How a Secular Woman from Tel Aviv Rose to the Top of Israel’s National-Religious Political Bloc

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.

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Read more at Jerusalem Post

More about: Ayelet Shaked, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Election 2019, Religious Zionism

Gaza’s Quiet Dissenters

Last year, the Dubai-based television channel Al-Arabiya, the Times of Israel, and several other media organizations worked together to conduct numerous interviews with residents of the Gaza Strip, taking great pains to protect their identities. The result is a video series titled Whispers in Gaza, which presents a picture of life under Hamas’s tyranny unlike anything that can be found in the press. Jeff Jacoby writes:

Through official intimidation or social pressure, Gazans may face intense pressure to show support for Hamas and its murderous policies. So when Hamas organizes gaudy street revels to celebrate a terrorist attack—like the fireworks and sweets it arranged after a gunman murdered seven Israelis outside a Jerusalem synagogue Friday night—it can be a challenge to remember that there are many Palestinians who don’t rejoice at the murder of innocent Jews.

In one [interview], “Fatima” describes the persecution endured by her brother, a humble vegetable seller, after he refused to pay protection money to Hamas. The police arrested him on a trumped-up drug charge and locked him in prison. “They beat him repeatedly to make him confess to things he had nothing to do with,” she says. Then they threatened to kill him. Eventually he fled the country, leaving behind a family devastated by his absence.

For those of us who detest Hamas no less than for those who defend it, it is powerful to hear the voices of Palestinians like “Layla,” who is sickened by the constant exaltation of war and “resistance” in the Palestinian media. “If you’re a Gazan citizen who opposes war and says, ‘I don’t want war,’ you’re branded a traitor,” she tells her interviewer. “It’s forbidden to say you don’t want war.” So people keep quiet, she explains, for fear of being tarred as disloyal.

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Read more at Boston Globe

More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Palestinian dissidents, Palestinian public opinion