Ayelet Shaked and the United Right

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Sure, your students probably recognize famous Israelis and Zionists like Theodor Herzl, Binyamin Netanyahu, Menachem Begin, David Ben Gurion, Moshe Dayan, and Shimon Peres

In addition to being historical leaders, what else do they all have in common? These are all men. The one or two critical female leaders our students typically know about are… Golda Meir or maybe Hannah Senesh. Right?

But, there are so many other important names: Hemda Ben Yehuda, Rahel Yanait Ben-ZviHenrietta Szold, Rachel Katznelson ShazarGeula CohenNechama Leibovitz, Ruth Gavison, Leah Shakdiel, and Ruth Calderon, to name a fewThese are just some of the women who have made an indelible mark on the history of Israel and Zionism. (Spoiler alert, we are making a YouTube video on them as part of our History of Israel Explained Series.)

The hard truth is that we need to a better job of teaching our young people about these incredible women. If we want our students to represent Zionism, we need to ensure they know what Zionism represents. And Zionism is made up of BOTH Zionist men and women.

There is one particular Israeli woman who is making the headlines, and may very well be the most important woman in Israeli politics for the last decade, perhaps since Golda Meir. Do you know who I am talking about? Do your students?

Love her or hate her, Ayelet Shaked is a force to be reckoned with, someone the history books will remember.

Who is she? Why is she so important?

Let’s dive in.

What Happened?

Three right-wing Israeli political parties agreed to run together on a joint list under the leadership of former justice minister Ayelet Shaked. In Israel’s April 2019 elections, Shaked ran as second on the list of the New Right, a party she had created with Naftali Bennett. But the New Right did not receive enough votes to cross the electoral threshold to obtain seats in the Knesset (a party is required to receive a minimum of 3.25% of the votes). Now, after that disappointment, Shaked is the number one on the joint list for the “United Right,” comprised of the New Right, Bayit Yehudi, and National Union parties.

Why Does This Matter?

Who is Ayelet Shaked? 43-year-old Ayelet Shaked grew up in Tel Aviv, where she still lives. She holds degrees in electrical engineering and computer science and worked in hi-tech before her foray into politics in 2006. She was elected to Knesset with the Bayit Yehudi party in 2013 as the only secular woman on the party’s ticket. Shaked was elected justice minister in 2015, during which time she worked on reducing the court system load, easing regulations, drafting social laws, establishing the Arbel Committee to review the limits between free speech and incitement, combating BDS organizations, dealing with illegal immigrants in Israel, meting out harsher punishments for terrorists, and more. She has been called Bayit Yehudi’s “breakout star,” a “secular politician highly popular with Orthodox Jews” who is “poised to be the most successful female Israeli politician since Golda Meir,” and “Netanyahu’s heiress.” For the upcoming election, the New Right is expected to be more popular under Shaked and become the third-largest party after Likud and Blue and White. Like any politician, Shaked has her critics (see below) – but the September elections will show the level of support the Israeli public bestows on her. 

Who are the Israeli women in politics? Haaretz correspondent Allison Kaplan Sommer, in an article titled “How Ayelet Shaked Became the Most Powerful Woman in Israeli Politics,” describes the women in politics as Israel heads to elections next month (it’s a long quote, but bear with us): 

“Until news of the far-right alliance broke, the political landscape heading into the do-over election was looking particularly dismal for women: Meretz leader Tamar Zandbergwas unseated by Nitzan HorowitzStav Shaffir lost her leadership bid for the Labor Party and a disenchanted Shelly Yacimovich, one of the party’s former leaders, announced her decision to quit political life; and [Tzippi] Livni, after her Hatnuah party was unceremoniously dumped by the Zionist Union in humiliating fashion, wasn’t invited to join the centrist Kahol Lavan headed by Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid. And while Orli Levi-Abekasis heads her own centrist party, Gesher, she is playing second fiddle to Labor Party leader Amir Peretz on their alliance’s recently agreed slate.” 

She notes that all of these women represent leftist parties, while Shaked is the only significant female player on the right, and only female party leader at all.

What does this mean for Netanyahu? In the April 2019 election, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had pushed hard for the smaller right-wing parties to run together in order to strengthen their vote and add to his hopeful coalition. But with Shaked at the helm, a Times of Israel analysis claims, “this is not the merger Netanyahu had hoped for.” Shaked may very well take away votes from Likud and, rather than unite the fringes of the right-wing, has “brought together the mainstream factions on the right, all but guaranteeing their own political survival, but not necessarily Netanyahu’s.” 

Diversity of Perspectives within Israel

On the one hand… As mentioned above, the New Right party is expected to be more successful under Shaked given her popularity. Before Shaked became the leader of this joint list, a group of religious Zionist women called for this to happen under the slogan “Let Ayelet Win.” One of the group’s leaders, Ruth Ben-Haim, stated, “Ayelet Shaked is a powerful woman with a political ability which is unparalleled in the right-wing camp to the right of the Likud.” She wears her loyalty to Israel and the Jewish people “proudly, without apology.”

Even more than that… Maariv named Shaked “Woman of the Week,” calling her “warm” and a “people person.” An opinion piece in Yediot Achronot attributes her success to quite a different set of characteristics: determination, emotional detachment and being a “bulldozer,” combined with the contrast of her gentle and attractive exterior. 

