Moshe Feiglin, the anti-Oslo Accords activist-turned Likud MK and now leader of Zehut, thinks his party is going to be the surprise of the 2019 elections.
His party commissioned research that shows 19% of voters would consider voting for Zehut, and they come from across the political spectrum. Meanwhile, only 6,000 people have signed up for the party’s primary, which is set to take place on Tuesday and has open registration for all Israeli citizens on the Zehut website. It’s an impressive number for a new party, but not a strong support for a projection that his party could get 22 seats in the next Knesset.
In the same Zehut poll taken of more than 1,000 Israelis, 25% think Zehut won’t pass the threshold.
Fear of the electoral threshold is an “injustice,” Feiglin lamented from a rented Tel Aviv meeting room this week. “It creates a huge gap where no one is willing to talk to you... If we break that glass ceiling, the sky is the limit.”
Feiglin blamed specific journalists – rather than Zehut’s poor showing in the polls – for keeping his party out of their reporting, saying they have a problem with him.
And that wasn’t the only time he used the language of conspiracy theories. He also has built his entire political theory around the concept of a “deep state,” although he seems to be referring to something somewhat different than its meaning in the US, of a shadowy cabal that really controls the government, as opposed to elected politicians.
In Feiglin-speak, the “deep state” refers to the deep involvement of the government in every aspect of life in Israel. And, according to Feiglin, all the parties in the Knesset serve that deep state idea and he posits that they all also want a two-state solution – including New Right leader Naftali Bennett, despite his repeated and consistent insistence to the contrary.
“This election is a game of musical chairs,” he scoffed. “Democracy is supposed to be a marketplace of ideas. In Israel, it’s a marketplace of people. It doesn’t matter who you vote for, you always get the same ideas: the deep state and the two-state solution.
“The only chance for breaking this is a revolution in Israeli politics, to bring a free state and a one-state solution, is Zehut,” Feiglin argued.
Feiglin’s “free state” idea, basically libertarianism, is what he says attracts voters across the political spectrum to his party. His “one-state solution” is what raises some skepticism about the claim of a broad appeal, since his idea is to annex all of the West Bank and offer citizenship only to Palestinians who will pledge loyalty to Israel, while offering monetary incentives for others to leave.
But Feiglin is leaning hard into the idea of freedom from government intervention, as opposed to his opposition to Palestinian statehood which has been well-known since he organized mass protests against the Oslo Accords.
“People feel the state is too involved in their lives, whether it’s in the economy or issues of religion and state,” he said. “It’s exciting, especially for young people who are not stuck with the old dogmas. When we talk about a free economy, we show how to really lower the cost of housing and release Israel’s true economic potential to bring abundance to all.”
Perhaps the most controversial manifestation of the freedom Feiglin advocates is the abolishment of the mandatory military draft and the establishment of a professional army.
He also seeks to completely revamp education in Israel by installing a voucher system, by which anyone can establish a new school and parents may choose to send their children to any school in the country, using those vouchers. The Education Ministry would continue to have a core curriculum, but schools would not be required to follow it.
The economy has a deeper meaning for Feiglin. He waxed poetic, looking out the floor-to-ceiling windows of the sparse meeting room, on the 48th floor of a Tel Aviv skyscraper. The city’s urban scenery was on full display, with the Ayalon Highway and Azrieli Towers in full view.
“This is a sign that God exists,” he said. “To think that a people who came out of Auschwitz could build all this.”
Feiglin later paid tribute to the “Jewish genius,” lamenting that the current education system is keeping it from bursting forth in Israel, as is bureaucracy that keeps Israel 89th in the world in ease of doing business.
“Look how much God has given us. But it’s not going to young couples…Only a huge company with political connections can succeed here. Young people feel like they’re being strangled,” he lamented.
Feiglin, who was born in Israel to Australian parents, also sees a connection between the economy and attracting Jews to move to Israel. Zehut also has a Diaspora representative in 10th place on its list, the US-born former chief rabbi of Uruguay, Ben-Tzion Spitz.
“We think all Jews should move here, and when the economy looks the way we want, they’ll come from Western countries, too,” he posited.
One example he gave is his proposal to have a professional army instead of a mandatory draft, which will remove what Feiglin thought is a major obstacle to immigration to Israel.
The health section of Zehut’s platform would also encourage immigration, Feiglin posited, in that it would open up the system “so that a French doctor who wants to make aliyah will have work with a reasonable salary, because competition creates workplaces. A French doctor who comes here may not find work or won’t be able to support his family with the work he can find, and then he will move to New York or Montreal, where he’ll make a good salary. But then his children won’t remain Jewish.”
“The failure of Zionism is the economy and the concentrated market,” Feiglin said.
Apropos health, Feiglin did not seem particularly enthusiastic about the skepticism primaries candidate Shlomo Gordon showed about vaccination, which has made ripples on social media.
“It’s not the stance of the party,” he clarified. “The public has to decide.”
Zehut’s platform does not mention the matter, but Feiglin said the state should not be forcing parents to have their children inoculated, despite the proven public health benefits of widespread vaccination and the current measles outbreak being a result of growing vaccine skepticism.
“It could be that [school vouchers] will solve the problem, because the percentage of those who don’t vaccinate is small and they can start their own school,” he suggested.
Despite Feiglin’s emphasis on economics, the Palestinian issue still looms heavy. Feiglin said he doesn’t prioritize diplomatic and security issues over others, that it will be the last chapter in the soon-to-be-released book version of Zehut’s platform, Israel: Operating Instructions, and that he will join a coalition led by whomever agrees to promote a greater number of Zehut’s positions, regardless of which positions they are. The coalition can be Right or Left, because he thinks they’re all the same, anyway.
But asked if he would stay in a coalition that negotiated with the Palestinians, Feiglin’s immediate answer was no.
“But I would also quit a right-wing government that did what this one did, like destroying Amona
,” he said of the outpost in the West Bank demolished in 2017.
Feiglin said that if his party makes it into the Knesset, it can be a kingmaker that “has the potential to break the equation,” because it is not Right or Left. But his old right-wing habits, like Land of Israel purism, are clearly hard to break.
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