New Right MK Ayelet Shaked announced on Thursday that she would be staying with her current party as its No. 2 candidate ahead of the March general elections, putting an end to weeks of rumors over her political future.
In remaining with New Right chairman Naftali Bennett, Shaked is returning the party to the original formula it used to compete in the year’s first election, when it failed to cross the electoral threshold.
In a Facebook post revealing her decision, Shaked said that she had been in talks with various right-wing leaders, as well as “people from another camp” before making a decision. Those included Transportation Minister and leader of the National Union party Bezalel Smotrich, who has advocated holding open primaries for a united national religious slate.
While Shaked herself is not religious, she has spent her entire political career in religious parties, first with the Jewish Home, where she gained popularity through her reforms to allow for the appointment of more conservative judges as Justice Minister, and since last year with the New Right, which branded itself as a party for the national religious while also promoting a religious-secular partnership.
The idea of open primaries for a united national religious party has been gaining steam in recent weeks, but officials in the Jewish Home party have expressed reservations, with the initiative likely meaning an end to unpopular leader Rafi Peretz’s time as chairman. Moreover, officials from the party have also pointed out that such a primary would open up the resulting national religious slate to more extremist individuals from the Otzma Yehudit and Noam parties who have expressed interest in competing.
The Times of Israel’s Hebrew sister site, Zman Yisrael, reported Tuesday that Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman has offered Shaked the number two spot on his party’s slate and said that if she joined him, he would commit to joining the right-wing bloc after the March vote if the results again leave him in the position of kingmaker.
As part of the deal, Shaked would have been allowed to demand any portfolio she wanted in the government that is within Yisrael Beytenu’s quota if the party joins a ruling coalition.
Explaining her decision Thursday, Shaked wrote that after much thought, she realized that the New Right was the only movement that “could end divisions [in Israeli society]” and she called on her “friends in religious Zionist camp and the ideological right” to join her.
In the September election, the former justice minister was head of the joint Yamina slate, which comprised Bennett’s New Right, Peretz’s Jewish Home and Smotrich’s National Union.
That came after Bennett and Shaked’s failed April run, which humbled the two of them into merging with the national religious factions they had deserted several months earlier.
Shaked never left the New Right and agreed to give Bennett full charge of it as she led Yamina, which won seven seats in September.
Polls suggest that the balance of power has shifted since then, and while Bennett has not ruled out joining forces with other influential politicians and parties, New Right earlier this week started the latest election campaign on its own and without Shaked.
Bennett’s party said in a statement that it would be running under a slogan, “There’s pretend right, there’s sometimes right and there’s New Right — a secure right.”
The mantra apparently highlights Bennett’s new position as defense minister, which he assumed last month. Recent polls have indicated that the new credentials have contributed to an increase in his popularity, with New Right predicted to receive roughly seven seats.