Moshe Feiglin, the Most Dangerous Man in Israel
One of the surprises of the current Israeli election campaign has been the emergence of the Zehut party. Led by the enigmatic, often disturbingly soft-spoken religious nationalist Moshe Feiglin, who was last seen on a quixotic quest to remove Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from the leadership of the Likud party, Zehut was projected to fail to reach the Knesset threshold until around a week ago, when it suddenly shot up to a potential four seats, which could make Feiglin and his party the kingmakers of the next coalition.
Many attribute this sudden rise to Zehut’s ostensibly unique political stance: it claims to be, alone among Israel’s political blocs, a libertarian party. Libertarianism has never had much traction in Israel, but Zehut’s advocacy of the free market, personal freedom, limited government and, in particular, the legalization of marijuana has clearly struck a chord among many.
Taken on their own, such ideas could have a positive effect, but unfortunately for Zehut supporters and indeed for the State of Israel itself, Zehut’s libertarianism is a conscious and deliberate falsehood. And what lies behind it is very ugly indeed: racist, theocratic, totalitarian, and a potential danger to the existence of liberal democracy in the Jewish state, and perhaps the state itself. Put simply, Moshe Feiglin is the most dangerous man in Israel.
Feiglin and Zehut, surprisingly, are fairly open about their real beliefs, and they are spelled out explicitly in their platform, which is available online in English.
While the opening states that Zehut “advocates freedom,” it quickly makes its religious intensity known, saying it “strives to improve society and the world through loyalty to the G-d of Israel.” This religiosity, it is clear, is essentially political, as the platform asserts, “The Zehut Party grew out of a recognition formed over decades that it is not possible to repair the seemingly simple and practical problems of the State of Israel without leadership that believes in the G-d of Israel and turns to Him.”
While adding the caveat, “This does not in any way mean religious leadership,” the platform rushes to state, “The intent is leadership with a contemporary moral compass based on the entire history of the People of Israel from its beginnings; leadership whose decisions are directed forward to Eternal Israel.”
This, it must be noted, is extremely close to, and possibly inspired by, the ideology of Christian Dominionism, which accepts the practice of democracy, but seeks to use that system to ensure that all positions and institutions that wield political power in society are dominated by religious believers who lead according to religious values and laws. In effect, a society that is nominally democratic, but in practical terms a theocracy.
Zehut’s Dominionism is, of course, Jewish, and what this means is made quite clear. “We do not believe in a state of all its citizens,” the platform assures us, “which is a concept foreign to the Jewish People, its Torah and its culture.” Such an idea is “a complete distortion, and not truly possible, because it has no basis in reality.” In effect, the party asserts that liberal democracy is un-Jewish, and cannot possibly exist in any Jewish polity or among the Jewish people themselves. Jews who are liberal democrats, it implies, have abandoned their Judaism. That the Jewish people are perfectly capable of adopting, and indeed always have adopted ideas foreign to the Torah and to Judaism should we find them meritorious is alien to Feiglin’s ideology.
What these principles mean is elucidated in surprisingly explicit and practical terms — the dominion of Torah law over the political and legal sphere. “In this spirit, Zehut will act to define Jewish civil law as the parallel civil law recognized in Israel,” the platform states. “It will be autonomous of parliamentary legislation, as religious legislation has always been autonomous of state intervention. The validity of rulings of the Jewish courts recognized by the state would be the same as the validity of the rulings of civil courts.”
Shockingly, this even extends to the military realm, even if it means outright insubordination. In the IDF under Zehut, “An order requiring violation of the Sabbath for no operational reason will be considered a patently illegal order that justifies refusal of that order.”
While couched in as innocuous terms as possible, with the claim that such practices merely give more freedom to local communities and the religiously inclined, this is clearly a case of creeping theocracy, a theocracy through the back door, similar to how political Islam has taken hold of Turkey and Iran, and very nearly did so in Egypt. It is an incrementalist ideology, but there can be no question as to where it is ultimately headed.
Perhaps more disturbingly, Feiglin and Zehut’s ideology also contains a strong racial element, extending even to other Jews. The platform, for example, expounds on the problem of Israelis who are not halachically Jewish at extraordinary length. It goes so far as to demand an amendment to the Law of Return that will exclude anyone of Jewish ancestry who fails to meet halachic requirements and, oddly for a libertarian party, grants the Chief Rabbinate the right to decide such questions of status, which amounts to official religious coercion.
