Israel’s Complicated Politics and the United Right – a Nationalist Conservative, Zionist, Radical Woman-Lead Faction

Ayelet Shaked

How Ayelet Shaked, a secular woman, came to dominate the right-wing religious camp in Israel

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Late last month, as Israel prepared for yet another round of elections, Ayelet Shaked ascended to the leadership of the United Right, a joint list comprising the primary factions representing the nation’s religious Zionist community.

While women have led Israeli political parties, none has ever risen to the pinnacle of political power in a bloc representing the traditionally patriarchal Orthodox community.

And even more remarkable, the 43-year-old mother of two is a secular Jew from Tel Aviv.

So who is Ayelet Shaked and how did she overcome decades of political tradition?

Growing up as a middle-class child in the Tel Aviv of the 1980s, Shaked could have been expected to develop into a left-leaning Labor or Meretz voter, a proponent of two states and liberal policies. But as Shaked told The New York Times in 2015, she experienced a personal revelation at the age of 8 when she watched Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir debate an opponent on television: She was swayed by his nationalistic perspective.

During their mandatory military service, some Israelis tend to shift to the right, at least for a while, and a stint as an instructor in the storied Golani infantry brigade helped Shaked strengthen her conservative political outlook.

“I just realized there will not be a solution right now,” she told The Times.

Like the coalition she represents, Shaked is staunchly pro-settlement and hawkish on defense.

Although she studied computer engineering and began her career working for Texas Instruments, Shaked pivoted to politics in 2006, going to work for then-opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu as his bureau chief. She brought along with her the future Jewish Home party head and frequent collaborator Naftali Bennett, helping him make a similar transition from high tech to the dog-eat-dog world of Israeli parliamentary politics.

The two worked for Netanyahu for four years but left following a reported falling-out with his wife, Sara. In 2012, Bennett and Shaked entered the world of right-wing, pro-settlement politics. That was the year that Jewish Home — a party composed of the old National Religious Party and several smaller right-wing factions — held its first open primaries. Bennett, religiously modern Orthodox and politically hawkish, entered the Knesset in 2013 at the top of its list. Shaked took its fifth seat. 

By the 2015 primary Shaked, having only finished her first term in the Knesset, was popular enough with the party base that she came in second behind Bennett, establishing her position as a leader of the nationalist camp. In a party traditionally led by older, gray-haired men, Shaked at 39 not only was an ideological torchbearer but literally a fresh face: a young, stylish woman.

A stint as the country’s justice minister under Netanyahu further cemented her popularity. With mixed success, Shaked sought to overhaul an activist judiciary that in her view handcuffed the military and undermined the right-wing elected government. She also helped pass a controversial bill that defined Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. Supporters said it made an obvious reality into law, while opponents attacked it for prioritizing an ethnic identity over democracy.

Her critics say she is a threat to that democracy.

“While Shaked was ‘polite,’ she was also a bulldozer that would run roughshod over liberal democracy,” Tamar Zandberg, a lawmaker representing the liberal Meretz party, said in a Facebook post. Her attempt to remake the judiciary is “not a misunderstanding of what democracy is, it is a desire to destroy it and establish the Jewish state, the settlements, and Jewish supremacy instead of the state of equality.”

In March, Shaked’s team produced a mock perfume ad featuring “Fascism by Ayelet Shaked” in which she posed like a model while a narrator taunted her liberal critics.

Whatever it takes to win

Both her effectiveness as a politician and Jewish Home’s move toward open primaries helped Shaked advance in the religious sector, according to Yair Sheleg, who researches the religious Zionist sector at the Israel Democracy Institute.

In many ways, he said, its followers consider the nationalist aspect of religious Zionism — settling all of biblical Israel, asserting Israel’s Jewish character — as more fundamental than the religious aspect. Many leaders in the community “can live with Shaked as the leader because she brings many more voters” than other politicians.

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Oded Forer – Creating a Civil Law Free of Radical Influences, the Draft, an Israel for All Jews [Video]

 

Parliamentarian Oded Forer: ‘Make Israel Normal Again’ (with VIDEO)

The number two on Yisrael Beitenu’s list wants to end power of Israel’s religious parties

In a TLV Internationals event moderated by The Media Line, parliamentarian Oded Forer, number two on the list for the Yisrael Beitenu party, spoke to a crowd of largely new immigrants about why they should support his party in the September 17 national elections. The gathering was the first in a weekly “Sunset Series” taking place in August, with different parties represented each week.

