Former prime minister Naftali Bennett on Wednesday appeared to offer veiled criticism of his erstwhile political partner Ayelet Shaked, as she increasingly distances herself from the outgoing government in a rightward shift ahead of the upcoming election.
Bennett said those who voice regret over the formation of his so-called change government, which took office last June and collapsed a year later, are suffering from “post-trauma” due to repeated attacks by Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies.
Bennett handed control of the right-wing Yamina party to Shaked after announcing he would take a break from politics following the coalition’s collapse. (Bennett serves as alternate prime minister in the caretaker government; Shaked is the interior minister.)
Shaked then briefly teamed up with the Derech Eretz faction to form the Zionist Spirit alliance, but the platform collapsed this week amid dire polling and disagreements over Shaked’s willingness to potentially sit in a hard-right government led by opposition leader Netanyahu. She has since agreed to run as leader of the Jewish Home party. It is not clear whether the new political vehicle will gain her any more support than the previous one, where she was polling far below the threshold to enter the Knesset.
In recent days Shaked has spoken of making “mistakes,” in an apparent reference to her support for the formation of the outgoing government.
“My decision to establish a government in Israel was the best and most Zionist decision that I have made in my life,” Bennett said Wednesday during a speech in Lod. “Some of those who say now that it was a mistake are suffering from post-trauma.”
Bennett blamed the “machine” of the opposition’s campaign against the government for leading to such expressions of regret: Those targeted by that relentless campaign, he said, “are deterred and trampled and crushed. And I don’t blame them and I’m not angry.
“I saw with my own eyes and personally felt the machine that crushed them, the steamroller. Day after day, one after the other.”
Bennett said that from the moment he formed the government, “The gates of hell opened up on me, my family and my faction,” with “an unceasing assault of poison and lies.”
Responding to Bennett, Shaked said the previous government had been forced into being and ultimately collapsed because of “boycotts” — referring to parties’ refusal to form a coalition with Netanyahu.
“It’s time to put an end to boycotts,” Shaked said in a statement.
“Jewish Home under my leadership will lead to the establishment of a right-wing government,” Shaked added. “I’ve returned home. I’ve returned to the right.”
An unnamed source in Jewish Home threw criticism at Bennett.
“It’s the right-wing public that is in trauma. This time it will get a party that promises a right-wing government and delivers a right-wing government,” the source told Hebrew media outlets.
Shaked and Bennett have been long-time political partners, first serving as aides to Netanyahu in the mid-2000s and later entering the Knesset together in 2013 as heads of the national-religious Jewish Home, which they later split from to form their own party, first called New Right and later Yamina. Once part of Netanyahu’s right-wing religious bloc, they broke with the Likud leader after elections in March 2021 — the fourth in two years — to form a government that included parties on the right, left and center as well as an Islamist faction.
The move deeply angered many of Yamina’s supporters and several of the party’s lawmakers defected, ultimately depriving the coalition of its parliamentary majority and helping fuel its collapse. Two of the Yamina rebels have been given reserved spots by Netanyahu on Likud’s electoral slate, rewarding them for their part in the government’s downfall.
Bennett’s comments Wednesday came a day before parties must submit their final list of candidates for the November 1 vote. He has not offered an endorsement of Shaked ahead of the election.
Until she split with Derech Eretz’s Yoaz Hendel in the early hours of Sunday morning, Shaked had pushed for a broad “unity” government. In the days since, Shaked has said she is “coming home” and on Monday explicitly stated she would likely lend her support to Netanyahu following the elections, a day before announcing her agreement with Jewish Home.
A united Jewish Home slate is polling in the mid-2% range, according to Channel 14. However, a source close to current Jewish Home leader Yossi Brodny told The Times of Israel that according to internal polling it could pull between 3.2% and 4% of the electorate. The poll included more responses than usual from citizens above age 70, who are less likely to answer internet-based surveys and are a significant percentage of Jewish Home’s base, according to the source.