Gershom Gorenberg has written a stunner of a political appraisal of the role Moshe Feiglin and his far-right allies will play in Likud before and especially after the next national election. Feiglin is an Orthodox extremist settler leader who toiled in the political trenches of far-right splinter parties until he cottoned on to an idea David Duke had some time ago. Instead of laboring in political obscurity, take over the major party nearest to your ideology. In this case it was Likud.
In the last leadership primary, Feiglin (remember again that his views are somewhat akin to Duke’s in an Israeli context) garnered 25% of the vote to embarrass Netanyahu deeply. In the most recent primary, Feiglin and his allies chipped away further at the party leader: not only did Feiglin place 20th on the list which would’ve made him a certain MK winner (party leaders later used technicalities to move him to 36th), but many of his ideological soulmates placed high in the list as well. Gorenberg argues that no matter how centrist Netanyahu tries to paint the party, the newly empowered extremists will weigh him down like an albatross. The Israeli journalist speculates that even IF (a big “if”) Netanyahu would want to engage in territorial compromise with the Palestinians after becoming prime minister, the rump right wing caucus could muster the support to nix such an initiative or anything that even smacks of craven capitulation to the enemy.
Here are some of the more shocking beliefs that Feiglin holds:
On the Jewish Leadership website, [he] proposes principles for a constitution for Israel. It would include a high rabbinic court, chosen only by clergy, that would overturn any legislation it saw as contradicting Jewish religious law. A newly established senate, with a guaranteed Jewish majority of over 80 percent, would have to consult the rabbinic court on all national issues. Israel would lay claim not only to the West Bank and Gaza, but also to all of Jordan.
…He proposes…holding a ceremony at every army base in which all non-lethal weaponry would be destroyed. Faced with Palestinian demonstrators, soldiers could only shoot to kill…Another Feiglin tract contrasts parliamentary democracy with an “authentic Jewish regime” that would express the “organic unity of the Nation of Israel.” Put simply, Feiglin’s ideology is the meeting point of fundamentalism and fascism.
In support of the author’s characterization in the last sentence of this passage, consider this passage from the Wikipedia article on Feiglin:
In a 1995 interview with the Haaretz daily, in which he spoke disparagingly of Hitler and Arabs, Feiglin called Hitler “an unparalleled military genius.” Feiglin also said “Hitler savoured good music. He would paint. This was no bunch of thugs. They merely used thugs and homosexuals,” Feiglin was quoted as saying at the time. “Nazism promoted Germany from a low to a fantastic physical and ideological status. The ragged, trashy youth body turned into a neat and orderly part of society and Germany received an exemplary regime, a proper justice system and public order,” he said. Yediot Aharonot daily said Feiglin “was not ashamed of considering Hitler a genius.”
Gorenberg concludes his essay with this warning about the false ‘branding’ of Likud under Netanyahu’s leadership:
The campaign packaging for the Likud will show Netanyahu’s face. In his modulated MBA voice, he’ll try to sell the Likud to voters as a pragmatic conservative party, willing to make peace if only the Palestinians agree to its conditions. Inside the package, however, is a party in thrall to a lean and hungry man offering extremist leadership for Israel. The question is whether voters will look inside, or care.
This week’s Haaretz election poll (I always warn that such polls are volatile and no guarantee of what will happen on February 10th), shows that Likud has been hurt by the revelations that the party has been hijacked by the far right. It lost 6 votes and now gains 30 seats. Kadima also lost one seat and now has 26. Labor lost one seat down to 11.
The real news however, is that losses by the major parties have translated into serious gains for the parties of the left and right. Shas now has 13 seats (gaining 4), Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu has 11 (gaining 2), the extreme right Bayit Yehudi has 6 (gaining 2). Meretz would win 8 (a gain of 2). If the election were held today, Netanyahu would have no trouble forming a comfortable rightist government.
If I were Tzipi Livni I would scare the bejesus out of the Israeli electorate with every extremist idea or statement Feiglin and his cronies have ever made. I would ignore Netanyahu and make Feiglin her opponent. Make it a campaign about whether Israel will turn fundamentalist and become a nation dominated by a right-wing God and the settlers or retain a centrist political approach to national issues. To the extent that she does this, and does it vigorously and even with relish, she might be able to make inroads in Likud support.
Personally, I don’t see Livni as either charistmatic or a particularly good campaigner. So I don’t see her necessarily adopting my approach. She needs to do something to stir up the pot. The momentum is with the right. If she does little or nothing to change that, she loses and we all lose (i.e. those who want to see a peaceful resolution of the conflict).