The real winner: Moshe Feiglin
Moshe Feiglin, who heads the Likud's Jewish Leadership faction, joined the party with a strategic goal: being elected prime minister as the Likud's candidate. He knew that gaining sufficient strength within the party to become its prime ministerial candidate might take years; but he believed that the day would ultimately arrive, thanks to his supporters' constant efforts to bring new members into the party.
Thanks to these efforts, Feiglin recorded an impressive achievement in Monday's Likud leadership primary: He came in third, with 12.4 percent of the votes, compared with only 8.7 percent for veteran Likudnik Yisrael Katz. In the last Likud leadership primary in 2002, Feiglin won only 3.5 percent of the vote.
Feiglin has become a symbol of what is widely perceived as a growing extremism in the Likud. Because of this, new party leader Benjamin Netanyahu hastened to announce yesterday that he will work to rid the Likud of interlopers and criminal elements. Though he did not say so explicitly, he was referring primarily to Feiglin supporters. Feiglin is Kadima's greatest weapon against the Likud. Yesterday, Kadima's campaign strategists coined the slogan "Feiglinyahu" to refer to the party's new leader.
Senior Likud officials' efforts to distance themselves from the "Feiglins" are seen as hypocritical, because in recent years the 130 Feiglin supporters in the Likud Central Committee have been widely sought after for deals, since they always vote as a bloc. In 2003, the Feiglin camp was instrumental in pushing Ehud Olmert far down on the party's Knesset slate. They were also an important force in the party referendum that rejected the disengagement plan in May 2004.
The Jewish Leadership movement grew out of Zo Artzeinu, an organization headed by Feiglin that protested the Oslo Accords via civil disobedience from 1994-'96. After Zo Artzeinu fizzled out, its members sought a political platform. However, they decided against either setting up a new party or joining one of the existing small right-wing parties, as they concluded that only from within Likud would it be possible to achieve their goals.
In January 2003, Feiglin surprised everyone by getting 130 of his people elected to the Likud Central Committee. He also won the 41st slot on the party's Knesset slate, but was disqualified by the High Court of Justice because not enough time had passed since he was convicted for sedition on account of his Zo Artzeinu activities. Ever since, he has worked tirelessly, and he is widely expected to make it into the next Knesset.