Zehut activists tempted by a grand political vision in a Jerusalem pub

“Zehut is the only party with an ideology that offers answers to the problems Israel has not just in the short term but a long term vision of what Israel should be,” said Yehoshua Dalin.

Zehut leader Moshe Feiglin (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Zehut leader Moshe Feiglin
Where better to hold a political campaign event for a maverick leader heading a quixotic party that advocates for the legalization of marijuana and the separation of religion and state, then a trendy pup in Jerusalem’s city center.
On Tuesday night, dozens of mostly young and religious activists for Moshe Feiglin and his Zehut Party flocked to the Mike’s Place watering hole in the capital to get reenergized for the election campaign and to recreate the vim and vigor that powered the party through the last one.
They came to hear Feiglin speak about the singular nature of Zehut, about the vision and the dreams that the party advances and his conviction – and that of many of the activists – that only Zehut is offering anything different to the mainstream political parties.
Indeed, the notion of an overarching grand plan for solving the challenges of the Jewish state – and the belief that Zehut has one – is what appears to drive many of the activists in their support of the party.
“Zehut is the only party with an ideology that offers answers to the problems Israel has – not just in the short term, but a long-term vision of what Israel should be,” said Yehoshua Dalin, a party activist from Hashmonaim.
He said that the focus in Zehut on Jewish identity as an integral part of the Jewish state was what drew him to the party, and that from this focus naturally stems other party positions such as those regarding individual freedoms and its policy of annexing all of the West Bank.
Yehudah Sigal, another activist at Tuesday night’s event, expressed similar sentiments in regard to what he perceives as a lack of a vision or driving ideology in other parties.
“Most people are voting for Bibi or against Bibi,” said Sigal in reference to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“Both blocs would support similar things when it comes to Gaza, the Palestinians, the unions,” he opined.
The importance of preserving Israeli control over Judea and Samaria was another central issue and unifying theme that activists raised as one of the main ideas drawing them to the party.
THE OVERWHELMING majority of activists at the campaign event were from the religious-Zionist community, which has traditionally attached great importance to keeping control of Judaism’s heartland, so it is no surprise that Zehut’s policy of annexing Judea and Samaria is a popular draw for such voters.
“We [the Jewish people] came to Israel for a reason, because it is the land of the Bible, our forefathers were here,” Sigal said. “The history of the Jewish people started in Judea and Samaria, so if it’s not important for it to be part of our country, then really, why are we here?”
But other parties also propose this kind of policy, whether it is Naftali Bennett’s proposal to annex Area C of the West Bank, or the National Union’s policy to annex the entire territory.
Zehut activists on Tuesday night attached great importance to the libertarian ideas that Feiglin advocates, such as a reduction in the size of the state and its agencies in everyday life and, in particular, economic liberalism as a way of making life more affordable in the Jewish state.
Indeed, the financial difficulties of living in Israel with its high cost of living, low wages and sky-high property prices was an especially common theme among the young activists and a driving factor behind their support for the party.
To Sigal and Dalin, what they see as the half-hearted commitments of other parties to somehow ameliorate Israel’s cost of living crisis does not promise much improvement, while Feiglin’s liberally economic ideas and pledges have more appeal.
Perhaps this is function of the fact that many of Zehut’s voters are Anglo-Israelis or their children – including many of the activists present Tuesday night – for whom such economic liberalism is familiar and natural.
“If Netanyahu is reelected, housing prices will keep rising and we’ll keep giving in to the labor unions and the bureaucracy,” said Dalin.
Sigal said that as a young man with a young family, it was almost impossible to “pay the bills and get ahead,” because of the high cost of living, and said that nothing would change regardless of whether Likud or Blue and White win the election since, he claimed, labor unions have strong influence over both parties.
The more socially liberal ideas Feiglin promotes – such as separating religion and state – is also something familiar and attractive to Anglo-Israelis, and it is the fusion of Jewish nationalism together with economic and social liberalism that appears to draw and drive the ardency of the party’s voters.
There is undoubtedly trepidation about Zehut’s electoral chances, given the party’s failure to make it across the electoral threshold in the last election by a significant distance, and the shadow of this failure haunts the activists as they attempt to persuade others to vote for the party this time around.
More than one activist asked Feiglin during the question and answer session he held after his address how they could persuade voters that voting Zehut would not be a waste of their ballot
One activists asked whether or not the party should advocate for a change of the electoral system, while Dalin asserted that he encountered “threshold-o-phobia” on a regular basis.
Feiglin’s response to these concerns was very much in keeping with the unconventional nature of his political career.
He pointed out that during the last election, many parties had begun to talk about the issues Zehut was talking about, jumping on the bandwagon of cannabis legalization, freedom from religious coercion and other of Feiglin’s prominent policy ideas.
The party leader asserted, however, that the seeming adoption of these proposals would not happen unless Zehut was actually elected, and that this is the message activists should bring to voters.
“What wins in the end are ideas, the dialogue is about what we are talking about,” Feiglin told his assembled activists.
“You go forward, you bring the ideas. What drives you is not the chances [of electoral success], not the polls; your vision drives you, the content of what you are bringing to Israeli society, and the mandates will come afterwards.”