Former justice minister Ayelet Shaked on Tuesday confirmed she was staying in politics and running in the upcoming September Knesset elections, ruling out the possibility of joining the Likud party, which would entail waiting three years until she can run in its primary.
Shaked, whose New Right party was some 1,500 votes short of entering the Knesset in April’s elections, was fired last week by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu along with her longtime political partner, education and Diaspora affairs minister Naftali Bennett. The move was widely seen as designed to prevent the once-popular right-wing ministers from using their positions to bolster their campaigns for the fall vote.
With Netanyahu failing to form a coalition and the announcement of new elections on September 17, Shaked and Bennett now have a second chance to be elected.
Shaked was rumored to mull joining the ruling party, with Likud lawmakers saying she would be welcome, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu eventually decided against waiving the mandatory three-year qualification period before being able to run for a spot on the party’s Knesset slate. Reports said that was due to a veto from his wife, Sara Netanyahu, who has had a beef with Shaked since she worked at Netanyahu’s office more than a decade ago.
Last week, at a farewell event at the Justice Ministry, Shaked addressed her successor: “Take care of this office, because I definitely intend to return.”
Asked Tuesday at an Association of Corporate Counsel’s annual event whether that comment was referring to the current elections or future ones, Shaked said: “I mean now.”
Having ruled out Likud, Shaked is likely to either join the Union of Right-Wing Parties, rejoin Bennett’s New Right, or form a new party.
On Wednesday, the Jewish Home — one of the parties that make up the URWP, and the party that Bennett and Shaked left to form New Right — will vote on proposed changes to its bylaws that would make it easier and quicker to approve the potential addition of Shaked and/or Bennett to the party slate.
The party will reportedly vote on canceling the primary, leaving Rafi Peretz as leader and Idit Silman as Jewish Home’s No. 3 (currently No. 5 on URWP’s unified slate). The proposals would also include making it possible to convene the party’s central committee at a 48-hour notice instead of the current two-week notice, and enable decisions to pass with a regular majority (50 percent) instead of the current 61%.
On Friday, a poll in the Makor Rishon paper found Shaked to be far and away the most popular candidate among national religious voters to lead a united right-wing party in the upcoming elections. The survey found that 40.1% wanted Shaked to lead the hypothetical list. Bennett came second at 19%, while National Union leader Betzalel Smotrich got 15.1%, current URWP leader Peretz received 14.8%, and far-right candidates Itamar Ben Gvir of Otzma Yehudit and Moshe Feiglin of the libertarian party Zehut had 2.6% and 1%, respectively.
After he was fired, Bennett announced he would run in the September elections as the leader of the New Right. Shaked was noticeably absent from his press conference.
Netanyahu last week appointed Likud loyalist Amir Ohana — among the only senior members of the party to have publicly backed Netanyahu’s drive to secure immunity from prosecution — to the post of justice minister in the current transition government.
Even if Shaked meets with success in the upcoming election, she isn’t likely to regain the Justice portfolio since Netanyahu is seeking to keep that post for his own party to secure immunity from prosecution in three corruption cases. On Monday, the Kan public broadcaster reported that when Netanyahu recently snubbed Smotrich for the Justice portfolio, a confidant of his informed Smotrich that he was passed over because Netanyahu’s legal future would be in the hands of whoever was appointed to the post.
Natan Eshel, Netanyahu’s former chief of staff and a key figure in the failed coalition talks, reportedly told Smotrich: “The next justice minister will hold the key to the legal future of the prime minister and his family. There’s no way you’re getting that key.”
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.