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Friday, August 14, 2020

Ayelet Shaked: Mideast Peace Plan Should Wait

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Israel Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked has been a major force behind the ascent of the Jewish Home party, the third most powerful party in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government coalition, which maintains a slim one-seat majority in the Israeli Knesset.

The Jewish Home party, known in Hebrew as HaBayit HaYehudi, is to the political right of Netanyahu’s Likud party, with its support of Israeli settlements and opposition to creating a Palestinian state in the West Bank, among other positions.

Hoping to raise awareness of her message and connect with Diaspora Jewry, Shaked, 42, visited Los Angeles on Nov. 29 for a day that included meetings with local Jewish leaders, a community address at Beth Jacob Congregation in Beverly Hills and an interview with the Journal at the Koreatown office of the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles.

During the interview, Shaked stated her views on why now is not the time for a Middle East peace plan, the security challenges facing Israel, her journey from secular Jew to a leader in a conservative religious Zionist party, her political aspirations and the relationship between young American Jews and Israel. An edited transcript of the interview follows.

Jewish Journal: What are some of the greatest challenges currently facing Israel?

Ayelet Shaked: From a security perspective, of course, Iran. And we are very happy with [President Donald Trump’s] decision to back off from the Iranian deal. This is something we are definitely supportive of and happy with. And we have huge challenges in the north regarding Hezbollah, which is working on getting precise missiles that can reach everywhere in Israel. And we have a challenge that Iran now is trying to entrench itself into Syria, and we are not going to let it happen. Of course, in the south, with Hamas in Gaza [it is also a challenge]. We are in a pretty good diplomatic period. We are strengthening the relationship with the moderate Sunni countries in the Middle East, and the economy is good.

JJ: You recently said that a proposal from the Trump administration for peace in the Middle East is a “waste of time.” What conditions on the ground would have to change for you to welcome a peace proposal from the U.S.?

AS: I want to say that I really appreciate the effort that the [Trump] administration is doing to promote peace, because we want peace and this administration is very friendly to Israel. We definitely appreciate the efforts. To be realistic, I think the gap between the Palestinians and Israel is much too big in order to be bridged, but we will wait and see what will be the proposal. I can tell you that my party and I are against a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria. We did this experiment once in Gaza, and we are not going to do this experiment again in Judea and Samaria. But let’s wait and see what the administration has to offer.

JJ: What’s your current relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu? It is rumored you may one day be prime minister. Is that something you are interested in?

AS: We are working together on a daily basis. Everything is fine. Prime Minister Netanyahu will be the prime minister after the next election. It is a well [-known] fact. With every poll you see, there is a right [-wing] majority in Israel, so I believe there will be a coalition with Netanyahu as the prime minister. The question is what will be the coalition. And I do hope to be part of the government after the next election, which will be in 2019, but we don’t know when.

JJ: What are your personal political aspirations?

AS: Right now I am in the Ministry of Justice and I am doing a lot of work. It is a very powerful and important ministry in Israel, and I want to stay in the office for the next election. After that, in politics it is hard to predict the future.

JJ: Can you try?

AS: No, I think it is really hard. I’ve said many times I think, after Netanyahu, [Jewish Home chair] Naftali Bennett is the most suitable person to lead Israel.

JJ: Can you talk about your personal journey? You worked in tech and are from a secular background, and now you are in politics and one of the most visible faces of a religious Zionist party. How did that happen?

AS: I was always interested in politics. When I was in the army in the Golani troops, I served with Zionist and modern Orthodox guys and I became friends with them. I was always a right-wing girl as far back as I can remember. I went to study electronic engineering and computer science because I was good at math and my father told me it is a very good profession. And so I did it, although it wasn’t really my passion. Then I went to work at Texas Instruments. But after the [2005] disengagement from Gaza, I felt I needed to be where the decisions were being made, and I left Texas Instruments and I joined Netanyahu to work with him. Then I met Naftali Bennett and the rest is history.

JJ: What are some of your passions besides politics?

AS: I have no life, just work and family. It is very tough work, and I have two little kids, so I try to be with them every time I am not at work. So I am just left with work, my kids and books.

JJ: What kind of books?

AS: Actually I am in the middle of a very interesting book. “Win Bigly: Persuasion in a World Where Facts Don’t Matter” by Scott Adams, about President Trump.  Have you heard about it? Very interesting. I recommend reading it. I started to read it on the airplane here.

JJ: What role does Judaism play in your life?

AS: I was raised in a traditional family and my father arrived from Iran. He is Iraqi, but arrived in Israel from Iran. My mother was in Israel for five generations, they came on the first aliyah to Israel, and we were a very Zionist home.

JJ: Does your mother’s family history have a lot do with your Zionist beliefs today?

AS: Maybe, but my father is also very Zionist, he came from Arab countries and those weren’t the best place to live in. Although when he was living in Iran it was a very good period under the shah.

JJ: What are some of your goals pertaining to the relationship between American Jewish youth and Israel?

AS: We definitely want to strengthen the relationship of the youth with Israel. It is very important to us. I think the youth here in the U.S. need to understand that around the world and in the very liberal communities to be anti-Semitic it is not politically correct. But to be anti-Israel is super in [vogue], and the anti-Israeli movements are just another shape of anti-Semitism today. I hope the Jewish community and also the liberal community will understand that; and they will understand they will always have two homes, one here and one in Israel. 

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