Let Feiglin be Feiglin

Major parties must embrace a welcoming, big-tent philosophy.

feiglin looks up 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
feiglin looks up 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Who is Moshe Feiglin and why is Binyamin Netanyahu, poised to be Israel's next prime minister, working so feverishly to torpedo his chances of being elected on the Likud Knesset ticket? At chairman Netanyahu's initiative, the Likud Central Committee has made it much harder procedurally for Feiglin and his Manhigut Yehudit faction to capture top electoral spots in the party's December 8 primary. Netanyahu has also discouraged party VIPs from attending Feiglin's campaign events. All parties manipulate the composition and rankings of their Knesset lists. The Likud is simply following in that inglorious tradition. Feiglin, 46, first gained prominence in 1993 when he led the Zo Artzeinu movement in strident protests against the Oslo Accords. Its adherents blocked intersections and engaged in civil disobedience, which sometimes deteriorated into violent confrontation when the police sought to keep traffic flowing. More recently, he has taken a firm stance against violence. His views are mostly antithetical to those of this newspaper. He opposes any territorial concessions, under any circumstances. He has reportedly said that Arab citizens of Israel hostile to the state should be encouraged to leave. Feiglin denies he wants to see Israel transformed into a theocracy - he explicitly opposes religious coercion, but believes state policies should be informed by the Torah. He's convinced that as Israelis connect with their Jewish identity, their incentive for territorial concessions will fall by the wayside. (An interview with Feiglin appears in this Friday's UpFront magazine). Nowadays, Feiglin is distinguished from - and criticized by - others on the far Right by his pledge to work within the system. Since 2005 he has sought to exercise this commitment within the Likud. The party now holds 12 mandates but is projected to win some 34 in the elections, partly thanks to Netanyahu's labors to reposition, regenerate and rebrand it. He's enticed such diverse personalities as Bennie Begin, Moshe Ya'alon, Dan Meridor, Uzi Dayan and Assaf Hefetz to run in the primary. Netanyahu wants to keep his right-wing base while also appealing to centrist Kadima voters. NOT unreasonably, Netanyahu is worried that allowing Feiglin too high a profile will send the wrong message about Likud philosophy. In our view, however, he could solve this problem by rejecting the advice of his handlers to stay vague and explicitly articulate his vision for the party. If he forms the next government, Netanyahu will have a genuine mandate to pursue his policies. Equally important, he would bolster the system's legitimacy, which has lately suffered from candidates' running on one platform and implementing another. Tactically, letting Israelis know where he stands on territorial concessions and negotiations with the Palestinians would settle the Likud's orientation. Feiglin could hardly then claim, as he does now, that he represents "the real Likud." Many settlers and their supporters are feeling ever more alienated. The extreme fringe - responsible for the current lawlessness in Hebron and elsewhere in the West Bank - displays no commitment to, or interest in the rule of law. But the estrangement of the broader far Right stems, at least in part, from a feeling that politicians, jurists, academics and the media unlawfully manipulate the levers of power (including the army) to pursue an agenda antithetical to its values. This wider far Right says that when it seeks redress of its grievances within the system, it is blocked. And when it looks at how Feiglin has been thwarted in the Likud, it must be saying: "I told you so." The political system is destabilized when a growing minority of citizens feel they have no incentive to vote; or when they cast ballots for parties which play a polarizing role. Yet to encourage people to vote for one of the major parties - this newspaper's position - those parties must embrace a welcoming, big-tent philosophy. Netanyahu, a student of American politics, knows that both Democrats and Republicans have made room for non-centrist voices. Today's diverse GOP includes those divided over the role of government; today's Democratic Party includes those divided over social and personal values. To paraphrase Lyndon B. Johnson, Israeli politics is probably better off having Feiglin inside the tent, pissing out, than outside the tent, pissing in.