Exclusive interview with Zehut party leader Moshe Feiglin

Moshe Feiglin, leader of the Zehut, (“Identity”) party, offers his vision for Israel’s future. 

By David Isaac, World Israel News

Moshe Feiglin is the leader of the Zehut, (Hebrew for “Identity”) party, which promotes an unusual combination of religious Judaism and individual liberty. According to the party platform, all state and government institutions should adhere to Jewish tradition, while as far as the individual is concerned, Zehut calls for a policy of “non-interference” in matters of culture and religion.

Feiglin entered the public arena in reaction against the Oslo Accords, co-founding in 1993 Zo Artzeinu (“This is Our Land”), a movement that engaged in civil disobedience. In 1996, he established another movement, Manhigut Yehudit (“Jewish Leadership”), which joined the Likud in 2000 as a faction.

Feiglin served as Deputy Speaker of the Knesset and a Likud MK from 2013 to 2015. However, he didn’t succeed in his goal of taking over the Likud from within, and has struck out on his own to form Zehut.

Q: What makes you different? Why should someone vote for you over other parties on the right?

A: Zehut is breaking all the boundaries in Israeli society.  Zehut is talking about loyalty to identity on one hand and full individual freedom on the other hand. Zehut is talking about the free market. Zehut is talking about legalized cannabis. Zehut is talking about the voucher system. Combine that with the fact that Zehut is the only party that comes with a real peace plan of a one-state solution.

Q: How do you deal with the demographic argument against your plan – that it would lead to a huge increase in Arab citizens which would undermine the Jewish character of the state?

A: First of all, there’s no demographic problem anymore. Jewish women are having more children than the Arabs. There’s going to be a Jewish majority of 80 percent between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River in less than 15 years.

Besides, a huge number of the Arabs, definitely those in Gaza, but also in Judea and Samaria, wish to leave. And when you create a system to encourage them and give them all the carrots and all the support, they will leave, and only a minority of older people will remain. Already there are empty villages in Judea and Samaria – ghost towns – beautiful houses by the way, not just refugee camps.

Q: Your Zehut party platform sounds like it would be attractive to politically conservative Americans: protection of free speech, small government, the right to bear arms, school vouchers, peace through strength. An emphasis on freedom of the individual. What is the origin of these ideas for you – is it America you looked to for inspiration — or somewhere else?

A: It’s the longing for freedom and it’s basic Judaism. The concept of freedom comes from the Bible and America took it from the Bible. The statue standing in front of the American Supreme Court is a statue of Moshe Rabbenu [Moses our Teacher]. So this is my source.

Definitely when I look to a nation that’s already tried to put these ideas into practice, it’s the Americans.  The problem is that America today is just a shadow of what it was in terms of those values 50 years ago. I think that it’s about time that the real message of freedom come again from Zion, from the original place where it should, from Eretz Yisrael [The Land of Israel].

Q: And do you think such ideas have traction among Israelis today?

A: Yes, the longing for freedom.

There’s a lot of education to do. Israel is number 57 in the world in how hard it is to start a business. You have to wait eight years on average to build a house.  All these socialist concepts started with Mapai [the left-wing political party that dominated Israeli politics for the first 20 years of its existence], which created an economy that’s not attractive to immigrants from free countries.

Young Israelis who served in the Army and fought in Israel’s wars are leaving Israel because they cannot breathe here. They’re moving to countries that have less money than Israel, but more freedom.

Combining these two concepts: liberty on one hand and identity on the other, including territorial identity, is a whole new message.

Moshe Feiglin (AP/Dan Balilty)

Q: You’ve noted you’re an ideological party – a party with a set of ideas – vs. a personality party like so many others. But do you think one of your challenges is your own personality or image. Is Moshe Feiglin pigeon-holed as a religious-Zionist settler?

A: My three years in the Knesset changed that. My fight for legalization of marijuana. My fight for an open economy. My fight for the school voucher system. My fight for a different kind of Army that  is more professional and more volunteer-based. That changed my image.

Q: Your party has a detailed platform but many parties don’t, including the Likud. Why don’t they have platforms explaining their positions?

A: Because Israeli politics today is not a politics of ideas but a politics of people.  What’s the difference between the two-state solution of Netanyahu and the two-state solution of [Labor leader Avi] Gabbay. What’s the difference between the socialist economy of [Kulanu Party head Moshe] Kahlon and the  socialist economy you can expect from Gabbay or [Yesh Atid leader Yair] Lapid?