TLV Internationals serves as an advocate for new immigrants to Israel with the national government. With a following of over 60,000 young men and women from a multitude of nations, backgrounds and professional fields, the group has built the largest expat community in Israel.

he September vote is the second to take place this year, after Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud party failed to garner enough support to form a government after the April 9 vote.

Forer highlighted three major components of Beitenu’s platform: Creating a government free of religious influence, allowing public transportation on Shabbat and requiring Haredim, or ultra-Orthodox Jews to be subject to the military draft.

“What we want to do is make Israel normal again,” Forer said. “We want to allow people to live the way they want.”

Forer expressed his belief that his party can double the number of seats it received in the first election to 10 or 11 this time by focusing on the increasing discontent of secular Israelis over the demands of the religious parties.

If Beitenu wins enough seats in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, he said it would advocate for forming a center-right unity government together with two other parties, Likud and the Benny-Gantz-led Blue and White faction. Such an alliance would almost undoubtedly garner the minimum 61 seats in the 120-member parliament needed to form a coalition.

“It doesn’t matter who the prime minister is, but what kind of government we have,” Forer said.

One of those attending the event was Brian Shaposhnik, who made aliyah (immigrated to Israel) from Toronto in 2013. He did not vote for Yisrael Beitenu in the April election but believes the party is pro-LGBT rights.

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Imagine Israel if the Rabbinical Courts Decided Civil Matters… What an Iran it Would Be…

Rabbinical court officials tried to promote beneficial legislation in coalition talks

Despite regulations, the court’s legal advisor sends religious party leaders’ recommendations for legislation that would expand the rabbinical system’s powers, including allowing Jewish law to be used in civil cases, constructing new building to match that of Supreme Court

Senior officials in Israel’s rabbinical courts prepared a document suggesting legislation for ultra-Orthodox parties to use during coalition negotiations after the April 2019 elections.

The document, which goes against existing regulations on the separation of the rabbinical courts and the political echelon, was obtained by Ynet’s sister publication Yedioth Ahronoth.

L-R: United Torah Judaism leader Yaakov Litzman, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and National Union head Bezalel Smotrich (Photos: EPA and Yair Sagi)

L-R: United Torah Judaism leader Yaakov Litzman, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and National Union head Bezalel Smotrich (Photos: EPA and Yair Sagi)

It was sent out from the personal account of the rabbinical courts’ legal advisor Rabbi Shimon Yaacovi two weeks after the elections, in an email entitled “Clauses for the government’s basic guidelines.” It was sent to several members of the ultra-Orthodox parties’ negotiators as well as Bezalel Smotrich, the head of the National Union party.

The document contained suggested legislation that the ultra-Orthodox parties should demanded from the government during the coalition talks.

The most noteworthy item was proposed legislation that states that, “the rabbinical courts will have the authority to decide financial cases according to Jewish law, if all sides in the dispute agree.”

Similar legislative attempts meant to increase the power and scope of the rabbinical courts beyond divorce and conversion, have previously been stopped in the past by the Supreme Court.

Other items in the document dealt directly with employment conditions for rabbinical court staff, demanding they be equal to those of workers in the civil court system.

Yaacovi also recommends that the government commit to assigning a budget for a new rabbinical court building and the chief rabbinate that is of equal standard to the Supreme Court building.

The rabbincal court for the Jerusalem area (Photo: Gil Yohanan)

The rabbincal court for the Jerusalem area (Photo: Gil Yohanan)

The legal adviser also sought to increase his own jurisdiction, recommending that he be authorized to appear before the Supreme Court for any injunction involving rabbinical courts without receiving permission from the attorney general.

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A Changing of the Guard in Israel Necessary for Accountability – Keeping Israel from Radicalization

Avigdor Liberman, chairman of Yisrael Beytenu in conversation with the Jerusalem Post

LIBERMAN TO DEMAND HEALTH, INTERIOR MINISTRIES

Yisrael Beytenu leader MK Avigdor Liberman declared Tuesday night that his party would seek the interior and health ministries in the next government, two portfolios currently held by leaders of the ultra-Orthodox parties.

He took direct aim at current head of the health minister Deputy Health Minister and United Torah Judaism chairman Yaakov Litzman by describing Israel’s health system as “very sick” and said that the interior ministry must be wrested from the hands of current minister and Shas chairman Arye Deri to restore “normalcy” to matters of religion and state in the country. 

Liberman also vowed not recommend any candidate to form a coalition after the next election if they do not promise to establish a national unity government without the ultra-Orthodox, Arab parties, and left wing and right wing parties. 

