One on One: Judaism, not Jabotinsky

Likud primary candidate and Netanyahu nemesis says he's fighting for return to Jewish identity.

Moshe Feiglin 88 248 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Moshe Feiglin 88 248
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The following is an interview held last week with Moshe Feiglin "I don't like the term 'religious,'" says Likud primary candidate and Manhigut Yehudit faction leader Moshe Feiglin. "I'm a Jew, plain and simple." Taking issue with being labeled as belonging to a certain sector because he wears a kippa, has a beard and lives in a settlement (Karnei Shomron in Samaria), Feiglin explains that this is a perfect example of what is wrong with Israeli society today. Well, that and much else, according to the 46-year-old married father of five and grandfather of two, who has become both famous and infamous for his outspoken right-wing views. Ironically, however, it is not from the Left that the co-founder of Zo Artzeinu - the "this is our country" movement established in 1993 to protest the Oslo Accords - has gotten the most flak for his flagrance. In fact, if he's making anyone uncomfortable these days it's the people in his own party, particularly those at the top counting on the encouraging polls to enable them to start chalking up the mandates. So apparently perturbed are they by Feiglin - who ran for party chairman once in December 2005 and again in August 2007 - that prior to a mass rally the "father of civil disobedience" held last week, Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu's advisers warned party members not to attend. Though this didn't prevent hundreds of supporters from descending upon Jerusalem's Ramada Hotel to take part in the "festivities" - which, by the way, could be heard resounding throughout the lobby - the silence from those who stayed away was no less deafening. Feiglin, who claims he's tried repeatedly to straighten things out with Netanyahu over the years, made an appeal to him from the podium. "My hand is stretched out to you," he said. "Our goal has to be to return to the days when we had 48 MKs, and the way to do that is to unite and open our arms to everyone." So far, this appeal hasn't had stellar success. It would seem that Netanyahu's strategy of aiming for the center - evidence of which can be seen in the "dream team" he has been assembling to run in Monday's primary - cannot sustain someone so associated with political troublemaking that in March he was banned from entering Britain. Still, Feiglin, who has published two books, and numerous articles for the right-wing American periodical The Jewish Press, and the less so Hebrew daily Ma'ariv, says that during his days of demonstrating against Oslo ("a unique display of democracy"), he was "very liked in the Likud." In an hour-long interview, Feiglin gives his take on why he arouses such animosity among people whose party's constitution, he claims, most closely represents his worldview. But it is Judaism, more than Jabotinsky, that he believes is the core - and the cure. In an interview with the Post last Friday, Likud candidate Bennie Begin said that political differences among party members are not important at the moment, because there is consensus that no peace deal can be reached with the Palestinians in the near future, and that what is needed is a focus on the immediate challenges. Do you agree? First let me emphasize that I consider Bennie Begin's return to Likud as extremely important, and I welcome it. But, with regard to that specific statement of his, I would disagree. This isn't the first time we've counted on the other side, and on dead-end negotiations [as a solution]. Begin's view here is one the national camp held up until the Oslo Accords. We said to ourselves, "What difference does it make if it's [Yitzhak] Shamir or [Yitzhak] Rabin? After all, the Arabs aren't going to allow anything to progress." The result was twofold: For its part, the Left espoused a strong ideology of deconstruction, according to which we should relinquish territory and reach an agreement with the Arabs at all cost. The national camp, meanwhile, developed the idea that precisely because of this ideology, there was nothing to worry about. So, what is your position now? That the way to counter the ideology of deconstruction is with an ideology of construction, based on solid foundations. Only then will we be able to be at peace. We cannot achieve this through passivity. We can only achieve it through faith in our justice and legitimacy - not through faith in the fact that our enemy is certain to stumble. Is this possible while there is so much controversy over what constitutes our "justice and legitimacy" - over which territory actually belongs to us? The watershed dividing Israeli society today is not territorial. Nor is it a question of Right vs Left, religious vs secular or security vs peace. It is a question of Jewish identity. Do we want to connect to our Jewish identity on a national and cultural level? Do we want it to be fundamental - the national wellspring - or do we want to escape it and treat it as some kind of burden? Immigrants to Israel may be able to grasp this principle, but can native Israelis really do so? Is it really possible to instill such a sense of national and cultural Jewish identity in the next generation? I believe it is. And I'm not talking about creating a state based on Halacha or on religious coercion of any kind. What I'm talking about is connecting to our justice as the Jewish people. We are always asking ourselves why our enemies are so successful at international hasbara [public diplomacy] - why we are always failing, in spite of having much better tools and embassies and emissaries all over the world. The answer is that our enemies operate out of a sense of justice, while we operate from a point of pragmatism. They