The accidental transformation of Moshe Feiglin

The far-right Likud activist is adopting a kinder, gentler approach following a near-fatal accident that led to a long, arduous process of rehabilitation.

Moshe Feiglin 520 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Moshe Feiglin 520
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
David Feiglin was on his way with a friend to their shift as volunteer firefighters in their hometown of Karnei Shomron on June 28 when a driver making an illegal U-turn smashed into Feiglin’s friend’s car.
The accident left Feiglin, 16, in a coma for more than two months and led to a long, arduous process of rehabilitation. It also had a major impact on his father, far-right Likud activist Moshe Feiglin, who since then has undergone what many would call a transformation.
Have Feiglin’s views about the dangers of concessions to the Palestinians and the need for truly Jewish leadership changed? Absolutely not.
Did Feiglin decide to change his strategy of persuading thousands of settlers and other right-wingers to join the Likud and have influence from the inside? Also no.
But the accident did persuade Feiglin to change his demeanor.
He was always relatively mild-mannered and came across as surprisingly amiable in person, especially to those who only knew him from news reports.
Nevertheless even he admits that he was an angry person. He was bitter at the many obstacles and circumstances that have been put in his way and blocked his political rise.
And he was ferociously critical of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his other adversaries, often crossing what are generally accepted as boundaries, even in the dregs of Israeli politics.
Now, since the accident, Feiglin says his indignation has subsided.
He is more accepting, less bitter, and he even has a nice thing or two to say about Netanyahu – up to a point.
“Strategically and ideologically, nothing has changed,” Feiglin said in an interview. “My views are the same as before the accident.
But my approach to people and my understanding of them have changed significantly. I am not mad at anyone, certainly not Netanyahu. I am less of an angry person, because the accident put things in proportion.”
The outpouring of affection that Feiglin received following his son’s accident started the transformation, both in his demeanor and in his self-image as the perpetual outsider.
“I saw leftists on the road whom I had never met before stop me and express their pain and their prayers for David, and that did something to me,” Feiglin said.
What was even more surprising was the affection he received not from complete strangers but from people who knew him and had never given him the time of day: Netanyahu and the rest of the Likud’s senior leadership.
After the accident, nearly the entire Likud faction called him, including Netanyahu. And they weren’t just doing it because of the thousands of votes Feiglin controls in the Likud membership and the hundreds in the party’s central committee.
Even Feiglin’s fiercest critics and Likud doves who know that his people will never back them gave him a call. Most surprisingly, Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat, who once led an effort to banish him from the party, empathized with Feiglin.
“It was heartwarming,” Feiglin said. “I realized after the accident that I had shot myself in the foot when I let my anger get the best of me and said things I now regret.”
FEIGLIN JOINED the Likud in November 2000 after gaining notoriety by leading a civil disobedience movement called Zo Artzeinu that blocked roads to protest the signing of the Oslo Accords. He has run for the Likud leadership three times and gradually rose from 3 percent to 12% to 24% of the vote.
The closest Feiglin came to entering the Knesset came in December 2008 when Likud members voted to give him slot 20 on the Likud list. But Netanyahu’s loyalists found a technical excuse to lower him to the 36th slot in a move that was affirmed by the High Court of Justice.
Feiglin claimed that Netanyahu’s efforts to prevent him from entering the Knesset lost the Likud several seats to parties further to the right and enabled Kadima leader Tzipi Livni to bring her party one more seat than Netanyahu brought the Likud.
At the time, Feiglin called upon Netanyahu to step down from the Likud leadership, even though he was tasked with forming the government. Feiglin said that had he won the Likud leadership race, he would have won more seats than Livni.
“Even if a broom had been at the helm of the Likud, the results would have been better,” Feiglin said at the time. “This defeat is so resounding because Netanyahu’s battle against me did so much damage to the Likud. He has turned himself into the perennial loser – the Shimon Peres of the Likud.”
Those are the kind of statements of personal criticism against Netanyahu that Feiglin now regrets.