Speaking at Yisrael Beytenu’s convention of central committee members in Tel Aviv, Liberman took fierce aim at the haredi political parties, in particular Deputy Health Minister and United Torah Judaism chairman Yaakov Litzman promising to replace him with a respected professor of medicine. 

He also promised to cut child subsidy payments for a fifth child and upwards, saying that large proportions of the ultra-Orthodox and Arab population do not work because child subsidies make it too financially viable not to seek employment. 

“The occupation of the ultra-Orthodox and Arabs is basically to have children and for their children to have more children, and it is bringing us to the point of collapse,” said Liberman. 

The Yisrael Beytenu chairman made sweeping promises about what his party would demand in the coming government, including a a raft of measures “to restore Israel to normalcy” on matters of religion and state. 

Liberman said that after the elections he would demand the interior ministry for Yisrael Beytenu so as to dismantle local religious councils which currently provide religious services such as marriage registration, kashrut supervision and many others, and replace them with a department for religious services in local government authorities instead.

He also said that obtaining the interior ministry was crucial to allowing local municipal authorities the right to decide if they want more grocery stores and other commercial activities available in their jurisdictions and vowed to overturn the so called “mini-mart law” advocated by the haredi parties which stops local authorities from making such a decision. 

And Liberman said he would demand his party get the health ministry and would appoint Prof. Leonid Eidelman, currently president of the World Medical Association as minister, saying Israel’s health system needed “a professional” to deal with its challenges. 

Liberman’s comments seemed designed to provoke Litzman who is fiercely defensive of his record as minister and has spoken proudly of his achievements there. 

In promises which will further antagonize the ultra-Orthodox parties, the Yisrael Beytenu chairman promised he would demand that haredi schools teach core curriculum subjects such as English and Maths, as part of his conditions of entering a new government. 

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A Right-Wing Israel, Not so Different Than Any Other Fundamentalist Regime

Ayelet Shaked talks to the press in Jerusalem, July 28, 2019.

Olivier Fitoussi

Analysis 

Netanyahu Followed His Wife’s Edicts. Now He Will Pay the Price

Sunday night was probably unsettling for the prime ministerial residence on Balfour Street, a night of taking stock, of frayed nerves. If Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would not have yielded to the caprices and whims of his wife, he could have had a restrained, downsized and loyal Ayelet Shaked on the list of top ten Likud Knesset candidates, even without promising her a ministerial post (or in any case, without promising to keep his promise).

Instead of acting according to his and his party’s best political interests, as suggested to him privately and publicly by lawmakers in his party, Netanyahu was dragged by emotions and vengefulness. Last night he got his comeuppance: Shaked, who begged to be incorporated into Likud and was turned down, and who was fired by Netanyahu from her post as Justice Minister, along with Education Minister Naftali Bennett, is back, and in a big way.

The writing was on the wall as far as her placement at the head of the Union of Right-Wing Parties from the moment Bennett had swallowed his pride and renounced his leadership of the New Right party. According to multiple surveys conducted to test voters’ inclinations, the right, still traumatized by its loss of five to six Knesset seats in April’s election due to its fissures, saw the numbers and urged a union of forces.

Union of Right-Wing Parties Chairman Rafi Peretz (his rabbinical title should be dropped since it’s irrelevant to his political endeavors) has been a dead man walking for some time. Recent polls have given the coup de grace to his pretentious ambitions. With his party hovering over the electoral threshold while the New Right is becoming twice as strong since Shaked assumed leadership last Sunday, there was no doubt as to who should ultimately head the union.

Peretz began the negotiations over the leadership as Tarzan and ended them like Popeye. What he won’t learn by the end of his Knesset term, Shaked, a brilliant politician, has already forgotten. Quietly, discreetly, effectively, she wove the web that brought her to where she is now. Legitimize Kahanists? She won’t bat an eyelid. Her excuse will be that it’s only “a technical bloc,” because nothing describes Shaked better than a cool-headed technocrat.

On September 18, Netanyahu, who tried to eliminate her, will find himself facing the head of a party with 12-13 seats (according to the last polls). If a Likud-right-wing-ultra-Orthodox government is at all possible, he might offer Shaked the Foreign Ministry portfolio even before she asks for it, just so the Justice Ministry stays in Likud hands this time.

Meanwhile, he’s far from reaching that goal. His aim of garnering 61 seats without Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party now looks virtually impossible to attain. Barring an extraordinary development in the next 50 days, the chances a unity government without the ultra-Orthodox, the religious-Zionists and the Kahanists seem quite realistic.

