Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu may come to regret efforts to sideline Ayelet Shaked, the head of the national-religious Jewish Home party, ahead of the upcoming national election on November 1, as she may be the opposition leader’s only chance of forming a right-wing coalition of 61 Knesset seats, Likud sources said Saturday.
According to a Channel 12 report, a number of unnamed sources within the party said Netanyahu-led efforts to urge Shaked — whose party has come up far short of the minimum 3.25% vote threshold in recent polls — to drop out of the race may cost him the prime minister’s seat as head of the next government.
“Netanyahu is making mistakes in managing the [political] campaign and one of them is the conduct surrounding Shaked,” said the sources.
A television survey this week indicated that the bloc led by Netanyahu was just short of the Knesset majority it needs to form a government. Netanyahu’s bloc, made up of right-wing and religious parties, would reach 59 seats in the next Knesset, shy of the 61-seat majority needed to form a government, the Channel 12 survey showed.
A poll by public broadcaster Kan on Saturday showed that Lapid’s Yesh Atid party and Yisrael Beytenu led by Avigdor Liberman were gaining as the Netanyahu bloc held firm with 59 projected seats.
According to the Kan survey, if elections were held today, Netanyahu’s Likud party would get 32 seats; Lapid’s Yesh Atid would rise to 25; Benny Gantz and Gideon Sa’ar’s National Unity 12; Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir’s Religious Zionism 12; Shas 8; United Torah Judaism 7; Yisrael Beytenu 6; Labor 5; Meretz 5; Ra’am 4 and Hadash-Ta’al 4.
Shaked is Netanyahu’s “only chance to reach 61 [seats],” the sources told Channel 12 of the Jewish Home leader, who has served as interior minister since last year in a short-lived, broad government coalition formed by Naftali Bennett who then headed the Yamina party, with Shaked as his number two.
Bennett handed control of Yamina to Shaked after announcing he would take a break from politics following his coalition’s collapse this summer. Bennett serves as alternate prime minister in the caretaker government with Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid as prime minister, as per their coalition agreement.
Shaked briefly teamed up with the Derech Eretz faction to form the Zionist Spirit alliance, but the platform collapsed in mid-September amid dire polling and disagreements over Shaked’s willingness to potentially sit in a hard-right government led by Netanyahu.
She has since agreed to run as leader of the Jewish Home party and has requested forgiveness for joining the broad coalition last year. She has pledged to back Netanyahu for premier.
The Yamina party was badly damaged by its time in power. Bennett’s decision to partner with left-wing parties and the Islamist Ra’am faction in the coalition last year gave Israel a functioning government after a series of inconclusive elections, but some of the right-wing party’s voters were unhappy with the move, and three of its Knesset members quit the coalition.
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
Noticing Shaked’s poor performance in the polls, the Likud party this week urged people to avoid voting for the interior minister’s party.
“Ayelet is not passing [the threshold], a vote for Ayelet is a lost vote,” a statement issued by Likud read.
Responding to the campaign against her, Shaked said: “Netanyahu, even you realize that I have a good chance of passing. So please, don’t offer me jobs, I didn’t join politics for that. I only work for the right-wing, let me do my job. You know I’m your last shot.”
Netanyahu is “letting family pressure decide,” the Likud sources told Channel 12 Saturday, hinting at the long-rumored bad blood between Sara Netanyahu and Shaked, who began her career as a staffer for Netanyahu in the Prime Minister’s Office.
Sara Netanyahu is said to have vetoed efforts to bring Shaked into the Likud party in the 2019 elections. In bombshell recordings aired in May 2021, Shaked described Netanyahu and his wife Sara as “dictators” and “tyrants” with a “lust for power.”
On Wednesday, Shaked rejected reports suggesting she was in talks to drop out of the election race in November.
“There are no negotiations, it’s more spin,” Shaked told 103FM radio of reports that she was offered an ambassadorship to drop out. “It seems like Smotrich and his friends don’t have anything to sell or anything to offer because they spend all their time focused on me.”
The minister added that she “plans to run to the end.”