As Israeli elections draw even closer, one politician is making headway, and headlines, for his unique –and surprisingly popular — blend of libertarian, extreme free-market ideas and far-right, Jewish supremacist ideologies.
In addition to promising an end to the military draft and refusing military aid from the U.S, Moshe Feiglin has also called on the Al-Aqsa Mosque to be demolished and replaced with the third Jewish Temple, and stripping Palestinians in Israel of their citizenship.
His most popular platform, however, and the one analysts say could push him over the minimum electoral threshold? Legalizing marijuana.
Over the past two weeks, the “pro-pot” Feiglin has been plastered across the front pages of Israeli and Jewish news websites, after new polls placed the once overlooked fringe politician as a real contender.
According to the Times of Israel, polls published by Haaretz and Israel Hayom have predicted that Feiglin’s Zehut (“Identity”) party would make it into the Knesset, while a third poll published in Yedioth Ahronoth put Zehut “tantalizingly close” to the 3.25% threshold, with 3.1% of the vote.
Despite his openly racist views, which consist of fierce opposition to any form of Palestinian statehood and advocating for the forcible expulsion of “non-loyal Arabs” from the occupied territories, Feiglin has drawn crowds in Israel’s “liberal” capital Tel Aviv, and growing support from the Israeli “left.”
Even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has previously remained silent on the matter, has jumped on the legalization train, saying on a LikudTV webcast earlier this month — following Zehut’s rise in the polls — that he’s looking into the policy, saying “ it’s possible that it will happen.”
With all the attention he’s getting, Feiglin is positioning himself to be a major person of interest not only for voters, but for major players in the election, who come April 9th, might need the favor of someone like Feiglin who could tip the scales in their favor.
A thorn in Netanyahu’s side
Feiglin began his political involvement in the 1990s as an ultra-right, vocal opponent of the Oslo Accords.
He co-founded the Zo Artzeinu (“This is our Land”) movement in 1993 to protest the Accords, and in 1995, he helped orchestrate the shut down of tens of intersections throughout Israel in protest against the peace process.
As a result, in 1997, Feiglin was convicted on charges of sedition and sentenced to six months in prison — later commuted to six months of community service.
In 2000, along with his newly established right-wing party, Manhigut Yehudit (“Jewish Leadership”), he joined Likud and immediately announced his candidacy for chairmanship of the party — a stepping stone for the premiership.
By 2005, Feiglin was climbing the ladder within Likud, and landed at the number three spot with 12.5% of the votes, behind Netanyahu, during internal elections for party chairman. Two years later, he doubled his showings to 23.4% of the votes to Netanyahu’s 72.8%.
“He was never consider a major player and both Likud leaders he served under (Sharon and Netanyahu) viewed him as nuisance,” Israeli journalist and blogger Yossi Gurvitz told Mondoweiss.
In 2008, Feiglin was pushed down by Netanyahu from his number 20 spot on Likud’s 2009 Knesset slate to number 36, over concerns that “the success of his archrival Feiglin and his supporters in the primary would foil his effort to present his right-of-center party as more centrist for the election,” Haaretz reported at the time.
In response, Feiglin said “anyone with eyes in his head can see Netanyahu acting with tricks and shtiks against the Likud members’ desire.”
After years-long attempts by Netanyahu to oust Feiglin from the party, his mission was accomplished in 2015, when Feiglin announced he would be leaving Likud to form Zehut.
While Feiglin’s most popular platform may be the legalization of marijuana, and ending “the persecution of cannabis users,” he certainly has no qualms about the persecution of Palestinians.
“He has often preached ethnic cleansing and genocide of Palestinians,” Gurvitz, who lodged a complaint against Feiglin last year for inciting genocide, told Mondoweiss.
“I think Feiglin is more radical than the Kahanists,” Gurvitz continued, citing Feiglin’s open calls for ethnic cleansing and genocide. “He is a much better marketer of these ideas.”
A settler residing illegally in the northern occupied West Bank, Feiglin has never sugar-coated his blatant racism and hate for Palestinians.
He has advocated for Israeli sovereignty over all of the West Bank, and exclusive Jewish religious control of the Al-Aqsa Compound.
In 2004, he told the New Yorker, “you can’t teach a monkey to speak and you can’t teach an Arab to be democratic,” adding the “the Arab destroys everything he touches.”
In 2008, he was banned from the UK for “seeking to provoke others to serious criminal acts and fostering hatred.”
Zehut’s platform, among other anti-Arab sentiments, states that “there is no ‘Palestinian’ nationality,” and “The State of Israel was established to be a Jewish state. The claim that sovereignty requires the automatic granting of citizenship is not true.”
As for the “non-Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria,” Feiglin’s Zehut gives Palestinians three choices:
- To “enable interested residents to sell their property, and will help them emigrate to the destination of their choice.”
- The Palestinians who want to stay in their homes must “declare their allegiance openly,” and in exchange, they will receive the status of “permanent residents in the Jewish state.”
- Finally, as a third option, those Palestinians who “wish to be loyal citizens and serve in the army (such as the Druze, for example) will be able to receive full citizenship after a long and thorough examination track.”
Kingmaker, or overhyped?
Several Israeli media outlets have dubbed Feiglin as a potential “kingmaker” come election time, should he succeed in surpassing the minimum threshold and making his way into the Knesset.
According to Israeli media, Feiglin has been filling arenas in secular Tel Aviv, and is drawing voters from left and right — enough to potentially decide who will form the next Israeli government coalition.
During an interview with Israel’s Channel 12 earlier this month, when asked about the role he could play in tipping the scales if asked to join a Netanyahu or Gantz coalition, Feiglin said “I’m not in anyone’s pocket. I will go where we can have the most impact. We have our eye on the Finance and Education ministries, where we will be able to implement our platform.”
He also added that he would condition his entering of any coalition on that party adopting full legalization of marijuana.
Despite his ultra-nationalist, right-wing views, Gurvitz said he believes Feiglin could potentially get enough liberal votes from those willing to overlook fascism in favor of weed.
“I think there are some liberals stupid enough for that,” Gurvitz said. “I understand he is drawing some votes from Meretz.”
“In almost every election, there is some surprise party winning the fringe votes. It could happen,” he said.