Ayelet Shaked, justice minister in the new Israeli government, gets a pass today in a “Saturday Profile” by Jodi Rudoren. Although Shaked is noted for her extremist rightwing views, it seems she faced no challenges in her interview with The New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief. The story we find here is all about style and personality.
Rudoren makes a quick run through some of the most disturbing elements of Shaked’s agenda, noting that she favors annexing most of the West Bank, deporting African asylum seekers, limiting the power of the Supreme Court, punishing Israeli groups that criticize the occupation and creating laws that enshrine the rights of Jews over other groups.
There is no discussion of what this means for the future of Israelis and Palestinians apparently no attempt to engage the new justice minister over these issues. We learn that Shaked has drawn heated criticism (some of it sexist) and that she is “the most contentious appointment” in the new government, but we get no deeper look into her motivations.
Only one of her critics, the Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi, is identified by name in the article. She is quoted briefly as saying that Shaked’s appointment is a “threat to peace and security” and “generates a culture of hate and lawlessness,” but Rudoren fails to examine the factors that inspire these fears.
Instead, the focus here is on Shaked’s reaction. We learn that she responded to the criticism that accompanied her appointment with a “this-too-shall-pass shrug,” a characteristic attitude according to those close to her. They have called her a “robot” and “the computer,” because she is not given to emotion. Her style is analytical and methodical, Rudoren tells us, and she is “disciplined” and “a doer.”
We also learn that Shaked studied ballet as a child, joined the Scouts and did well in math. In the same paragraph, as if this were one more dab of color in her resume, Rudoren informs us that Shaked served as an instructor in the Israeli army’s Golani Brigade in Hebron and “grew close to the religious Zionist settlers.” Her experience there “cemented her stance on the right.”
This bit of information calls for more discussion. Hebron settlers are noted for their violence against the indigenous Palestinians, and it would serve readers well to know why Shaked identified with them so closely.
Shaked is a member of the extremist Jewish Home party that opposes any kind of autonomy for Palestinians. One of its members is the racist rabbi Eli Ben Dahan, who has said that Palestinians “are beasts; they are not human” and that “a Jew always has a much higher soul than a gentile even if he is a homosexual.” (Rabbi Dahan has been named as head of the Civil Administration, the Israeli army agency in charge of the West Bank.)
This is the company that Shaked keeps, but the extremism of her party is off topic in this article. Although we get hints of her ultraconservative stance in the story, Rudoren skips over these clues quickly, preferring to dwell on style and trivia.
Rudoren should be asking what Shaked’s appointment means for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza and what it means for dissident Palestinians and Jews in Israel, but this not in her sights. Her aim here, it seems, is to conceal the grim reality of Israel’s racist government, to make light of an ominous turn in Israeli society.