On March 17, the Israelis voted in their parliamentary election. Thirty out 120 seats in the Knesset (the Israeli Parliament) went to Likud, the party of the incumbent Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu was forced to form an unusual coalition with the ultra-orthodox who won 23 seats and the far right nationalist party Jewish Home (Ha-Bayit Ha-Yehudi). With Jewish Home eight seats, Netanyahu can count on a majority of just 61 seats: one single defection might cause Israel to vote again. Furthermore, this unprecedented coalition will find it hard to pass thorny legislation and will need to concede something to its most radical members.
On its part, controversial and often inappropriate former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman‘s party, Yisrael Beitenu, has left the government. The reason of the rift is Netanyahu’s inclusion of the ultra-orthodox in his government. In fact, Yisrael Beitenu, which is a secular nationalist party, proposes that the ultra-orthodox undergo military service as any other Israeli citizen.
Let’s get back to Jewish Home. Where does it stand on the Israeli political spectrum?
It’s a far right party, the offspring of the National Religious Party (Hamafdal), which, as the name recalls, was a religious Zionist party. Jewish Home supports the settlers and is absolutely contrary to the two state solution. Among its most prominent members there are Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked. Bennett, 43-year old party-leader, was Minister of Economy under last Netanyahu Government and initially asked for the foreign affairs portfolio in the new Netanyahu Government. He then settled for the Education Ministry. He worked for Netanyahu as chief-of-office between 2006 and 2008. In 2011, he founded the extra-parliamentarian movement MyIsrael, along with Shaked.
Ayelet Shaked is indeed the most interesting figure of the newest Netanyahu Government. A computer engineer, just turned 39, she grew up in a family little involved in politics. According to what she declared in a 2012 interview to Algemeiner she started considering herself right-wing when she was just 8-year old. During her military service (in Israel the military service is mandatory and lasts 36 months for men and 24 months for women) with the Golani Brigade, she befriended young settlers, getting closer to the Zionist right. At first, Shaked adhered to Likud. She worked for Netanyahu’s office along with Bennett until they both left it. Rumours say because of some bitter disagreement with Netanyahu’s wife, Sara. Shaked and Bennett then founded MyIsrael. Despite being a secular, Shaked run for Jewish Home primary, as Bennett did. She entered parliament in 2013. Among her most remarkable comments: «The problem in the Likud is that every leader takes the Likud to the left.» (We shall remind the reader that Netanyahu’s predecessor as Likud leader was Ariel Sharon, a very important figure in the history of Israel, a general and later a politician, he triggered the Second Intifada with his provocative visit to the Temple Mount .)
During last summer crisis in Gaza, Shaked – Netanyahu’s new Minister of Justice – unleashed a wave of controversy after she published on her facebook page some quotations from the late Uri Elitzur (who had been Netanyahu’s chief-of-office during his first mandate).
Here’s some passages:
This is a war between two people. Who is the enemy? The Palestinian people.
They are all enemy combatants, and their blood shall be on all their heads. Now this also includes the mothers of the martyrs, who send them to hell with flowers and kisses. They should follow their sons, nothing would be more just. They should go, as should the physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there.
(After claiming that she did not endorse the full content of the citation, she eventually removed her post.)
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Recep Erdogan‘s reaction was resounding. He compared Shaked to Adolf Hitler and remarked – rightly, perhaps – that if similar words had been pronounced by a Palestinian leader, the whole world would have turned against him.
Yet, questionable statements also targeted other ‘unwelcome guests‘ of Israel; namely, refugees from Eritrea and Sudan. According to Shaked these people (around 50,000) endanger the Jewish identity of the country and she thinks that «It’s totally a lie that they are running from genocide,» quite contrary to what humanitarian agencies affirm. Furthermore, she remarks, they don’t even look like refugees!
Netanyahu might be the longest serving PM in the history of Israel. Yet, he faces a very difficult fourth term, with a volatile and incoherent majority. After last summer war on Gaza, that killed 2,100 Palestinians and 72 Israelis, Jewish Home capitalises on the widespread perception of isolation in a hostile world. This very perception is intensified by the fact that the relationship with the American patron sensibly cooled down during Barack Obama‘s two terms, who is personally little interested in the Middle East, in general, and who is not a huge fan of Netanyahu, in particular. As we noted elsewhere, the reconciliation with Iran is yet another proof of a crisis in the special relationship between the United States and Israel, or so Israel thinks. The formation of a coalition that includes the far right in the government, appointing three Jewish Home members to three Ministries (the third is Uri Ariel, Minister of Agriculture), it’s but another element of strain.
However, note some analysts such as Aaron David Miller, Obama – who’s getting to the end of his second term – might not be willing to open a new front with Israel.
Netanyahu’s will most probably have to deal primarily with domestic hassles.