demand justice; we demand pragmatic solutions. I'll give you an example that relates to territorial issues. Suppose someone breaks into your apartment and announces that it is his. Suppose that instead of calling the police and trying to kick him out, you begin negotiating over how to divide the rooms. Anyone observing the incident would be convinced that the apartment belonged to the intruder. The point is that we can explain to the world over and over again how Western, modern and enlightened we are, and how we do everything in our power not to hurt women and children, etc., but it makes no difference. Because the other side says, "It's mine," and we are unable to say that. And if we're not able to say that, we will lose it all - not Judea and Samaria, but Tel Aviv, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Sderot. So, we have to educate the younger generation on the source of our right to live here at all. That source has to be based on Judaism. Basing it on the past 100 years is not enough. We have to base it on our history that goes back 4,000 years. We have to base it on the Book of Books from which the entire world derives its moral base. If we don't do that, we're lost. Speaking of 4,000 years of history, is there anything new about this kind of watershed you believe is dividing Israeli society? Perhaps such tension is inherent in the Jewish people? What is inherent is the ambivalence between the people of Israel and God. From time immemorial, there have been opposing forces at work within every Jew: the desire to be relieved of our burden and be like all other nations, on the one hand; and the return to ourself on the other. This is the process that is going on today. From that point of view, you're right that it's nothing new. But one could say that during the biblical period, the distancing from Judaism took the form of idolatry, and today it takes the form of a desire to distance ourselves from those among us who are connected to their identity and therefore to the Land of Israel. The role of Yasser Arafat during the Oslo process was simply to relieve us of what [former Meretz MK] Yossi Sarid referred to as "those accursed territories." For our part, willingness to relinquish those territories did not derive from a desire for peace, but rather from the desire to be rid of the Jewish identity placed on us by them. Proof of this lies in the fact that even after trying to rid ourselves of "those accursed territories" - in spite of all the promises made by Rabin and others that the minute the enemy fired on us, we would immediately return to them, and in spite of all the bloodshed that ensued from the move - the process keeps going. The same applies to prisoner releases. The process is, in fact, determinist, iconic. Regardless of the results, we continue with the experiment. This leads to the obvious conclusion that the stated goal of peace is not the real goal. The real goal of handing over territory is to hand over territory. The desire to be relieved of our identity is not widespread. In fact, it comes from a very small group of elites - less than 10 percent of the population - who dominate the national agenda. This elite consists mainly of the Supreme Court, much of the media, think tanks and academia. This has been going on for about 80 years now, since the Second Aliya. For this group, Jewish identity is a burden. I don't blame them. It's natural, after 2,000 years of pogroms and such, for Jews to want to be like everyone else. And the territories don't frighten them as an "obstacle to peace" or because of the "demographic problem." That's all nonsense, and I can prove it, which I've done so many times that I'm sick of talking about it already. The truth is that their desire to be rid of the territories is really an attempt to give the Jewish state a universal, as opposed to Jewish, identity. This applies not only to the territories, by the way, but also to the settlers, because the settlers represent the connection between the Jew and his identity - the connection between the Jew and reality, without giving up on his Judaism. Haredim don't pose a problem, because they remain in their ghetto. The settlers do, because while they do not sever their ties to their Judaism, they also serve enthusiastically in the army and till the soil. They represent the antithesis to being a nation like all other nations. That's why they have to be eliminated. And that's why Gush Katif was evacuated. It was so clear to everyone that peace would not ensue, but peace wasn't the aim. The aim was the sacrifice of the settlements and the settlers. [TV and print journalist] Yair Lapid even wrote this openly. This is a culture war between the Jews and the Jews, not between the Jews and the Arabs. The Arabs are merely an excuse. Netanyahu would likely agree with most of what you say here. What is your assessment of his opposition to your making it to the Knesset on the Likud list? Are you taking it upon yourself to be a "Bibi-sitter" from within the party, as the now defunct NRP-NU claimed it was being from without? [He laughs] No, not a "Bibi-sitter." I believe I could work with Netanyahu in harmony - up until the point, heaven forbid, that he decides to do something like [former prime minister Ariel] Sharon did, though it's hard for me to believe that he would. Look, his attacks on me are very bad. Beyond that, his blatant intervention in the written rules of the electoral process is illegal, and I'm dealing with it accordingly. [The Likud response: "Every activity carried out by Likud is done in accordance with the law, whether in relation to Moshe Feiglin or any other issue. As someone who calls for sedition, unrest and for disrespecting the law, he is not worthy to be included in Likud - a democratic, law-abiding movement."] A year and a half ago, when I ran for head of Likud - and received