(October 4, 2015 / JNS)
By Sean Savage/JNS.org
In the midst of what seemed like a perfect storm of major Jewish and Israel news stories this week, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked—a 39-year-old rising star in Israeli politics—had no shortage of talking points for both a speaking engagement before members of Boston’s Jewish community and an interview with JNS.org.
In a wide-ranging talk on Thursday that was organized by Isaac Kohane, a neuroscience professor at Harvard University, Shaked answered the audience’s questions on everything from the Iran nuclear deal to the battle over the Israeli Supreme Court to women’s rights in Israel.
But the topic that was freshest in everyone’s mind was clearly that day’s Palestinian terrorist attack in Samaria, in which the armed wing of Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party murdered Israelis Eitam and Na’ama Henkin (both in their 30s) in a drive-by shooting in front of the couple’s four children, who all survived.
Striking the strong nationalist tone that she has become known for, the third-ranking Knesset member within Israel’s Jewish Home party was quick to blame Abbas for inciting violence such as Thursday’s terror attack and criticized the Palestinian leader’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly a day earlier. At the U.N., Abbas announced that the Palestinians would no longer abide by the 1993 Oslo Accords with Israel.
“I think this [attack] is the result of Mahmoud Abbas’s incitement, like what we saw yesterday at the [U.N.] General Assembly,” Shaked told JNS.org after the larger talk in Boston. “His speech was full of lies and anti-Semitic statements. It was really sad that he got so much applause in the U.N.”
“We need to be tough against any sign of violence and arrest the people [behind Thursday’s attack],” she added.
The Iran nuclear deal, Shaked said, is dangerous because “it will spark a conventional arms race in the Middle East. Iran will get billions of dollars in sanctions relief that will go to its terror allies like Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Houthis [in Yemen], while also putting money towards its own weapons…then in 10 years it will spark a nuclear-arms race.”
Earlier Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke at length in opposition of the Iran deal during his address to the U.N. General Assembly.
“I have long said that the greatest danger facing our world is the coupling of militant Islam with nuclear weapons,” and the nuclear deal is the “marriage certificate of that unholy union,” said Netanyahu, whose speech was highlighted by a 45-second stare-down of world leaders to confront them over their silence on the Iranian threat.
Shaked called Netanyahu’s speech “excellent” and said she believes his stern message about the nuclear deal, as well as the U.N.’s failure to hold Iran accountable for its threats to destroy Israel, was “very strong.”
In her relatively young career as a politician, Shaked, a mother of two, has quickly risen through the ranks of the Jewish Home party. Originally a software engineer for Texas Instruments in Israel, Shaked is a bit of an anomaly within Jewish Home—which is largely comprised of religious Zionist lawmakers—due to the fact that she is a secular woman from Tel Aviv.
Shaked joked about that situation during the community discussion in Boston, saying she was glad she ignored the advice of those who argued she would have no place in the Jewish Home party.
Despite her lifestyle differences with many Jewish Home members, Shaked has been one of the party’s most outspoken and fervent members, championing legislation like 2014’s controversial nation-state bill that promoted the Jewish character of Israel and vocally opposing a future Palestinian state.
As justice minister, Shaked has come under fire from many of the political left, who have accused her of seeking to weaken the Israeli Supreme Court.
In her public presentation, Shaked explained the struggle in Israel between the judicial and legislative branches of government.
“The Supreme Court can actually override anything the Knesset passes and the Knesset can’t do anything about it,” Shaked said, pointing to the battle over laws regarding the infiltration into Israel of illegal migrants from Africa. The Knesset has passed several laws decreasing migrants’ incentive to come to Israel, only to have the Supreme Court continuously strike the laws down.
“We [Knesset members] have the responsibility of what’s going on in Israel, but we don’t have the authority because we cannot execute what we think is the right solution for illegal immigrants,” Shaked said. “In Israel, most of the people think that the balance should be better.”
Meanwhile, the Temple Mount holy site has been a flashpoint of Arab-Israeli tension in recent weeks amid Israeli security forces’ efforts to subdue Palestinian rioters, who have attacked Jewish visitors and police officers at the compound with rocks and Molotov cocktails.
Shaked has been behind a push for harsher punishments for stone-throwers, especially following the murder of 64-year-old Jewish man Alexander Levlovich in a rock-throwing attack as he drove home from a Rosh Hashanah eve dinner.
Asked by an audience member why Israel does not have harsher penalties for stone-throwers, Shaked criticized Israeli judges for not handing out the maximum punishments for such incidents. She noted that she has proposed a bill to set the minimum punishment for stone-throwers at two to four years in prison.
Israeli relations with Jordan have soured as a result of the Temple Mount tension. Jordan’s King Abdullah has harshly criticized Israel for its actions with regards to the rioters, while others in the international community have urged Israel to maintain the status quo at the holy site. Israel, in turn, has accused Abdullah of turning a blind eye to Palestinian violence there.
Shaked spoke out against the ban on Jews praying at the Temple Mount.
“Today there this discrimination against Jews on the Temple Mount….We are a democratic state and we keep the freedom of worship, but it is absurd that we are not allowed to pray there,” she told JNS.org.
Yet the justice minister also cautioned against any dramatic policy changes at the holy site.
“But on the other end, we need to be very delicate and careful about changing the status quo,” she said. “So right now, I think the goal is to lower the tensions on the Temple Mount and to arrest anyone who is hurting the visitors and soldiers.”
Shaked said in the interview that her decision to come speak in the U.S. was influenced by her respect for America as Israel’s “number-one ally,” despite her opinion that President Barack Obama “lacks a basic understanding of the Middle East.” She said she considers the American Jewish community to be “very strategic for Israel” and that she hopes U.S. Jews can all be “ambassadors for Israel.”