You gotta give props… Israel Policy Forum Policy Director Michael Koplow called Shaked an “excellent politician” who could serve as prime minister at the end of the “Bibi era” (perhaps not next, but soon afterward). He pointed out that while joining Likud would probably advance Shaked’s political career more than staying with the New Right, at the moment leading Likud members such as Yuli EdelsteinGidon Sa’ar, and Yisrael Katzwant to keep her away from the party because they recognize her popularity and wish to prevent her from succeeding Netanyahu and rather keep the position for themselves (plus, Sara Netanyahu has a history of bad blood with Shaked and wants to keep her out of Likud).

On the other hand… A specific group objects to Shaked’s party leadership – and not because of her politics. A few weeks back, a group of prominent religious Zionist rabbis signed a petition against appointing Shaked as the leader of the United Right because she is secular, stating that “a God-fearing Jew who observes Torah and mitzvot must be at the head of the national religious party.” One of the signatories, Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, took things a step further by stating that the problem is not just that Shaked is secular, but that she is a woman: “The complicated vortex of politics is not the arena for the role of women,” he explained. (See discussion question #3 for Shaked’s response.)

On the other hand, from a different angle… Prior to the April 2019 election, the New Right put out a campaign ad responding to Shaked’s critics, who criticized her restructure of the Israeli judicial system. In it, Shaked mocks the critics who called her tactics “fascist.” Anschel Pfeffer, of Haaretz, apparently did not appreciate this, tweeting that Shaked was “employ[ing] gaslighting humor to troll the leftists and try and reestablish some street cred for Naftali and Ayelet.”

Discussion Questions

Kaplan Sommer notes in her article that political breakthroughs for women have been on the secular left, uncoincidentally because of the left’s embracing of equality, social justice and feminism. 

  1. Why do Israeli women tend to lead parties on the political left?
  2. Should a woman be expected to place women’s issues at the forefront of her political platform? 
  3. There is discussion as to whether Shaked is a “feminist.” Do you think she is? What does the term mean to you? Consider this statement: After Rabbi Aviner asserted that the world of politics is not for women, Shaked responded on Twitter (with a picture of herself at the Canadian Rockies): “Just a reminder that a woman can do it all. She can travel, be a mother, lead a party, head a city, run a company and even become head of state.” 

Practical Classroom Tips

  1. During the April 2019 election season, the New Right put out a campaign ad responding to Shaked’s critics, who criticized her restructure of the Israeli judicial system. Play the video for your students. Discuss: What message is the video trying to convey? Watch the perfume ad and debate the merits and demerits of this approach to getting her message across.
  2. Learn about the fascinating debate between Rabbi Abraham Isaac Ha-Kohen Kook and Rabbi BenZion Meir Hai Uziel about women’s suffrage and representation in pre-State Palestine:
    • Rabbi Kook: “Regarding the law, I have nothing to add to the words of the rabbis who came before me. In the Torah, in the Prophets, and in the Writings, in the halakhah and in the aggadah, we hear a single voice: that the duty of fixed public service falls upon men… and that roles of office, of judgment, and of testimony are not for her, for ‘all her honor is within’ (Ps. 45:14). Striving to prevent the mixing of sexes in gatherings is a theme that runs through the entire Torah. Thus, any innovation in public leadership that necessarily brings about mixing of the sexes in a multitude, in the same group and gathering, in the routine course of the people’s life, is certainly against the law.”
    • Rabbi Uziel: “We find no clear ground to prohibit this, and ​it is inconceivable that women should be denied this personal right. For in these elections we elevate leaders upon us and empower our representatives to speak in our name, to organize the matters of our yishuv, and to levy taxes on our property. The women, whether directly or indirectly, accept the authority of these representatives and obey their public and national directives and laws. How then can one simultaneously “pull the rope from both ends”: lay upon them the duty to obey those elected by the people, yet deny them the right to vote in the elections? … Therefore, in appointment by election, which is the public’s acceptance of those elected as their representatives and leaders, the law is that they can also elect women.”
      Ask your students what surprised them about each perspective and what they would want to learn more about each one’s view. (See a full article here.)
  3. Watch this video and use the accompanying educational resources to learn about the life and politics of Golda Meir, Israel’s only female premier to date.
  4. Refer back to our earlier article about the far-right in Israeli politics, and use the analysis, discussion questions and classroom tips there.
  5. Use Jerusalem U CEO Dina Rabhan’s piece on Zionism and feminism to learn about important women in Israel’s history: Golda Meir, Rachel Yannait Ben-Zvi, Hanrietta Szold, Ruth Calderon and Einat Wilf. In a think-pair-share exercise, have students learn more about one of these figures and share their learnings with classmates.

In Other News…

  1. Renowned Israeli poet Tuvia Ruebner died at the age of 95. Ruebner won every major literary prize in Israel, including the Israel Prize and the Prime Minister’s Prize for Literature, as well as several in Europe. Read a translation of his poem “Summer” here
  2. The biggest fish in the world – the whale shark – made an appearance off the shores of Eilat, Israel. Despite their name, whale sharks are not harmful to humans, and they can grow to be nearly 40 feet long!
  3. Jennifer Lopez and fiancé Alex Rodriguez are visiting Israel with their family, touring after J-Lo’s concert in Park Hayarkon in Tel Aviv, part of her 50-year-old “It’s My Party” birthday tour.

Noam Weissman

Dr. Noam Weissman is Senior Vice President at OpenDor Media. He leads the education vision and implementation at OpenDor Media with a special focus on the development of meaningful content and resources for students and educators. He holds a doctorate in educational psychology from USC with a focus on curriculum design.

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