An 11th-hour deal on Wednesday led to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu forming the most right-wing government in his country's history. Netanyahu's slim majority in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, was secured after a pact with the Jewish Home party, led by Naftali Bennett, an ultra-nationalist who draws much of his support from Israel's settler population and rejects a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
One of the terms of the alliance was that Netanyahu would tap Bennett's de facto lieutenant, Ayelet Shaked, to be the next justice minister. This is a move not without controversy.
Shaked is known for her strident (some would say extremist) views regarding Palestinians and the enfeebled Israeli left. In July, in a controversial post on Facebook, the then-member of the Knesset posted the text of an article by the late Israeli writer Uri Elitzur that referred to Palestinian children as "little snakes" and appeared to justify the mass punishment of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation. The post has since been deleted, but an archived version remains.
It was put up shortly after the discovery of the bodies of three Israeli teens kidnapped last year while hiking in the West Bank. Their killing eventually escalated into a 50-day war in which Israel pummeled the Gaza Strip, a Palestinian enclave dominated by the militant Islamist group Hamas, which launched barrages of rocket fire at Israel. The Gaza war killed more than 1,400 Palestinian civilians and reduced whole swaths of the impoverished territory to rubble.
The leftist site Mondoweiss offers a full translation of Shaked's controversial posting, which quotes Elitzur, a former Netanyahu adviser, here. Some excerpts:
The Palestinian people has declared war on us, and we must respond with war. Not an operation, not a slow-moving one, not low-intensity, not controlled escalation, no destruction of terror infrastructure, no targeted killings. Enough with the oblique references. This is a war. Words have meanings. This is a war. It is not a war against terror, and not a war against extremists, and not even a war against the Palestinian Authority. These too are forms of avoiding reality. This is a war between two people. Who is the enemy? The Palestinian people. Why? Ask them, they started...
Behind every terrorist stand dozens of men and women, without whom he could not engage in terrorism. Actors in the war are those who incite in mosques, who write the murderous curricula for schools, who give shelter, who provide vehicles, and all those who honor and give them their moral support. They are all enemy combatants, and their blood shall be on all their heads. Now this also includes the mothers of the martyrs, who send them to hell with flowers and kisses. They should follow their sons, nothing would be more just. They should go, as should the physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there.
Even if these aren't Shaked's own words, the sentiment is noteworthy, and it reflects what critics say is the Israeli nationalist right's widespread intolerance of the Arabs in their midst, who make up one-fifth of the Israeli population.
Bennett and Shaked's Jewish Home party are avowed opponents of Palestinian statehood. Bennett's proposal for settling the "Palestinian question" involves the creation of semiautonomous territories that some have likened to the bantustans of apartheid-era South Africa.
Shaked's appointment as justice minister also has raised fears that Netanyahu's new government will attempt to rein in the Israeli judiciary, as my colleague William Booth reports. Some are rather worried about what may follow.
"The demand to give Ayelet Shaked the Justice portfolio is like giving the Fire and Rescue Services to a pyromaniac," opposition lawmaker Nachman Shai told the Arutz Sheva news site.
Shaked, a photogenic former tech executive, doesn't seem too bothered about the opinions of her opponents. She once dismissed Haaretz, arguably Israel's most internationally respected newspaper, as a publication "read by a mere 30,000 Israelis."
After all, Shaked is about to gain a cabinet post in a climate in which an Israeli former foreign minister can call for the "beheading" of disloyal Arabs with no political cost and in which warning of Arabs "voting in droves" helped Netanyahu's Likud party win Israel's general election earlier this year.
"Shaked is going and taking her place in the pantheon of the extreme right," says leftist Israeli legislator Michal Rozin, "and represents an ideology where her own racism doesn't embarrass her."