Analysis: Feiglin - the Likud's 'Militant Tendency?'

The platform of Netanyahu's challenger owes more to Kahane than to the heritage of Jabotinsky and Begin.

feiglin campaigning 298 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
feiglin campaigning 298
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Binyamin Netanyahu will be chosen by Likud members today to lead the party for another term. But the real winner is likely to be Moshe Feiglin, who will yet again have proved that his Jewish Leadership faction is a force within the Likud that cannot be ignored. When Silvan Shalom quit the primary contest in protest at Netanyahu's decision to press ahead with an August vote, Feiglin was left as the main challenger. Voter apathy, the fact that many Likud voters are on vacation at this time of year, and because all the anti-Bibi votes are going to Feiglin may enable the challenger from the radical Right to achieve a third of the vote or more. On the face of it, there is something admirable that ideology is still alive and well in the cynical world of Israeli politics: that a group of dedicated believers can push for its principles to be accepted, especially in the Likud, which in recent years has become synonymous with corruption and cronyism. However, there is one main problem. Feiglin and his Jewish Leadership faction do not belong in the Likud. Feiglin's platform of what is termed "authentic Jewish values" and implementing "Jewish law" owes more to the late Rabbi Meir Kahane than to the heritage of Vladimir Ze'ev Jabotinsky and Menachem Begin. It is probably true, as Feiglin insists, that the majority of Likudniks consider themselves either religious or traditional Jews. It is also true that the Likud has been a broad movement ever since Ariel Sharon merged Gahal with a number of smaller parties on the eve of the 1973 election. But does Bar-Ilan University professor, Hillel Weiss, a senior Jewish Leadership figure who verbally abused the Hebron military commander during last week's evictions at the city's wholesale market, really represent a stream of legitimate thought within the Likud? Feiglin and his Jewish Leadership faction are essentially a party within a party. Former Likud education minister Limor Livnat attacked Feiglin as an extremist trying to take over the party, and that is, in fact, his stated plan. The idea of a political takeover from within is not Feiglin's invention. The politics of "entryism" were carried out with great success in the late 1970s and 1980s in Britain by the Trotskyist Militant Tendency, whose dedicated activists joined the British Labor party en masse. The Trotskyist Militant Tendency, just like the Jewish Leadership, was careful not to describe itself as a separate party. They portrayed themselves as an ideological faction trying to win the battle of ideas in Labor's broad church, while remaining a cohesive, extremist voting bloc. The Militant Tendency was estimated to have no more than 9,000 members at its peak (exactly the same as the Jewish Leadership), yet it succeeded in winning control of the party's youth wing and the Young Socialists, and had three supporters elected to Parliament (as Labor party candidates, of course) and even took over control of the Liverpool City Council, making it the first democratically elected Trotskyist council in Europe. The Trotskyist council left Liverpool in chaos and bankruptcy, while the British Labor Party was to spend this period in opposition as Margaret Thatcher and the British press trashed "the loony Left" without mercy. For years, the Militant Tendency used the Labor Party constitution to successfully defeat repeated attempts to expel its activists from the party, deriding every such attempt as a "right-wing witchunt." Eventually the party decided to act, and from 1985 onwards, a series of moves led by Labor leader Neil Kinnock against the Militant group ended its influence in the party. Binyamin Netanyahu is fond of using historical analogies in his writings and speeches. He would do well to compare the Jewish Leadership with Militant Tendency entryism. He may also consider that only after Kinnock purged the Trotskyites from Labor did enough of the voters in the center consider voting for the party, enabling Tony Blair to eventually return Labor to power.