Despite all the debate about the Jewish Nation-State Law, among all of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decisions in this term, the most impactful on Israel’s legal system was reluctantly appointing Ayelet Shaked as justice minister.
Netanyahu did not want to appoint Shaked, due to past personal disputes between them and between her and his wife, Sara. But he had no choice, because his coalition initially had a narrow 61-59 majority that relied on Shaked’s Bayit Yehudi Party.
Since then, Shaked has become the first justice minister ever to appoint six judges to the 15-member Supreme Court. In private conversations, she boasts that four of them are right-wing, which would be a record high for the Court.
Shaked’s judges could in the future use the Nation-State Law in key rulings. For instance, before 2002, some 130,000 Palestinians received Israeli citizenship due to what was called “family reunification,” many of whom were involved in terrorist attacks. The Supreme Court back then narrowly voted to stop that policy for security reasons. With the Nation-State Law, nationalistic reasons could be employed as well by the judges Shaked appointed to the court.
Shaked is not afraid to battle the Supreme Court. She has insisted that it cannot overturn the Nation-State Law or any other Basic Law.
The reason she does not believe the court will try to cancel the Nation-State Law is that it lacks sufficient substance to justify using such a weapon of last resort, and the court will likely prefer to save it for a more serious problem.
Former prime minister Ehud Barak and opposition leaders Tzipi Livni and Yair Lapid called on Shaked to back off and stop challenging the Supreme Court. But she did not stand down.
She has also fought the opposition as head of the powerful Ministerial Committee on Legislation, in which she has led what she calls reforms and opposition MKs call repression by limiting the bills that come to a vote in Israel, the country that has by far the most legislation in the world.
No more Supreme Court judges can be appointed in this term, but it is possible Shaked will return to her position in the next. Or she could receive an even more prestigious post as she continues her upward trajectory.
Could Shaked even overtake her political patron, Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett, en route to becoming Israel’s second female prime minister after Golda Meir?
She received a surprising endorsement in July from Australian mining tycoon and Chabad rabbi Joseph Gutnick, who financed a 1996 campaign that helped Netanyahu get elected prime minister the first time.
Gutnick revealed exclusively to The Jerusalem Post that he has built a relationship with Shaked in recent years and pledged his resources to her success. He chose Shaked because of her right-wing views, her leadership, her ability to unite Israelis as a secular Jew who respects religion, and because he believes the time has come for a female prime minister.
To accomplish her goal, Gutnick has secretly been advising Shaked to leave Bayit Yehudi and join the Likud. A Panels Research poll in Ma’ariv found that if an election were held now and Shaked were to head the Likud, she would win 33 seats, the same as Netanyahu would win, and would expand the Right bloc to 73 seats from its current 66.
Former coalition chairman David Bitan, who is close to Netanyahu, surprisingly predicted at an event in Eilat that if Shaked runs in the Likud primary, she will win the second slot after Netanyahu, bypassing the likes of current ministers Israel Katz, Gilad Erdan and Miri Regev, former minister Gideon Sa’ar, and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein.
But Shaked has said she is staying in Bayit Yehudi, at least for now. Perhaps in the post-Netanyahu era, it could be different, especially if the Likud tries to merge with its satellite parties to become a more dominant ruling party.
She already demonstrated her sway over the coalition parties in June, when she orchestrated a maneuver that prevented Netanyahu from calling an early election that would have been held in June.
Internally in Bayit Yehudi, the secular Shaked has taken the former National Religious Party by storm and is now in high demand, campaigning for the party’s mayoral candidates nearly every night.
No longer in Bennett’s shadow, Shaked consistently ranks near the top in popularity rankings among ministers. But she remains loyal to Bennett and insists that he will run for prime minister before she does.
It is a safe bet that Shaked will continue to use her intelligence, charisma and political acumen to continue her climb to the top.