How did an unknown computer engineer transform herself into a potential prime minister in just five short years? How did a woman who once worked for Netanyahu become one of his most formidable rivals? And how did a secular woman from left-leaning Tel Aviv become the most successful spokesperson for the religious-nationalist party and the settlement movement it strongly supports?
Even in Israel—a land of milk, honey, and a fresh news item every 60 seconds—Shaked, just 42 years old, is a head-spinning success story. She’s far from being in the consensus; some admire her deeply, while others see her as nothing less than a danger to democracy. But even her fiercest detractors admit that she is the most effective player currently operating in Israel’s roiling political arena.
“I see myself as someone who’s come along to be a counterbalance,” Shaked tells me at a recent meeting at the Ministry of Justice in Jerusalem. “For many years, the courts had a liberal slant, and my tendency is more conservative.” This doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of Shaked’s agenda.
She’s not religious—which is unprecedented for someone so central to a national-religious party like Jewish Home—and she doesn’t live in the settlements. She was raised in Tel Aviv, the liberal stronghold of Israel, but her ideology is deeply rooted in the hard right that opposes any evacuation of West Bank settlements; that views the Oslo Accords and a Palestinian state as an unmitigated catastrophe for Israel; that believes the courts, the media, and academia all lean strongly toward the left. Shaked promises to change all that.
It is precisely her contradictions that give her power and a unique standing within her own party, as well as in the wider political arena.
Shiloh Adler, a prominent settler leader, tells me: “She doesn’t come from the religious-nationalist sector, and she’s not labeled as a member of one camp or another [within that sector]. This gives her a space that’s interest-free and significant. The rabbis, who are divided according to which camp they belong to, all accept her opinion.”
The real dispute driving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
Roni Bar-On, a former senior government minister, offers a less favorable analysis in an interview. “She’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” he says. “She’s not what you’d expect from the religious-nationalist movement, and this works in her favor. The people who are disturbed by what her party represents are soothed by what they see in her, and her base applauds her shrewd sophistication, as in, ‘We slipped in a front someone who captures their minds and does it better than we do.’”
Shaked herself explains it thus: “I was right wing in my outlook from a very early age, and during my service in the army, which is a melting pot, I was introduced to religious Zionism. I connected with that circle of people on an ideological basis.” After completing her military service, she studied electronic engineering and computer science, worked for five years for the tech giant Texas Instruments, and married Ofir, a former Israel Air Force (IAF) combat pilot who is now an IAF flight instructor. They have two children. In 2006, however, she turned her ideology into a profession and forged a connection with Netanyahu, becoming his office manager. “At the time, Netanyahu was the spurned leader of the opposition, he had only 12 Knesset seats, and people didn’t think he would ever get anywhere,” she recounts, smiling at the outcome of her bet.