(JTA) — Stripping Israeli Arabs of citizenship. Eliminating the military draft. Refusing military aid from the United States. Oh, and legalizing marijuana.
This is the party platform of Moshe Feiglin, who could be the next kingmaker of Israeli politics.
Feiglin’s party, Zehut, advertises a unique mix of far-right ideology and libertarian policy. In an election where the top two parties have avoided articulating concrete positions on many of the core issues facing Israel, Zehut offers a vision that is as clear as it is controversial.
And it’s drawing voters from left and right, enough to potentially decide who will form the next Israeli government coalition. Recent polls have shown Zehut, Hebrew for “identity,” consistently getting four seats or more in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, in next month’s election. Four votes can be the difference when a coalition needs a majority in the 120-seat Knesset.
“He has succeeded, in recent weeks, to attract votes from every existing bloc on the political map,” according to Walla, an Israeli news website. “Even though people say he’s only emphasizing [pot] legalization, Feiglin has never hidden all of the details of his platform, which also deals with less popular issues.”
Feiglin himself has been a side character in Israel’s political drama for more than a decade. He’s a settler who lives in the northern West Bank. He has served as an avatar of the Israeli far-right, advocating formal Israeli sovereignty over all of the West Bank and exclusive Jewish religious control of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, revered by Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif.
He has also made a number of racist statements about Arabs.
“You can’t teach a monkey to speak and you can’t teach an Arab to be democratic,” he told The New Yorker in 2004. “You’re dealing with a culture of thieves and robbers. Muhammad, their prophet, was a robber and a killer and a liar. The Arab destroys everything he touches.”
Feiglin was elected to Knesset for one term in 2013 when he placed high enough in Likud’s primary. But during the following election, two years later, he did not receive enough votes to win reelection. He founded his party soon afterward.
During the 2014 Gaza War, he called for “concentrating the civilian population” in “tent camps” in open areas, and then shelling the evacuated cities with “maximum firepower.” Ali Abunimah, a Palestinian-American activist and writer who calls for a single Palestinian-Israeli state, wrote that “[c]itizens and public authorities around the world should attempt to have Feiglin arrested and prosecuted under the Genocide Convention for his statements, should he set foot in their territories.”
Feiglin was in fact banned from entering the United Kingdom in 2008 due to his activism.
Alongside his nationalist policies, he has also long been a leading advocate of libertarianism, pushing for legalization of marijuana, radical reduction of the size of government and an end to state control of religious ceremonies.
“The root of freedom is the belief in one God,” he told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in a 2013 article, describing the seeds of his libertarianism. “We worship him and therefore we can’t be enslaved to anyone else. An eternal nation doesn’t work against natural history, and our return to our land, to national sovereignty, means we’re connected forever.”
These policies, particularly the marijuana piece, are the draw for Israeli voters outside the traditional right-wing. More than half a million Israelis smoke pot, and Feiglin’s wife has used it for medical purposes. Feiglin himself does not toke.
“Weed is the biggest symbol of a place where the state can’t get in line with reality, and it’s unclear why,” wrote Gal Ohovsky, a columnist for Mako, an Israeli news website. “Feiglin’s combination between decriminalizing weed and creating a new approach is currently capturing young people’s hearts on every side of the political map.”
But in case it wasn’t clear, Feiglin is no left-winger. His libertarianism is for Jews only. Zehut’s platform, which has been translated to plain English, is a mix of classic American Republican small-government ethos on the one hand, and extreme right-wing policies regarding the West Bank, Palestinians and Israel’s Arab minority.
The platform slays several Israeli sacred cows. It calls for an end to almost all mandatory military service, to be replaced by a professional volunteer army. It says Israel should stop accepting military aid from the United States, which, it claims, reduces Israeli freedom of operation on the battlefield. True to its libertarianism, it calls for privatizing Israel’s government-funded healthcare system. And it would change the Law of Return to stop granting citizenship to non-Orthodox Jewish converts and to non-Jews with Jewish ancestry.
Zehut would have Israel declare sovereignty over the entire West Bank, then transform all Arabs in its territory — Israeli citizens and Palestinians alike — into temporary residents, not citizens. It would urge them to emigrate, with financial assistance, and otherwise allow them to be permanent residents — without the right to vote — if they declare loyalty to Israel as a Jewish state. A few would possibly be able to become full citizens after a long process.
“There is no ‘Palestinian’ nationality,” the platform reads. “There is an Arab nation that does not accept Jewish sovereignty in any part of the Land of Israel … The State of Israel was established to be a Jewish state. The claim that sovereignty requires the automatic granting of citizenship is not true.”
Feiglin doesn’t think his platform precludes joining a left-leaning coalition. He says, “We don’t have right and left” in Zehut.
If Zehut is accepted into a governing coalition, its positions won’t necessarily be adopted. Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who has been in government since 2013, has long advocated full annexation of all Israeli settlements. Though varying forms of annexation are growing more popular among Likud politicians and other right-wingers, none has been implemented.
Ronit Dror, a social worker and former Labor party voter who is now number four on Zehut’s Knesset slate, joined the party because she appreciated Feiglin’s advocacy for husbands’ rights in divorce cases.
But what about the rest of his platform?
“When it comes to the rest, I’m also worried,” she told Walla. “I don’t know what the implications will be. I assume Feiglin isn’t irresponsible and won’t make unilateral decisions. There’s no reason to quake from fear.”