Photo Credit: YouTube screenshot
Ayelet Shaked interviewed by Amit Segal on News12, October 20, 2022.

In an exclusive interview on News12, Amit Segal, possibly the most influential right-leaning (some say right-winger) in Israel’s mainstream media, asked the woman who followed former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett through thick and thin for more than a decade Ayelet Shaked, “Let’s talk about Naftali Bennett, OK? Is your relationship the same as it used to be? Are you still Siamese twins like you were over the past decade?”

For the sake of his short stint as prime minister, Naftali Bennett abandoned his principles, broke his sworn promises to his voters, breathed new life into Israel’s left-wing parties, and legitimized an Arab party that grew out of the antisemitic Muslim Brotherhood movement. But those were trivial compared to his betrayal of his loyal partner Shaked. In the end, he chose to leave office without telling her, never mind consulting with her, and did it while she was away on a state visit to Morocco. If this were an episode of Cops, Bennett would have long since been cut by a broken bottle-wielding Shaked with the whole neighborhood watching.


But Shaked, forever the consummate politician, didn’t complain. Instead, she got up, gathered her skirts, and went about carving out her next political victory. It was a complicated process, she was betrayed once more, this time by her latest partner, Yoaz Hendel, but she didn’t even slow down – she found new partners and is pushing ahead. The polls have been cruel to her, she’s not even close to the 3.25% vote threshold, but much like a shark, she keeps moving forward or she’ll die. She has been heroic and self-indulgent at the same time.

Yamina leaders Ayelet Shaked and Naftali Bennett, August 21, 2019. / Ben Dori / Flash 90

And last night, she finally got it off her chest, right off the bat: “Look, a few weeks ahead of Morocco, I was working to establish an alternative right-wing government in the current Knesset, it was an open secret in the Knesset, Bennett also knew, he was informed. It wasn’t a secret, I didn’t do anything behind his back.”

The idea back then was that Shaked and whoever remained in the Yamina party would desert the right-left government and transfer their votes to Benjamin Netanyahu, who would then be able to forge a majority, right-wing government. Shaked was reportedly in negotiations with Likud over the price and combatting Bezalel Smotrich who had expressed his open contempt for her, refusing to join a coalition with her as a member. But then her closest ally pulled the rug from under her and she fell and is yet to get up again.

“I get on a plane, I land, I go on a tour of a mosque, I get a call, the screen says it’s the prime Minister, I say to him, ‘What happened?’ and he said: ‘Ayelet, listen, I decided to dismantle the government instead of having it be dismantled for me, and I’m handing over power to Yair Lapid.’ I told him ‘What?! Why are you handing over power like that to Yair Lapid?’ And then I realized that he also gave the government on a silver platter to Yair Lapid, and we would no longer be able to establish an alternative government, an alternative right-wing government.”

That kind of kick in the gut can only be delivered by a friend, an ally, and a close confidant. She realized that Bennett was moving to block her way out, to prevent Netanyahu from becoming prime minister. To kill a sworn enemy, Bennett was willing to also kill his political sister.

A furious scorned woman, Shaked told Segal her first clue that Bennett was straying to the left came in his “West Bank” comment back in March 2022. He met with Secretary Antony Blinken ahead of the Negev Summit with heads of Arab states, and in their joint press conference referred to the liberated territories as “the West Bank,” the leftist name for the area, rather than “Judea and Samaria,” the common and more right-wing choice.

“So, I quickly call his spokesman and tell him: ‘Get me the prime minister right away.’ He gets me Bennett, and I say to him: ‘Naftali, how did something like this happen?’ He tells me: ‘This is what was written for me and it’s not that bad. Netanyahu says West Bank in English a thousand times. So, I tell him: ‘True, but what is permitted to Netanyahu is not permitted to the former CEO of the Yesha Council.'”

Yes, Naftali Bennett’s first stepping stone into politics was as leader of the settlers in Judea and Samaria. From a pro-settlements point of view, saying the verboten name and not apologizing immediately puts in question the man’s entire political career. It explains the nickel-size yarmulke; it explains his decision (dragging Shaked with him) to quit the Habayit Hayehudi party that he helped build up and establish the first in a series of ambiguously secular and right-wing parties, none of which came close to the 12 seats he had won as the legitimate heir of the NRP, alongside Bezalel Smotrich.

Did Naftali Bennett ever believe any of the slogans he had been spewing from 2009 onward?

What Are We Going to Do About Sara?

Next, Segal pointed out that Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara have been relentlessly attacking her. Mind you, like Bennett, Ayelet Shaked was on the team that brought Netanyahu back from his political defeat, when, as Likud chairman in the 2006 election, the party sank to 12 mandates. With her and Bennett running his 2009 campaign, Likud came back with 27 mandates, following which Bibi became prime minister after outmaneuvering Tzipi Livni, whose Kadima party was the largest in the Knesset.

PM Netanyahu and his wife Sara board a plane at Ben Gurion International, March 19, 2017. / Haim Zach / GPO

But every living Israeli knows that Sara Netanyahu loathes Ayelet Shaked and has been actively campaigning over the years to keep her out of her husband’s succession of governments. It was considered one of the reasons why Netanyahu treated the religious Zionists like dishrags, turning to them after having completed all his other coalition deals. Toward the end of his rule, he was openly ridiculing Bennett, whom he appointed as defense minister while treating it as a joke with fellow Likudniks.

In her interview, Shaked, with between 1.5% and 2% in most polls, did what every desperate politician must do: she groveled before her arch-enemy: “As for Sara, I never spoke to her. It’s time to put these things aside. You know what, maybe I… Maybe I should say here to Mrs. Netanyahu: ‘Put aside these quarrels and these feelings, and these sediments. In the end, we have a common mission to establish a right-wing government led by Benjamin Netanyahu, he is the head of the largest party, and he is the leader of the right, that is a fact, I understand it and we have a common mission.”

It was hard to watch. As soon as the Lapid-Bennett government had collapsed, right-wingers who forgave her and Bennett’s betrayal advised her to take a time out, maybe teach a poli sci course at Ariel University, write a book, and come back in a few years for the next chapter in her political life. I, for one, believe Shaked was the best Justice Minister in Israel’s history, having succeeded in taming, at least somewhat, a hyper-active Supreme Court by maneuvering several major conservative appointments. She also reorganized a hopelessly left-supporting ministry and challenged the most offensive powerful civil servants in it. She was a powerhouse, but it’s going to take time before right-wingers would trust her again.

History will probably take care of things in a couple of weeks, and send Shaked to her much-needed retirement from politics. She should use it wisely.

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