After failing to form a government after April’s elections, Israel is getting ready for a second round of voting on September 17. Becoming more significant among the large roster of political players is Ayelet Shaked, newly announced as the leader of the United Right, a combined list of political factions representing Israel’s religious-Zionist community. That in itself is surprising. As Sam Sokol writes, “While women have led Israeli political parties, none has ever risen to the pinnacle of political power in a bloc representing the traditionally patriarchal Orthodox community.” Not only that, but Shaked is herself secular.
Growing up as a middle-class child in the Tel Aviv of the 1980s, Shaked could have been expected to develop into a left-leaning Labor or Meretz voter, a proponent of two states and liberal policies. But as Shaked told the New York Times in 2015, she experienced a personal revelation at the age of eight when she watched Prime Minister Yitzḥak Shamir debate an opponent on television: she was swayed by his nationalistic perspective.
During their mandatory military service, some Israelis tend to shift to the right, at least for a while, and a stint as an instructor in the storied Golani infantry brigade helped Shaked strengthen her conservative political outlook.
That explains Shaked’s side of the story. As for how the right-wing national-religious camp accepted her as its leader, the answer seems to be that it is currently more focused on nationalist issues than on religious ones:
“What does seem to unite the national religious are political issues, such as considering themselves right-of-center and believing the Law of Return should [extend citizenship only] to those who are Jewish according to Jewish law,” or halakhah [as one observer, Yehoshua Oz,] said.
Shaked’s work ethic, as well, has won her followers:
Conversations with people close to Shaked painted a picture of a woman willing to listen to the unique ideological needs and demands of her constituents and to respect their unique sensibilities. For instance, while she is not personally religious, Shaked makes a point of not giving interviews on Shabbat or publicly eating in non-kosher restaurants.