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Secular Tel Avivian Ayelet Shaked is the first non-religious candidate in the history of Israel’s main religious-Zionist faction — and the party hopes she will be its secret tool for stealing votes away from Likud.
Shaked’s election in Habayit Hayehudi’s November 13 primary was “a litmus test showing that the party is opening up and not staying a closed club for the religious,” Naftali Bennett, the party’s new leader, told the Forward.
Habayit Hayehudi, formerly the National Religious party, is trying hard to shake its image as a sectarian Orthodox party, hoping to attract secular and traditional Jews who normally vote for Likud. The pro-settler party is appealing especially to those who feel alienated from Likud by Netanyahu’s acceptance in principle of a Palestinian state since the last election. Habayit Hayehudi advocates boosting the Jewish character in the state and ruling out Palestinian statehood.
Bennett wants Habayit Hayehudi to usurp Likud over the next two decades, and polling is showing remarkable growth — it looks set to win about 13 seats, while it currently holds just five. Bennett was Netanyahu’s chief of staff from 2006 to 2008, when Shaked served as the prime minister’s bureau chief.
Shaked, 36, established the right-wing My Israel lobbying group with Bennett, and as chair has become a heroine of the Greater Israel-advocacy community. She has built up a following of 100,000 people who lobby against any manifestation of what she considers an affront on Zionism, either in Israel or abroad. One of her favorite targets is what she considers the leftist media.
She famously distributed shocking photographs of the bodies of the Fogels, a family killed by terrorists in the West Bank settlement of Itamar in March 2011. Many hasbarah activists — who support Israel through positive public relations outreach, or “explaining” — regarded the move as a stroke of genius, but some critics called it distasteful.