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Shaked calls for ‘broad national government’ in 1st statement on elections

Yamina party leader warns of an ‘abyss of polarization’ in Israeli politics as she works to stabilize her faction after its tumultuous time in power

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked in  the plenum hall of the Knesset, on June 13, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked in the plenum hall of the Knesset, on June 13, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Yamina party leader Ayelet Shaked called for a “broad national government” on Wednesday in her first public statement on the upcoming election since she took the reins of the right-wing faction from former prime minister Naftali Bennett last week.

“In Israel’s political situation, we may be dragged into an abyss of polarization that will lead to real danger,” Shaked, the interior minister, said at a festival in the northern town of Carmiel.

“We fight together, join the IDF together, attain national achievements together, celebrate holidays together, grieve together and experience pain together. It’s only in politics that we see such painful division and polarization,” she said. “I believe there are ways we can unite, connect and be together.”

“We need everyone to work together. Political rivals are not enemies,” she said. “I’m saying to everyone — come, let’s work together. I believe together we can establish a broad national government.”

Israelis will go to the ballot box on November 1 for their fifth national election in under four years. Polls have not shown a path to a majority coalition for any party, without any changes in existing political alliances.

Shaked’s comments came as she works to stabilize her party after becoming its leader last week. Former party leader Bennett stepped down as prime minister and announced he was leaving political life after his coalition crumbled, giving control of the party to Shaked, Yamina’s No. 2, and handing the premiership over to Yair Lapid, per their coalition agreement.

Yamina 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.

Outgoing Prime Minister Naftali Bennett pictured at a press conference at which he announced he will not be running in the next elections. At left is Ayelet Shaked, the new Yamina party leader. June 29, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

In recent polls, Yamina is hovering dangerously close to the electoral threshold needed to make it into the Knesset in elections, and more of its Knesset members may leave the faction.

The party won seven seats in the last election, but one of its lawmakers, Amichai Chikli, refused to join the coalition from the outset last June, saying it was straying too far from the party’s nationalist roots. Then in April, another lawmaker, Idit Silman, ditched the coalition, citing similar reasons and stripping Bennett of his majority in the Knesset. The final straw came last month when Yamina MK Nir Orbach declared he would not vote with the government, prompting the dissolution of the Knesset.

Party sources say Shaked has no inclination to keep Silman and Orbach in Yamina and notably did not include them in a party meeting on Sunday.

Deputy Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana, a close ally of Bennett, is still a member of Yamina but appears likely to split off for another party.

Shaked is seen as open to partnering in a government with Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu after the coming elections, a step that Kahana has appeared to rule out.

Kahana is the most prominent of the party’s three remaining MKs. The other two are Abir Kara and Shirley Pinto.

Shaked and Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar, the leader of the right-wing New Hope party, publicly traded fire on Monday in what will likely become a fierce fight for a portion of the right-wing electorate. Opinion polls suggest New Hope is also in danger of not making it back into the Knesset.

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