Zehut party, teetering on edge of oblivion, puts hopes in soldiers’ votes

The Zehut party’s hopes failed to materialize as election results showed it would not pass the minimum threshold to enter Israel’s parliament.

By David Isaac, World Israel News

Enjoying a natural high for most of March, polls showed Zehut (or, the “Identity”) party, led by Moshe Feiglin, coming from behind to easily coast into the Knesset. But on election night, Zehut’s dreams went up in smoke as it failed to win enough votes to meet the minimum electoral threshold. Mr. Feiglin still hopes the military vote, still being counted, will be enough to put his party over the top.

It wasn’t just the party’s failure, but a failure of the poll makers, whose findings didn’t reflect reality as they showed Zehut surging to six, seven, and in one case, eight Knesset seats. Zehut’s internal polling also showed the party doing well with a solid seven seats, a fact that gave Mr. Feiglin the confidence to carry on in earlier months when public polls had already counted him out.

Mr. Feiglin, who had not formally conceded by Wednesday morning, noting that soldiers’ votes had not yet been counted, himself addressed the question “what happened” in a Facebook post. He blamed an anti-Zehut campaign from both the left and right to smear his party and its platform — an unusually developed one that ran to 300-plus pages, had been turned into a book and became a best-seller.

“What happened to the polls which showed us with eight mandates?” Mr. Feiglin asked and answered, pointing to a “concerted effort” to frighten Zehut voters, including a late-election announcement by Kulanu party head Moshe Kahlon, currently finance minister, and the Haredi parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, that they would join forces to prevent Zehut from taking control of the finance ministry.

Mr. Feiglin had said one of the ministries he wanted for his party was Treasury, which would go to the third member of his party list, Mr. Gilad Alper, who says he subscribes to a “classical liberal” worldview.

Freeing up Israel’s highly regulated economic system is a key part of Zehut’s platform. Although the Israeli press identified Zehut’s call for marijuana legalization as the key reason it attracted young voters, youthful Zehut volunteers insist it’s Zehut’s economic liberalization platform, and not cannabis, that attracted them to the party.

Uri Zilberman, 22, a swimming instructor in charge of getting out the youth vote in Tel Aviv, told World Israel News on Tuesday night at the party’s main event in Ramat Gan that the economic platform is what is important to young voters and not marijuana. In Israel, the cost-of-living is high and apartments are priced out of reach for most young people. Indeed, the disparity between prices and wages is such that many Israeli choose to leave the country.

Zilberman, who was still optimistic on election night, says he considers Zehut a success even if it doesn’t get into the Knesset this time around. “It’s exposed young Israelis to new economic ideas,” he said. “We finally have a real choice.”

Yoel, 20, who volunteered for Zehut for a month and served as an election observer for the party, is a haredi, or Orthodox Jew, who also says he has zero interest in smoking pot, but was attracted by the party’s economic platform. He is thinking of moving to Switzerland, where he has citizenship, even though he was born and raised in Israel because he doesn’t feel he has any hope of getting ahead given the economic conditions in the country.

“Zehut gives us a chance – maybe a last chance for me,” he said.

Mr. Feiglin insists his party will keep going and compete in the next elections, which he says may not be far off (a nod perhaps to potential indictments hanging over Prime Minister Netanyahu’s head).

“Even if we don’t make it, it won’t take long until there will be another election, and we will be there. We’re running long distances,” Mr. Feiglin said on Tuesday as the polls brought bad news for Zehut.

Mr. Feiglin said, “This is the end of a beginning, not the beginning of the end.”