and even her major opponents agree that she is onlt active in the public sphere because she cares. She is very young, she can make plenty more mistakes and failures. There is a chance that she will still be prime minister. 

“She has vast and relevant experience. She changed big systems, and these things don’t go away. Look at Israeli politics. Avigdor Lieberman has been active since I was 6 years old, as has Aryeh Deri. Benjamin Netanyahu ended his first term in painful humiliation in ’99, and now there is a reasonable chance that he will form a government.

“Shaked is in the league of the greats, she was justice and interior minister and led a party twice. This is an experience that very few politicians have. She can afford to make one, two, three, or even four mistakes and move on. Is she at a good stage? Absolutely not. The last government did her no good, and the public she loves very much has distanced herself from her.

He concluded, “I don’t think her beliefs have changed. The public knows that sincere attempts were made on her part to go to the right, but she was blocked. I don’t think the past of the last government will hurt her. Now she has paid a heavy price, and I am sure it is difficult and painful for her, but from here to political eulogies the road is long. There’s a very reasonable chance that this is not the last time we hear the name Ayelet Shaked.”

{Reposted from IsraelHayom}


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