“I crossed red lines in my relations with Netanyahu,” he said. “It doesn’t matter who is right. You need to act differently. I should have have held back and not allowed Netanyahu to drag me into a personal battle.”
Feiglin does not use the term turn the other cheek, because it is a Christian concept, but he says he should have absorbed blows and not responded. He even said that under the current circumstances, Netanyahu is the ideal leader.
“In the present situation with how the Israeli public currently understands Israel’s place, no one can lead the country better than Netanyahu, including myself,” Feiglin said. “As long as the public here thinks we need to be listening to the world and we need to be afraid of upsetting [US President Barack] Obama that will be true. Here and there I would prefer different tactics, but I don’t have major complaints.”
FEIGLIN IS confident that what he describes as an Israeli obsession with the world’s opinion of the Jewish state will soon conclude and that he will be the recipient of the public’s support after this change of heart. He believes the slayings of the Fogel family in Itamar and the uprisings in the Arab world have hastened such an upheaval.
“The attack certainly didn’t surprise me,” Feiglin said. “It was clearly a matter of time. There is an illusion of quiet, but there is no peace, there wasn’t peace and there won’t be peace for a long time, and it’s time the public understands that. They didn’t get it after all the attacks before, but now, with the change in the Arab world, it could be different.”
Feiglin believes the downfall of Arab dictators will persuade Israelis that the diplomatic agreements signed with the dictators were based on false pretenses and “virtual reality” and are therefore not worth the paper they were written on. He cited the cutoff of gas from Egypt and a recent statement by the Jordanian justice minister calling the murderer of seven Israeli schoolgirls in Naharayim a hero.
“Israelis are awakening from the previous 30 years of Oslo and the peace processes,” Feiglin said. “The dictators who were used as an excuse are disappearing. When there was [former Egyptian leader Hosni] Mubarak who could be bribed or [former Palestinian leader Yasser] Arafat who could put on shows, you could ignore the reality that the Arabs don’t want us here. It will still take time, and more prices will be paid before everyone understands.”
Feiglin predicts that Israelis will gradually accept the prophesy that Israel would be “a nation that dwells alone,” that does not have to rely on the nations of the world, not even the US, especially at a time when America is facing its own challenges.
According to Feiglin’s plan, this realization will make people realize that his Manhigut Yehudit (Jewish leadership) group in the Likud was right all along, while all the politicians reaching out to the world were wrong.
The realization that Feiglin was right has already set in when it comes to his tactics.
When he first joined the Likud and tried to bring in thousands of new members with similar views, he was accused by the mainstream Likud of trying to initiate a hostile takeover of the party and by right-wing activists of harming their cause by joining a party that bills itself as centrist.
Over the past two years, the establishment in Judea and Samaria has decided on its own to join the Likud. Nearly all the local council heads in Judea and Samaria are now members of the powerful Likud central committee and none have been condemned.
“I am happy that the people with loyal views have realized that they shouldn’t be in small parties,” Feiglin said. “But I am sorry that most joined just to have impact on the leadership, not to lead themselves. They say I am right, but they are afraid of taking the additional step from influence to leadership. In this I am still alone and it’s too bad.”
When it first got started, Manhigut Yehudit searched for a leader that fits its ideology of Jewish leadership to present as a candidate for prime minister. When Feiglin didn’t find anyone fitting, he and his loyalists chose himself, which turned off many people who saw him as lacking modesty.
“I don’t think I presented my leadership out of megalomania but out of an understanding that there is no choice because the current leadership doesn’t have the tools to deal with what’s going on,” Feiglin said. “I’m surprised that I’m the only one. I wish there was a leader and I’d be able to focus on writing books. Unfortunately I don’t see anyone like that now.”
When asked if his son’s accident had made him more modest, Feiglin said he hoped so.
“I still say I want to lead the country, but I don’t think I have to be Popeye anymore and beat someone,” he said. “I don’t have to fight anyone.
I don’t have to hate anyone. I just have to tell the public my truth and stay politically approachable until the time comes when the public realizes that my ideology is what they are looking and for and what Israel needs to survive.”