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Admirably determined: Ayelet Shaked (illustration by Michael Prodger)


If you haven’t yet heard of Ayelet Shaked, Israel’s justice minister, you will soon. It doesn’t matter whether you agree with all her policies, some of which are undeniably hardline. She is quite simply the most charismatic, formidable and ambitious female political leader to have emerged in Israel (or anywhere else, for that matter) for a long time. She hails from the high-tech industries that have transformed the Israeli economy, she is articulate (in English as well as Hebrew), energetic and ruthless. As she’s just 39, she has a long career ahead of her and, barring accidents, will sooner or later be prime minister. Israel hasn’t had a woman in that job since Golda Meir and many people think it’s about time.

So who is Shaked (pronounced “shah-ked”)? Her background is typical for a third-generation Israeli, combining Ashkenazi and Sephardi (her mother’s family came from Russia in the 1880s, her father’s from Iran in the 1950s), liberal and conservative, secular and religious elements. Growing up in Tel Aviv, the most sophisticated and progressive city in the Middle East, she served in the army and — like so many conscripts — moved seamlessly into computer engineering. Promoted to marketing manager for Texas Instruments, she might easily have made a career among the entrepreneurial yet left-leaning Tel Aviv elite. But she had already made Judaism and Zionism the core of her outlook and, while still secular, gravitated to centre-right politics. By the age of 30 she was running the office of Benjamin (“Bibi”) Netanyahu, the prime minister, and seemed poised for a stellar career in Likud, the dominant party of the Right.

The first sign that this might not happen came in 2010 when, with Netanyahu’s former chief of staff Naftali Bennett, she launched a new Zionist ginger group, My Israel. Then, in 2012, Shaked demonstrated the boldness that would become her trademark. She left Likud and joined Bennett, who had become leader of Jewish Home. A year later Shaked was elected to the Knesset, where she made a dynamic impression as the only secular woman in a religious party. During the Gaza war in 2014, she caused outrage by sharing an article on Facebook that referred to Palestinian children as “little snakes”. By last year’s general election, Jewish Home had become a key part of the ruling coalition and Netanyahu appointed Shaked to the key portfolio of justice.

In just over a year, she has dominated the headlines on several different issues. Most controversially, she has challenged the Supreme Court, accusing it of usurping the powers of executive and legislature. The court, a bastion of the Israeli liberal establishment, has reined in successive governments of the Right. But when the court recently blocked Netanyahu’s plan to push through the Leviathan offshore gas project — on which the prime minister has staked his reputation — it fell to Shaked to respond. In her view, the court, influenced by the doctrines of its former chief justice Aharon Barak, has cultivated not judicial independence but judicial activism, and she insists that Israel’s constitutional balance now needs to be redressed. She would give the Knesset the right to overrule the court under certain circumstances, though many disagree with her view that a simple majority should be sufficient. She may soon have the chance to reshape the court: five justices, a third of the total, are due to retire.

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Richard Sherwin
May 9th, 2016
2:05 PM
youre right on. she and the new female minister of culture are intelligent and courageous and not about to fold under the slogan-pressure (or other pressures). theyre doing what should have been done in any democracy years ago... establish balance between court and parliament, and help the government (coaltion as it is) to govern fairly. they are democracy in action, and we're deservedly proud of them.

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