an impressive 24 percent of the vote - then, too, there was an attempt to block me. And when the primary was over, I went to shake Netanyahu's hand, as is customary, but he wouldn't shake mine. Since then, I've made every attempt to talk to him. But to no avail. This doesn't concern me from a personal point of view. I don't need his handshake in order to sleep at night. Furthermore, whenever I shook his hand in the past, it wasn't easy for me, since it was a hand that shook the hand of Arafat. But I got over it. The question of his attitude toward me is one I ask myself all the time, and it's one for which I don't have a clear answer. I can only assume that it's because he was told that if I get in, he'll be treated as the opposite of what Channel 2's Amnon Abramovich called an "etrog" [when referring to the media's "coddling" of Sharon, to enable him to carry out disengagement unfettered by bad press]. I don't believe politics are behind his behavior. Politically, I know that I add mandates to the Likud. If I am on the list for the Knesset, many people on the Right who no longer have a political home will come out to vote for Likud. Netanyahu knows this, too. Therefore, his opposition to me is not electoral. It's much deeper than that. On the one hand, it's hard for me to explain, and on the other hand, it's a constant signal to me that I'm on the right path - that I'm touching on the root of the problem in which Israel finds itself right now. There is what I call an "invisible tyrant" in this country. We live in a democracy of people, but a dictatorship of ideas. It's a situation in which many people compete for your vote, but ultimately they're only allowed to express one idea. It's gotten to the point where if you vote Left, you get Left, and if you vote Right, you also get Left. My exposing this seriously frightens that "invisible tyrant." Isn't it hard for you to be a member of a party you consider susceptible to this "invisible tyrant"? And can your ideology jibe with that of, say, of the more dovish Dan Meridor? To answer that, two things have to be examined. The first is what Likud actually is. When you read the party's constitution, you see that what is written points to total loyalty to all parts of the Land of Israel. There's even a clause saying that Israel has to apply its sovereignty over all parts of the Land of Israel in our hands at a given time. In other words, according to the Likud constitution as it stands today, Israel has to apply its law - as it did to the Golan Heights and Jerusalem - to all parts of Judea and Samaria in our hands, and, of course, to the Temple Mount. That's the Likud. So, the person who's the closest to what the Likud actually stands for is me. The second thing that has to be examined is loyalty to the party. I was never a "prince," nor do I ever intend to be one, but the question of how consistent and loyal you are to your movement also determines how much you belong to Likud. As for Dan Meridor, he'll pull in his direction, and I'll pull in mine. The real question is not how we'll be able to work together, but what would happen in my absence. In such an event, the only pressure applied would come from the Left - from Dan Meridor, Uzi Dayan and Assaf Hefetz - without any coming from the other direction, except from Bennie Begin, who, unfortunately, doesn't seem to grasp the root of the argument. Begin claims that he sees eye-to-eye with Meridor about the need to strengthen the Supreme Court. How do you feel about that? You'll be surprised to hear that I, too, favor a strong Supreme Court. But the argument isn't over the strengthening or weakening of the Supreme Court. The question is what value system the court bases its decisions on. Eight years ago, when I saw the direction [former Supreme Court president] Aharon Barak was taking the court, I wrote that he was cutting off the branch on which the court was sitting. In other words, it's not [Justice Minister] Daniel Friedmann who is hurting the legal system [by trying to reform it]. It was Barak who was hurting it. He attacked Jewish values, decision after decision. What we need is to return the public's faith in the courts. How can we do this? By creating a situation whereby judges are given a hearing, like in the United States. And they should be appointed to reflect the makeup of the public. So, yes, there should be a judge on the Supreme Court who represents the values of Meretz, but not only judges who do. What, in the final analysis, keeps you in Likud? Is Revisionist movement founder Ze'ev Jabotinsky really your mentor? Though I'm certainly an admirer of Jabotinsky's writings, I'm not a Jabotinskyite. In any case, the Likud is not solely about Jabotinsky. What gives me the strength to continue in Likud, despite what is being done to me in the party, is that it genuinely represents the people of Israel. Sociologically, when I'm with Likud, I'm with Israel. In any other party, I would feel like part of a narrow sector. That the Likud establishment is under pressure from the Left and fights me is hard, but it proves that I'm in the right place. What I bring to it is the Jewish issue. We are the national movement. And what nation is that - one which, in the best case, is like a piece of folklore hanging on the wall of a museum, or one which has Judaism as its cultural-national source? It is the latter that will give us the strength to confront the challenges we face today. Which brings us to the age-old question of whether it is true that it is only the Right which can sign peace treaties and the Left which can go to war? Is there no reason for concern on your part that Netanyahu, who made the Hebron deal and who has brought in all kinds of more moderate faces to Likud, will end up making a deal with the Palestinians? There is definitely cause for concern. That's why they have to have me there. Period.