Feiglin’s paranoia on this issue is remarkable, as it becomes clear that he regards these “non-Jewish Jews” as nothing less than an existential threat to Israel itself. “The existence of a growing minority of the population that has no national or religious connection to the Jewish People is significant, and it has an impact on the country’s image far more than that of the Arab minority,” his platform states. “This is because the Arab minority does not blur the identity of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish People. On the other hand, the blurring of boundaries between Jews and non-Jews from the CIS is liable to bring about, for the first time, a serious rupture between the Israeli identity and the Jewish one, which will be anchored in a familial reality of mixed marriages on a national scale.”
Indeed, says Zehut, if such a trend continues, the “large number of disqualified Jews would make it impossible for observant Jews to marry Jews whose lineage is not fully traceable.” Even if a halachically Jewish couple were to marry in a civil ceremony, they would “have to prove their Jewishness when they choose to marry according to Jewish law.”
The motivation behind all of this, one regrets to say, is quite obvious: a profound racial and sexual paranoia. A fear, in effect, of miscegenation, of racial pollution. Given our history, to see such ideas openly advocated in the Jewish state must strike one as something quite close to political blasphemy.
Nowhere, however, are Feiglin’s pretensions to libertarianism more obviously exposed as lies than in Zehut’s policies on land ownership and use.
The platform famously proposes to dismantle the Israel Lands Authority, which owns more than 90 percent of Israeli land and administers its use. Feiglin holds that eliminating it and opening Israeli land ownership to the free market will solve Israel’s current housing and cost of living crises, and cut through an often impossibly onerous bureaucracy.
Thus far, this is acceptably libertarian, but what follows immediately puts the lie to such claims. Having dismantled the Lands Authority, says Zehut, “it will be necessary to ensure that hostile elements will not be able to purchase land in the State of Israel.” Feiglin lacks the courage to come out and name these “hostile elements,” but it is obvious who he is talking about — Israeli Arabs.
In effect, then, Feiglin proposes a two-tiered system: liberty for the Jews, discrimination for the Arabs. And this discrimination will be codified, as “Zehut will pass a law that prevents the sale or lease of land in Israel to hostile elements.” That this comes perilously close to de jure apartheid ought to be obvious. That it has nothing to do with libertarianism, indeed constitutes its polar opposite, equally so.
That Feiglin and Zehut are shameless liars is underlined, perhaps more than anything else, by their master plan for the West Bank. Put simply, Zehut’s policy is to annex the West Bank — and possibly Gaza as well — divest themselves of as many Palestinians as possible, and place the rest under an apartheid system.
First, Feiglin and his party labor under a demographic fantasy. According to the platform, there is no danger of Israel becoming a Jewish-minority state under annexation, because, “According to the American/Israeli Demographic Institute, the Jewish majority between the Jordan and the Mediterranean — including the Arabs of Judea and Samaria — will reach 80% in the next twenty years.”
There is no such thing as the American/Israeli Demographic Institute, but this appears to be a mistaken reference to the American-Israel Demographic Research Group, whose head Yoram Ettinger has spent much of the last decade low-balling Palestinian population numbers in the West Bank and Gaza. Its estimates, while convenient for those like Feiglin, are flatly contradicted by every other available source. The CIA World Factbook, for example, places the number of West Bank Palestinians at slightly less than 2.8 million. Israel has around six million Jews, which would mean that an Israel that included the West Bank would be at least 40 percent Arab, which is close enough to a binational state as to make no practical difference.
How annexation would be precisely achieved remains largely unspoken, but Zehut makes it clear that it would involve the destruction of the Palestinian Authority and the reassertion of Israeli military control over the entire West Bank and its Arab population. One must assume, then, that it would involve a war, and likely a horrendous one, since the rest of the platform presumes that Israel’s annexationist policies would be applied upon a completely defeated Palestinian population.
For example, the platform states that, following annexation, “To prevent bloodshed, Israel will make an offer to anyone in Judea and Samaria who intends to continue to fight against it, or wishes to continue to bear ‘Palestinian’ arms, or is not willing to live under Israeli control, a dignified retreat, with his weapon, and his family.” Obviously, that fanatical terrorists would be willing to do this under any circumstances except total, crushing defeat is unthinkable. To contemplate such a war is, frankly, horrifying, but Feiglin and his party must be aware of the fact that their plans could not be realized without one.
