[Israel 101] Ever-changing political alliances in Israeli politicians’ quest for power

Shifting winds are part of the normal Israeli political landscape, but in the world of Israeli political alliances, there is a shelf-life of about a day. What seems like a sure thing one minute, often ends up being a bust by the next day.

Case in point – Ayelet Shaked. The 43-year-old politician made her debut around 2006 when she became the office director for Benjamin Netanyahu. In 2010, former education minister, Naftali Bennett, and Shaked formed the Yisrael Sheli (My Israel) extra-parliamentary movement. Later they both joined and eventually became the leaders of the political party HaBayit HaYehudi (The Jewish Home).

Ayelet Shaked and Naftali Bennett of The New Right political party (Photo: Facebook)

The right-wing Shaked does not shy away from controversy. In 2014, she wrote on Facebook, “Who is the enemy? The Palestinian people. Why? Ask them, they started it.” For that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan compared Shaked to Adolf Hitler while accusing Israel of “state terror” against the Palestinians.

Over the last few years, she has taken on such roles as member of the Economics Affairs Committee, the House Committee, Committee on Foreign Workers, Finance Committee and even chaired the Knesset committee for the Enforcement of the Security Service Law. From 2015 to 2019, she served as Justice Minister, appointed by Netanyahu in what was to be part of a new coalition government.  

Yet, those efforts were short-lived, in part, due to what many believe were Sara Netanyahu’s objections to Shaked working with her husband. So in December, Shaked and Bennett formed yet another party called HaYemin HaHadash (The New Right) party. In the last elections the seeming political powerhouses failed to gain enough mandates in order to even score a seat in the 21st Knesset, resulting in Shaked’s announcement that she would take a break from politics.  

Fast forward just seven months later, Shaked is back in the game, calling the shots and pressuring certain key individuals to join her now or risk being left out in the cold. With her new-gained strength, she already has garnered as many as 10 seats according to recent polls. Her hope is to amalgamate all the right-wing religious parties (right of Netanyahu’s Likud) and incorporate them in a joint list with her New Right Party. The intensified pressure she is employing comes from a deep fear that the slightest bit of disunity could jeopardize the aspiration of shutting out any other parties. Even Union of Right-Wing Parties (URWP) head Betzalel Smotrich, who had once said there was no way he’d join forces with Shaked, has now committed to an alliance with her. Party head Rafi Peretz even agreed for Shaked to take the top spot on their merged list.

A merger of parties more rightwing than Likud could be a death knell to Netanyahu, leaving Likud (Bibi’s party) even behind the centrist Blue and White party.

It goes without saying that oversized egos are very much in the mix as most of these politicians want a top spot in a party and usually hold out for the highest bidder to make the best offer. This is why many of these political alliances are short-lived, because they are often undermined by a more attractive offer at the eleventh hour.

In the meantime, Labor Party leader, Amir Peretz is also aiming to bolster his party’s chances for victory. He is trying to recruit a senior security figure in order to lend gravitas and stability to the party and, in a shocking move last week, announced a merger with Orly Levy-Abekasis’s right-wing Gesher party, an alliance which seeming marks a rightward shift for the left-wing party!

What these parties have not agreed on yet is whether to unilaterally support Netanyahu as prime minister. Some believe that his many vulnerabilities, as a result of multiple criminal investigations against him, is their best chance to oust him once and for all, while others believe he is still the best chance Israel has for a right-wing government. In that regard, Labor is vying for the Justice portfolio in order to “influence the ministerial committee on legislation.” (JPost, 7/28/19) 

Another familiar figure who has resurfaced is former Prime Minister Ehud Barak. Barak has repackaged himself with the newly formed Israel Democratic party, in hopes of gaining a place of prominence in the next government. His tactic has been to sharply criticize Netanyahu for attempting alliances with extreme parties in order to avoid prosecution while they try to change present immunity laws in his favor. Barak has termed this as an alliance between the corrupt. However, Barak himself is embroiled in an unsavory claim by a British tabloid which has hinted that he may have been among sex-offender Jeffrey Epstein’s visitors who met with young women at Epstein’s New York mansion.

The deadline is fast approaching for all parties to register their electoral choices before the September vote. With just a week left to do that, it’s a sure bet that everyone will be offering the sun, the moon and the stars in order to entice the coveted parties and individuals to join their ranks.

Never a dull moment in Israeli politics.