In Israel’s April elections, former Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked’s New Right party —the product of a political partnership with former Education Minister Naftali Bennet — was not able to achieve the election threshold, and evaporated. Now, three months later, Shaked seems to be more popular than ever, and is being mooted to lead Israel’s far right into September’s elections. In fact, she’s calling for a united right “to have a large ideological camp on the right of the Likud,” as she put it to a group of Republicans visiting Israel last week.
There is no question that the 43-year-old Shaked has star appeal. In a poll last week asking right-wing voters who would be best suited to lead a united right, 45 percent said Shaked. That was more than double the polling result for Bennett, her erstwhile political partner, who garnered 19 percent. And her numbers were a whopping nine times the 5 percent support for the current leader of the far right, Rabbi Rafi Peretz — who has fallen from grace with his intemperate comments regarding the LGBT community and perceived insensitivity toward U.S. Jews and the history of the Holocaust.
The poll results are quite an endorsement of Shaked, a non-observant woman, from a constituency that is largely Orthodox. “She is the most popular politician the right wing has,” declared Joseph Frager, vice president of National Council of Young Israel and co-organizer of the Republican group that met with Shaked.
Irrespective of who leads a united right, the real question is: Who wins and who loses from growth of support for a united right? According to the same poll, any growth of support for a united right will be at the expense of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party. If that’s the case, and united right seat gains translate into Likud seat losses, the overall balance between Israel’s left and right is not likely to change.
And if there is no change, it probably won’t matter whether Likud (Netanyahu) or Blue and White (Gantz) is offered the opportunity to form a new government, since neither will likely be able to do so without support from Avigdor Lieberman and his Russian Yisrael Beiteinu party.
It was Lieberman who caused the fall of the last Netanyahu government formation effort. Now, with a predicted win of 10 seats, twice its number in the outgoing Knesset, the right-wing and secular Yisrael Beiteinu will have a bigger say — maybe the ultimate say — in the makeup of Israel’s next government.
So while Israel’s right may have to adjust to a heightened position for Shaked, whoever wants to be part of Israel’s next majority government may have to find common ground with Lieberman.