Meet the New Bibi, Nastier Than the Old

Gershom Gorenberg

My new column is up at The American Prospect:

If you haven’t seen Moshe Feiglin’s satisfied smile or Ze’ev Elkin’s scowl in news coverage of Israel over the past week, you have evidence that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should be grateful for the U.N. vote on Palestinian statehood: It has diverted attention from his Likud Party’s choice of far-right candidates for parliament.

Israel goes to the polls on January 22. Conventional wisdom is that the election can bring no change: Netanyahu will stay on for another term as prime minister, heading a coalition of the right. This is an illusion, or at least a distortion. Barring a miracle—a world-class gaffe or scandal, a public threat from the Obama administration to reevaluate relations with Israel, a preternatural move by the parties of the left and center to unite—the next prime minister will indeed be Netanyahu. But not the soft cuddly Netanyahu of the past. His party will have much more clearly crossed the line from conservative to radical right. Netanyahu’s own occasional lip service to moderation is likely to remain only a blurred memory. In this context, his aggressive response to the U.N. vote—designed to infuriate Israel’s allies—should be read not as a mere campaign ploy, but as foreshadowing Bibi Unbound.

So about Feiglin. He’s the founder and head of the Jewish Leadership movement. The group’s website features a video of Feiglin explaining why Israel must build the Third Temple where the Dome of the Rock now stands. Jewish Leadership’s platform calls for Israeli annexation of the West Bank and “encouraging” Palestinians to emigrate. After a failed run for the Knesset in 1999, Feiglin joined the Likud and signed up thousands of followers as party members. The Likud’s slate of Knesset candidates is chosen in primaries where only dues-paying members can vote, and Feiglin’s regimented bloc has an outsized, extortionate influence.

Read the rest here.

Gershom Gorenberg