Analysis

Feiglin Is Selling a Bottle of Free Market Snake Oil

A close reading of the Zehut Party platform reveals impossible contradictions, especially vis-a-vis settlers

Moshe Feiglin, leader of Zehut, campaigns at Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem April 4, 2019.
\ CORINNA KERN/ REUTERS

There are a lot of good reasons to worry about the success Moshe Feiglin’s Zehut Party has racked up in the polls, but there isn’t even one good reason to ignore what he is telling voters that he wants to do.

It is easy to dismiss his vision as absurd and bizarre and to say that his supporters are a bunch of clowns and potheads. But Feiglin’s policy proposals have fallen on the attentive ears of people, most of them young, who are paving his way to five or more seats in the Knesset in Tuesday's election.

His party platform explains it all. It’s like a trip to the candy store — tax cuts, lowering the cost of living, ending the draft (you just do some basic training and you’re out), banishing monopolies, rescinding unneeded laws, ending the rabbinate's kashrut monopoly, handing over state-owned land to Israel's citizens and ending tax benefits to interest groups.

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Sound good? You deserve to live in the State of Feiglin. Who doesn’t like a candy store. But if you look at the fine print on the wrappers on all these sweets, you will find little information about their nutritional value or the risks of consuming them or their price.

It is difficult to believe that voters have read the Zehut platform from start to finish. It’s even less likely that they have the time or the ability to identify the internal contradictions, its bluffs and its illusions. With Feiglin and Zehut, however, they're there in abundance.

Feiglin proposes reducing the government’s involvement in the lives of Israelis and letting private citizens and free markets do the work. That’s nice but a little surprising coming from a settler. The settlement enterprise is a government undertaking from start to finish. A disproportionate percentage of settlers work in the public sector. The high fertility rate in West Bank settlements entitles them to large budgets for education and health and for child allowances, all of which are covered by taxpayers. The small government Feiglin advocates would mean few government services and few civil servants and fewer teachers.

The settlers would be the first to feel the impact. Have his settler supporters thought of that?

Feiglin proposes ending tax benefits to a host of pressure groups. His platform states: “Zehut proposes the flat tax system: a uniform rate tax that applies to all types of income — without tax brackets, without credit points and without leniency for insiders.”

It’s reasonable to assume he understands that the settlers are pressure group No. 1 when it comes to tax breaks. So how many of them are ready to support rescinding them? An interesting question.

Feiglin, meanwhile, proposes annexing all of Judea and Samaria, the West Bank, allowing anyone who wants to buy land to do so and to build a settlement at his own initiative without any government intervention.

On the face of it, that fits in well with his stand on small government and individual autonomy. But for all practical purposes, settlements are not simply a bunch of private homes. They require infrastructure and roads, security provided by the army and police, and all of that comes from the government and from the state budget.

Actually, a further read into the Zehut platform reveals that’s not quite what he thinks. To make up for the supposed lack of construction in Judea and Samaria over the years, it proposes investing in road and even railroads. Where will the money come from? Well, where do you think? From the state, of course. All of a sudden, he needs big government.

Feiglin is a libertarian who believes the individual can provide for his or her own welfare better than any government. That means transferring resources from the state to the individual — an idea that economists from Adam Smith to Milton Friedman would agree on hardily. But it would be hard to see how it squares with the settlement enterprise: Without tax breaks, subsidized housing, investment in infrastructure and public sector jobs, the whole thing couldn’t sustain itself.

There are other contradictions, among the biggest being his aspiration for a “liberty state” that “restores responsibility to the citizen and reduces its involvement in private lives to a minimum.” And at the same time, a state “that fortifies family values and encourages community.”

Is Feiglin for personal freedom? Or is Feiglin in favor of a government that promotes policies that cut deeply into the private lives of its citizens by preserving “family values.” The two things don’t go together. As to what those “family values” are, Zehut’s platform doesn’t really say. Feiglin himself opposes same-sex marriage and LGBT rights.

On the matter of monopolies, he isn’t consistent either; his position varies depending on his personal feelings. For example, he wants to end the rabbinate’s control over kashrut and marriage, which is laudable. But on the matter of conversion, he reverts to being a monopolist and states: “The Law of Return must be implemented in accordance with the standard accepted by the Jewish people, by Jewish courts authorized by it and by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.”

The Zehut platform offers easy answers to complicated problems. In Feiglin's fantasy, if the state implements his program, the Palestinian problem will disappear, the debate over same-sex marriage will be solved, government revenues will grow. Its expenses will fall and its citizens will pay fewer taxes and get more in return.

Add in legalized marijuana and what more could you ask for, except perhaps to read the fine print.