Ayelet Shaked, the co-chair of Israel’s “New Right” party, turned heads around the world with a satirical political ad that went viral, albeit not for the reasons she may have intended.
What’s all the fuss about? Have a look.
In the controversial ad, Shaked floats and twirls seductively, in slow motion, as a voiceover breathlessly inventories her key policy platforms: “curtailing judicial activism; managing judicial appointments; governance; and enforcing more rigorously the separation of powers between the legislative and judicial branches.”
In the end, she sprays herself from a perfume bottle labeled “Fascism by Ayelet Shaked”, and quips, sardonically: “To me, it smells like democracy.”
Shaked dismisses the whole thing as confirmation of the humourlessness of the left. Timed to coincide with the Jewish holiday of Purim, on which it is customary to get all silly (as Jews celebrate their triumph over the ancient Persian attempt to destroy them), Shaked presented the ad spot as a wickedly funny and ironic jab at her critics.
Problem was that people outside Israel who do not understand Hebrew or Jewish culture used it as proof of the wicked ways of the right and Israel, in general.
Since 2015, Shaked has served as Israel’s Minister of Justice, and she has been criticized harshly for her hostility to the judiciary. She has made no bones of the fact that she is of the view that Israeli judges are overwhelmingly and inappropriately activist, leftist, and a threat to the democratic health of the country.
Her adversaries take a different view. Shaked, they believe, is a bull in a china shop. She is bereft of the slightest appreciation for the nuanced and complex issues to which the judiciary must be attuned.
What Shaked disparages as excessive judicial activism her nemeses see as evidence that the judiciary is doing its job; ensuring that elected officials do not run amok. Democracy needs tending, and the role of the judiciary is to pen in overly-zealous legislators.
It is an evergreen debate that persists in most democracies, but it has been particularly sharp in Israel in recent years. Also on the “New Right” party list is Chicago-born journalist, Caroline Glick, who commented recently at an all-candidates meeting in Jerusalem that curtailment of judicial power is a “matter of life and death” for the democratic health of democracy.
In response to the hue and cry Shaked’s political ad inspired in Israel and abroad, she says that the left can’t take a joke. “It is a nice clip aimed at the liberal left that has for years called me a fascist but keeps losing the elections.”
As for those outside Israel who find her invocation of fascism offensive, she is dismissive. “I think we need to shirk political correctness,” she stated on Israeli television on Tuesday night. “I am definitely not going to let them dictate my actions. They will take anything good and nice in this country and try to tarnish it.”
A day or two after the release of the Shaked video, parodies were hitting social media, acidly caricaturing her opponents. Benny Gantz is branded as “Ambiguity,” capturing his bland, milquetoast persona. Labour head, Avi Gabbay, who has taken what used to be the ruling party of Israel to the brink of extinction, is dubbed “Irrelevance.” And Benjamin Netanyahu, seen by the public to be resorting to increasingly erratic and imprudent campaign tactics, is presented as “Desperation.”
On Wednesday, the first full-length video spoof, from Labour MK Hiam Jelin was making the rounds on social media. He strides, silhouetted in waist-high wheat fields, dragging his hands through the earth, reminding the viewer that agriculture and kibbutzim “smell like Zionism.”
If nothing else, Israeli election campaigns are endlessly entertaining. A pox on the sourpusses who can’t take a joke.