Rising star of Israeli far right to take justice post

Rising star of Israeli far right to take justice post
Israeli Knesset Member Ayelet Shaked

JERUSALEM - Ayelet Shaked, Israel's incoming justice minister, is a far-right politician who has drawn fierce criticism for her outspoken views on Palestinians and attempts to advance legislation criticised as anti-democratic.

Number three in the Jewish Home party, she won the cabinet post during hard-fought coalition talks that saw Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu bow to an ultimatum set by her party leader Naftali Bennett.

A former software engineer, she was first elected to parliament in a 2013 vote which saw a revival of interest in the pro-settlement Jewish Home under Bennett, a former high-tech entrepreneur who opposes a Palestinian state and has called for annexing most of the occupied West Bank.

A 39-year-old mother of two young children who is married to a fighter pilot, Shaked has been described as the "hawkish envoy" of the settlers, while supporters hail her as an ardent rightwing ideologue known for her uncompromising honesty.

But it was a posting on her Facebook page last year which sparked the biggest controversy after she endorsed an article written in 2002 which labelled Palestinian militants as "snakes", described "the entire Palestinian people (as) the enemy" and said anyone supporting terror should be killed.

"As relevant today as it was then," she commented on the article, which was posted after the discovery of three Israeli teenagers kidnapped and murdered by Palestinian militants.

Soon afterwards, three Jewish extremists went out and kidnapped a Palestinian teen, burning him alive in revenge.

The post quickly disappeared from her Facebook page, but not before it was reported by the Israeli media.

The Palestinians reacted with disgust, accusing her of fomenting genocide, and Turkey's then-premier and current President Tayyip Recep Erdogan reportedly described Shaked's mindset as "no different to that of Hitler".

Defending the article, she said it was "not a call for indiscriminate murder" but a "legally-minded discussion" taken out of context.

Earlier this week, parliament said it was assigning her a bodyguard after she received death threats online and somebody posted a photomontage on Facebook of her wearing a Nazi uniform.

Anti-democratic legislation

Before running for parliament, known as the Knesset, she worked for two years with Bennett, who was then Netanyahu's bureau chief.

Both left in 2008, reportedly because of a conflict with Netanyahu's wife Sara, with the bad blood persisting to this day.

Over the past two years, Shaked has pushed a raft of legislation which has been criticised as undemocratic, spearheading efforts to curb the powers of the Supreme Court.

She was also one of the driving forces behind a bill to enshrine in law Israel's status as a Jewish state at the expense of its democratic character.

Another bill targeted funding for leftwing non-governmental organisations in a move criticised in Europe.

Critics have raised alarm over how she would use her power as justice minister.

But in a government with a razor-thin majority of 61 of the Knesset's 120 seats, her ability to push through controversial legislative changes would be limited by the coalition agreement with Moshe Kahlon's centre-right Kulanu, experts said.

"She might be crippled in actually pushing forward her agenda for legislation," said Professor Yedidia Stern, vice president of research at the Israel Democracy Institute.

"I don't believe she can implement her agenda," agreed former justice minister Yossi Beilin.

"Legislation is about a majority and there is no majority for her views," he told AFP. "The prime minister will restrict her if he sees her taking very harsh views." Hailing from a trendy suburb in northern Tel Aviv, Shaked is one of the only non-religious lawmakers within Jewish Home.

The telegenic MP is often portrayed as the party's figurehead for efforts to broaden its appeal beyond its traditional base of support: the settlers and the Orthodox.

Much of the debate over Shaked has referenced her physical appearance, at times with a sexist overtone, which has angered feminists, including from Israel's left.

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