I ran into Moshe Feiglin at the end of the 1990s when I was covering the Temple Convention, an annual get together of groups on the far fringe of the Israeli right that want to build the Third Temple now, if not yesterday. In the lobby, Feiglin was passing out bumper stickers for his organization, Jewish Leadership. I asked whether the current leaders of Israel weren’t Jewish. He answered with a smirk that suggested, “You know better than that.”
Soon after that, Feiglin and company decided on a new strategy for their radical group: They would seek to take over the Likud. It was a crafty decision. A well-organized group acting as a block can have an outsized influence in internal party elections. Feiglin encouraged his supporters to become Likud members. (There was no need for them to vote for the party of the mainstream right in general elections.)
Feiglin is patient. In 2003, the Likud chose its list of candidates for the Knesset in its infamous central committee. Feiglin ended up far down the list, at number 41. Then the Central Elections Committee disqualified him as a candidate, because he had a conviction for sedition, a crime of moral turpitude which carried a seven-year ban from elected office.
He didn’t give up. Benjamin Netanyahu doesn’t want him in the party. Netanyahu, whose expertise is marketing, wants to brand the Likud as a centrist party, though his own political goals amount to permanent Israeli rule over disenfranchised Palestinians (with some sweet nothings about “economic peace” thrown in).
I admit to feeling sorry for Netanyahu. As hard-line as he is, his views don’t come near the straightforward fascism promoted by Feiglin. An article on Jewish Leadership’s English website called “Is Democracy Jewish?” asserts the superiority of the organic nation over Western individualism, and posits the need for political “unification” in place of open debate. Elsewhere on the site, the group endorses all-out discrimination against Arabs in the workplace. Jewish Leadership’s Hebrew site is under repairs right now. In the past, it proposed a constitution for Israel that included a rabbinic council that, ayatollah-like, would have to approve all government decisions.
The results of the Likud primary yesterday suggest that patience and organization have payed off. Feiglin is No. 20 on the Likud list for the Knesset. Unless the party collapses in the next two months, he’ll be a member of parliament. Moreover, as sundry reports have pointed out, Feiglin successfully put the most right-leaning candidates high on the Likud list, cutting deals with sundry politicians.
Netanyahu is the candidate for prime minister; Feiglin controls the party. Both of them know it. The question is whether the electorate knows or cares. If it does, the primary will mark the moment when Bibi lost the election. If not, the election will mark Feiglin’s next victory.