As to what happens to the Palestinians following the conquest and annexation, Zehut states, “After the application of Israel’s sovereignty and the restoration of personal security to residents in the entire area … every adult or family will be able to choose between three options: Migration Basket, Residency or Citizenship.”
Noting that “over 60% of the Arabs living in Judea and Samaria have expressed their desire to emigrate,” Zehut essentially advocates generous Israeli financial incentives, both in direct subsidies and promises of foreign employment, in order to induce that 60 percent to leave of their own accord. Why, if the demographics are so tilted in Israel’s favor, this would even be necessary, is a question left unanswered. But putting that aside, this means that over half of the Palestinian population of the West Bank would simply be ethnically cleansed, albeit in relatively benign fashion, if such a word can be used in this context.
What happens to those who nonetheless choose to stay — and I think Feiglin drastically overestimates the number who will agree to go — is simple: second-class citizenship. “After a period of time to be determined according to security needs, the Arab residents will gradually be able to submit a request for status as permanent residents,” says the platform. “The only difference between them and ordinary citizens will be the duty of soldiering and the right to vote.” They will live, in other words, under a government over which they do not have and cannot acquire even the most basic ability to determine its policies and destiny.
To be fair, Zehut does propose a nominal path to citizenship. Having forced the “retreat” of militant Palestinians and bought off most of the rest, “for those wishing to tie their fate to the Jewish people, prove their loyalty and finally receive full Israeli citizenship, a long-term track for Israeli citizenship will be established, a track in which their suitability and loyalty will be examined over time.”
“In addition to the declaration of loyalty, language tests, recommendations, etc., applicants to this track will be required to enlist in the army or national service,” the platform adds.
While this is a deft caveat, clearly intended to avoid the apartheid accusation, it is obviously disingenuous: It would make the attainment of citizenship a) nearly impossible, and b) contingent on the consent of a government that has no interest whatsoever in consenting to it, i.e. a government that Feiglin hopes to run himself. Most of the remaining Palestinians, in other words, would stay “residents” more or less forever, which is, one presumes, precisely how Zehut wants it.
Indeed, the idea there should be a two-tiered legal system in Israel for Jews and non-Jews is stated explicitly. “Israel was established for one purpose: to build a state in the Land of Israel for the Jewish Nation. It is completely appropriate for that State to create a separate civil status, while safeguarding the human rights of those who are not Jewish.” What such human rights would be worth under such a “separate civil status” is an open question, but one imagines that it is not a status one would ever freely choose for oneself.
Such an apartheid-style system is quite dear to Feiglin’s heart, and a far more deeply held conviction than any form of libertarianism, pseudo or otherwise. In 2004, he told The New Yorker, “Why should non-Jews have a say in the policy of a Jewish state? For two thousand years, Jews dreamed of a Jewish state, not a democratic state. Democracy should serve the values of the state, not destroy them.”
That Feiglin’s motives are forthrightly racist is clear, as he quite explicitly stated his fundamental contempt for the Arabs and his strong belief in their inferiority, saying, “You can’t teach a monkey to speak and you can’t teach an Arab to be democratic. 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.”
Where Feiglin got his ideas is no mystery. He is usually cagey about it in public, but in a 2013 interview with The Jewish Press, he acknowledged his kinship with and admiration for Meir Kahane, who also advocated a halachic state, annexation of the disputed territories, banning of non-Jews and mixed marriages, and transfer of the Arab population.
“You can find places where we say the same things,” Feiglin said. “You can also find places where we are different. I was in the army when Meir, Hashem yikom damo, was [most] active, so I didn’t get to know him so well. But I can definitely say that the slogan ‘Kahane tzadak — Kahane was right’ has proven itself many times.”
Despite the mask of libertarianism, in other words, Feiglin proposes liberty for no one. Not for the individual and not for the collective. He and his party advocate theocracy for the Jews and apartheid for the Arabs. Completely contrary to libertarian principles, this would be a system in which the individual will be defined purely by their ethnic and religious designation. Far from limiting government, such a state would have to be totalitarian in order to institute and perpetuate itself. The human being, individual and collective, would be crushed beneath what is ultimately one man’s religious fanaticism, racism and megalomania.
The question, then, is not whether Israel would enjoy greater freedom under Feiglin, but whether it could survive him at all.
Benjamin Kerstein is the Algemeiner’s Israel correspondent.