Yamina leader Ayelet Shaked on Sunday said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and those closest to him hold an “irrational” grudge against her and were working to sideline her right-wing party.
“Netanyahu and his immediate circle don’t really want us,” Shaked said in a speech at the party’s campaign headquarters.
She did not specify who this “immediate circle” was, but appeared to be referring to the prime minister’s wife, Sara, who is reported to harbor a deep antipathy toward Shaked.
Both Shaked and Naftali Bennett, her longtime political partner, worked for Netanyahu when he was opposition leader in the mid-2000s, and have been reluctant to discuss the circumstances of their departure or relationship with Sara Netanyahu.
“A lot of things are being prevented from me for the wrong reasons. I know the country is important to Netanyahu and his close circle, but there’s likely something that overrides this — a fixation on me,” Shaked said.
Shaked then cited a recording recently aired by Israeli television in which Netanyahu berated a minister from his Likud party over a newspaper article saying the minister was working with Shaked to advance a piece of legislation.
“I always held back, ignored [the criticism] and focused on my work,” she said, adding that she has refused in numerous interviews to comment on her relationship with Netanyahu and his family.
Her remarks came as Netanyahu has ramped up his efforts to attract right-wing voters to Likud, threatening to leave Yamina with fewer Knesset seats after elections than recent polls have forecast.
Shaked charged that Netanyahu wants Yamina to be “small, pathetic and without power to influence.” She also pushed back on his claim that Likud needs to be the largest party in order for him to form a right-wing government, noting Netanyahu’s party finished as the largest after elections in April, but he was still unable to form a government.
“We do not intend to be crushed under the wheels of Netanyahu’s truck,” she said.
Shaked asserted the prime minister and his associates have “an irrational loathing” toward her, but added that she would not allow such a “grudge” to hurt “the truly important causes we are fighting for.”
Responding to Shaked, Likud dismissed her concerns about Yamina’s vote total and noted her interest in joining the ruling party after April’s elections, after the New Right party she ran with failed to enter the Knesset.
“Even Shaked, who only two months ago was still trying to join Likud, knows it doesn’t matter if her party receives one seat more or one less, but if Likud isn’t the largest party, we’ll get a left-wing government,” it said in a statement.
In the final television polls published before Tuesday’s elections, Yamina was forecast to get 8-9 seats, versus 31-32 for Likud. On the eve of April’s vote, New Right was predicted to finish with six seats, compared to 26-27 for Likud, but ultimately failed to pick up enough votes to enter the Knesset, while the ruling party surged to 35 seats.
Despite being tasked with forming a government, Netanyahu came up one seat short of a majority. He then pushed through a vote to for fresh elections rather than have another lawmaker get a crack at forming a government.
After the new round of elections was called, efforts for Shaked to return to Likud were reportedly blocked by Sara Netanyahu, who is said to have castigated her husband for even entertaining such a move.
Sara Netanyahu also reportedly pushed to block Shaked from becoming chairwoman of Yamina, an alliance of three national religious parties. In recordings aired by Channel 12 news in July, the wife of Yamina No. 2 Rafi Peretz could be heard saying that Sara Netanyahu believed that Shaked was “framing” the prime minister in the corruption cases against him.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.