(JNS) — Former Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked told a group of New York Republican leaders visiting the Jewish state this week that Israel’s right-wing, which unsuccessfully ran under separate banners during the recent April elections, must unify as a single political constellation ahead of Sept. 17 national elections.
“We have a tough challenge to keep the right in power,” she said.
Shaked told JNS that is unfortunate that the nation was thrust back into an election cycle for the second time in less than a year, and that elections have created an unwanted “toxic atmosphere.”
Following the April elections, parties representing 65 Knesset mandates recommended Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for another term. Yet during coalition negotiations, former defense minister Avigdor Lieberman, who leads the five-member Yisrael Beiteinu Party, went back on his recommendation by refusing to join a Netanyahu-led government that included religious parties. As a result, Netanyahu fell one mandate short of forming a coalition, sending the country into a second snap election.
“We never had a situation in which a candidate didn’t establish a government,” said Shaked. “It is very unique.”
The popular former justice minister’s New Right Party failed to cross Israel’s electoral threshold following its breakaway from the Jewish Home Party prior to the April election. The split in the right contributed to Netanyahu’s coalition failure, which lost several seats to the left as a result.
“If we count all the seats, including those lost to the threshold, we had 63 mandates,” which would have been enough to form government even without Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu Party, noted Shaked. “The right wing needs to have 61 seats without Lieberman.”
“It is the first time Lieberman said he will not sit with ultra-Orthodox,” added Shaked, accusing Lieberman of moving out of the right-wing camp.
Still, she blamed the failure to form a government on the left-wing’s refusal to sit in a Netanyahu-led coalition, despite the 10-year sitting prime minister receiving more mandates than in any previous election.
“What we need to do, all the right-wing parties, we need to get together,” said Shaked, who noted that negotiations between the factions are ongoing. “What I am trying to do is to unite all the small parties to have a large ideological camp on the right of the Likud.”
Shaked suggested that “70 percent of Israel’s Jewish population consider themselves either right or center. The left is shrinking. [Perhaps] 25 percent consider themselves either left or radical left. But they are very vocal.”
She noted that one of the reasons for the decline is because it recently became “not so popular to say you are left. So many politicians now say they are center because they don’t want to be considered left-wing.”
‘Unity is No. 1’
Organizer of the New York Republican Party mission to Israel, former governor and Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, suggested that parallels exist in the current political atmospheres in Israel and the United States.
“I worry about our own elections this year,” he said. “If we continue to let the far-left lead with that kind of mindset, we could see catastrophic consequences coming to our country,” while adding that “the left in Israel seems to be similar to the left in the United States.
“It has always befuddled me how many on the left don’t seem to love their country very much. We are very much mirroring each other,” said Huckabee.
Dr. Joseph Frager, vice president of National Council of Young Israel and co-organizer of the Republican trip, echoed Shaked’s call for right-wing unity and called for her to lead a united political bloc.
“She is the most popular politician the right wing has,” he said, “and she revolutionized the Supreme Court.”
“We have an election coming up, and Ayelet Shaked is the best candidate to lead a united right-wing bloc,” said Frager. “If she leads the Jewish home party, 600,000 votes on the right will not be wasted. She has the best chance to bring 12 seats to the Jewish Home.
Meanwhile, the party is led by Rabbi Rafi Peretz, who took over as Jewish Home chairman when former chairman Naftali Bennett and Shaked defected to form the New Right. Frager said that Peretz needs to step aside and allow Shaked back into the party, this time as its leader.
“This election, we have to be much smarter,” added Frager. Jewish Home needs Ayelet Shaked to lead them. She has the best chance to bring 12 seats to the Jewish Home. It makes no sense for [current party chairman] Rabbi [Rafi] Peretz to lead Jewish Home.
“Shaked will unite the right. Unity is No. 1. We must bring the right together. We cannot waste 600,000 seats.”
Shaked expressed her wish to return to the Justice Ministry as part of the next coalition.
“I want to come back to the ministry of justice. I put a lot of effort to promote conservative judges in the Supreme Court and across the wider judicial system,” she said. “I want to do it in the next coalition.”
She said that should she return to the Justice Ministry she would continue to promote judicial reform. “One of my goals in the next coalition is to pass a new basic law to set a balance between the judicial system and the Knesset. If we have the right government then we will be able to do it.”