Some insights on the unifying right 

As soon as he recovered from the shock, Netanyahu rushed to contact Peretz, urging him to predicate the team-up on Shaked and Bennett’s committment to recommend that President Reuven Rivlin task only him with forming the government. This is a baseless demand. They’ll do what serves them best under the post-election circumstances. This only highlights his failure. If he’d agreed to her joining Likud, he would have been saved this worry, which in 60 days will turn into panic in the best Balfour style.

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To Serve or Not to Serve – the IDF, Haredim one Enlisted Now Do not Want to Be Associated With Enlistment…

A photo of Rabbi Elisha Levi, an ultra-Orthodox who fought in the Six Day War, is shown in a Yisrael Beytenu campaign ad calling on ultra-Orthodox to enlist. (Screenshot: Twitter)

A photo of Rabbi Elisha Levi, an ultra-Orthodox who fought in the Six Day War, is shown in a Yisrael Beytenu campaign ad calling on ultra-Orthodox to enlist. (Screenshot: Twitter)

Liberman pulls clip calling for Haredi enlistment but featuring Six Day War vet

Granddaughter of Rabbi Elisha Levi outraged to see a photo of him illustrating Yisrael Beytenu campaign spot; ultra-Orthodox MK blasts ‘incitement’

Avigdor Liberman was forced Friday to remove a campaign ad by his Yisrael Beytenu party calling on ultra-Orthodox Israelis to enlist to the military, after coming under fire for including footage of a rabbi who had fought in the Six Day War in 1967.

Yisrael Beytenu has been focusing its campaign on criticizing the ultra-Orthodox community and presenting his party as right-wing and secular, after a disagreement over a law regulating the drafting of seminary students into the IDF prevented Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from forming a coalition in the wake of the April elections. This led to another round of Israeli elections scheduled for September 17.

In the campaign spot published Friday morning, various photos of ultra-Orthodox men are seen with slogans such as: “We’re not demanding that you enlist to [elite commando unit] Sayeret Matkal, only that you enlist,” and “We’re not demanding that you work extra hours, only that you work.”

However, Facebook user Michaela Levi was outraged when she recognized one of the people in the clip as her grandfather Rabbi Elisha Levi, who served in the IDF in the 1960s and took part in the Six Day War against invading Arab armies.

“How ugly can this election cycle be?” she asked in a post. “This morning I saw the video Avigdor Liberman published. Probably without thinking too much about the people behind the photos, he allowed himself to drag my grandfather’s name through the mud… How do you allow yourselves to generalize like this?!

“My grandfather, who served and fought in the Six Day War, worked all his life in education and dedicated every free moment he had to volunteer work, and thousands of graduates of kindergartens and schools around Jerusalem can testify to that,” Levi added.

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The Haredization of a Once Extraordinary City in Israel, Safed

Tourists walk down the street in the northern Israeli city of Safed.

As ultra-Orthodox move in, the face of tourism changes in Safed

While a visit to the northern city of Safed has remained a vacation mainstay for many Orthodox Jews, its increasingly religious character has significantly changed how the average Israeli views it as a potential tourism destination, according to a report in Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronoth.

Safed has featured a distinctly religious character for hundreds of years, serving as a center of Jewish mysticism and Kabbalah since the 16th century. This atmosphere did not deter Israelis from across the political spectrum from visiting, however, and by the 1980s the city boasted some 22 hotels.

That number is now down to four, with many of those that have closed down having been converted to religious institutions affiliated with Chabad and other ultra-Orthodox movements.

However, such figures can also be misleading, given both the large crowds of visitors present in the city during vacation season and the prevalence of available rental apartments.

The streets of Safed (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

A cursory search on Airbnb shows more than 300 available places to stay, indicating that despite the decline in the number of hotels, accommodations are still available and in demand.

Today, some 30 percent of Safed’s 35,000 residents are Haredi and many local businesses are closed on Shabbat. One resident complained to religious news site Israel National News that secular residents are beginning to feel displaced by the demographic changes.

“The city of Tzfat [Safed] is filled with Haredim who come vacation in and around the Old City,” he said. “What draws the Haredi population to Safed are the cemeteries, the nostalgic atmosphere, and the city’s many old synagogues. We have no problem with that, but local residents feel like they’re being pushed out during these periods.”

Despite the closure of hotels, tourism is still important for the city’s economy, a representative of local kosher certification agency cited by the website said.

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