All that’s left in Israeli politics is personal fighting. The Likud doesn’t have a platform at all. And [Israel Resilience leader Benny] Gantz, in order to get 15 seats, is trying not to say one word. It’s ridiculous and Zehut is doing exactly the opposite.

Q: Are you saying then that it makes no difference in your view if a left-wing government comes to power?

A: Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying.  Netanyahu destroyed four settler villages. Netanyahu did not let them build in Jerusalem. Netanyahu released thousands of terrorists,including in the Gilad Shalit deal ,which released all the leaders of Hamas. Over 100 Israeli soldiers and civilians got killed because of that, including the three kids from Gush Etzion.

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Even though  Oslo and giving away the land is the left’s ideology, the ability to carry it out is stronger on the right. I don’t ask myself anymore what’s more dangerous – the left’s bad intentions or the right’s superior abilities. Recent history shows that the right is even more dangerous.

I think we should free ourselves from being captured by this fear of a left-wing victory. I only belong to the people of Israel and to the platform of Zehut and I will do everything I can to protect the Land of Israel and protect the people of Israel.

Q: Moshe Arens just passed away. He had been instrumental in developing Israel’s Lavi fighter which was cancelled in 1987 due to American pressure, illustrating a downside of receiving U.S. aid. Your party is the only one that calls for cancelling U.S. military aid to Israel in your platform. Can you expand on the reasons?

A:  American aid only causes  harm to the Israeli economy and to Israel’s ability to defend itself.  Israelis are taught to think that if America doesn’t give us this aid, Israel will disappear.

Today, Israel can manufacture all it needs by itself or get it on the free market at better prices and sometimes even at better quality than in America. I’m not saying that we should not develop the relationship with America.  But it should be developed as allies and not as givers and takers.

The second reason is this system created huge amounts of corruption. You’re talking about big money and not many people knowing exactly where it comes and where it goes. And you’ve got two generations of well-connected groups that are being fed on both sides with that kind of money.

Q: Polls suggest your party will not get into the Knesset.  If you were to be convinced that your party would not pass the voting threshold, would you back out?

A: No, I’m not going to be convinced and I’m not going to back out because the Zehut party is the only party showing a direction in Israeli society, the only party that doesn’t keep digging in the same hole.

Q: A recent op-ed in Israel Hayom said that should the right-wing fall in the coming elections, the ultimate responsibility will lie with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who drove talented people out of the Likud, who then set up their own parties. You could be included as one of those people. Do you think the analysis is accurate? Does Netanyahu have trouble mentoring other potential leaders?

A: There’s definitely some truth in that analysis. But in my opinion, what we’re facing here is not a personal problem.  The real problem is that Zionism tried to create a new nation, instead of a Jewish nation, an Israeli nation which left God in exile.

And we find ourselves today, a hundred years later, an Israeli state with no identity. And with no identity you lose the basic justification for your existence. Yad Vashem [Israel’s Holocaust museum] doesn’t give you that justification anymore. Auschwitz is not enough anymore to justify the existence of Israel. You need to find something positive.

Netanyahu, who is an atheist, doesn’t have this in his soul. Definitely not Gantz or any other potential leader. And [New Right leader Naftali] Bennett is even worse. Bennett is trying to be a copy/paste of Netanyahu with a little yarmulke that has no meaning behind it. And my prediction is that is that they’ll combine together and nothing will change.

We only talk about a politics of people, about musical chairs, not about the source of the problem. And those parties have no message, no hope, nothing. So even if there were  no splits in the right  and we won the biggest victory the right ever had in Israel, what will their solution be when another 500 or 5000 rockets will fall on Ashkelon? Do they have a solution? The answer is no, no.

All Netanyahu can say in the north is he’s already expecting Trump to do the same thing against Hezbollah that he’s doing against Iran – to financially cut off aid to Hezbollah. This is ridiculous. And what’s going to happen after Trump? You cannot build your whole existence on the Americans.

When Iran’s Ahmadinejad  said he was going to destroy Israel, we expected Netanyahu to do something about it, just as Menachem Begin did in Iraq. Instead, he turned to America to solve his problem. So today we have the Iranians right next to our borders. And people think he defended Israel. He did exactly the opposite. Seventy years after the Holocaust,  the Jews are turning to American pilots, and British pilots, to bomb the new Auschwitz, over there in Iran.

For that we created the State of Israel? For that we took every VIP who visited Israel to Yad Vashem? So that at the moment of challenge, we’ll again show the world that we cannot defend ourselves by ourselves? What do I care if all these right-wing parties come together or not? It’s about time that we start moving in a  direction based on real Jewish values, on identity and freedom, and the Zehut party has it and it’s going to win big time.