Far-right Leader Says Won't Join Next Israeli Government Unless It Agrees to Legalize Marijuana

Zehut leader Moshe Feiglin also tells English-speaking audience in Tel Aviv that ‘the minute you use the word Palestinian, you stop saying the truth’

Zehut leader Moshe Feiglin addressing the audience in Tel Aviv, March 23, 2019.
Sophia Jessen

The surprise package of the Israeli election campaign, Moshe Feiglin, told a packed crowd in Tel Aviv Saturday that his Zehut party will not join any government that doesn’t agree to legalize marijuana.

He explained that “the whole issue of legalization” is part of something that is “much bigger” than just marijuana — “and that is called freedom.”

Feiglin told a mixed crowd of some 150 people at the English-language event at the Ichud Olam synagogue that “elder people and sick people who need [marijuana] do not get it. Not only do they suffer because of that; some of them are simply dying.

“One of them is located number nine on our list, by the way — Ron Tsafrir, who needed that medical cannabis. Once he stopped getting it, he did not get the approval to continue getting it, his disease came back and now he is in tremendous danger. We put [him] on our list to show how serious we are about it,” Feiglin said.

Zehut, which was founded in 2015, is one of five parties to have openly expressed support for the legalization of marijuana. But the party’s far-right position on many other issues — including annexation of the occupied territories, building a third Temple and rejecting U.S. military aid — has given it a unique status in the campaign, contrasting with its more libertarian policies.

According to the most recent polls, the party could pass the electoral threshold in the April 9 election and receive four seats in the next Knesset.

Saturday’s event had initially been promoted as an evening about the politics of marijuana, but quickly expanded to cover other issues as well, including the Israel-Palestinian conflict, the separation of religion and state, and the cost of living. Indeed,  these seemed to be of greater concern to the audience, with no one raising any questions about the party’s commitment to legalizing pot.

One audience member, who self-identified as a Zehut voter, expressed concern about the party’s proposal for a one-state solution without granting citizenship to the Palestinians. He noted that “there is a problem of leaving those people in Gaza and the West Bank without nationality and the right to vote. That’s against international law.”

Asked how his party was going to avoid violating such a law, Feiglin told the questioner not to “talk to me about international law, because there is not such a thing. You know, the minute you use the word ‘Palestinian,’ you stop saying the truth. Because there is no Palestinian nation, and they know it.”

He added that “once you said that this is Palestine, and once you said there are Palestinian people in this Palestine — once you said that, you created something that does not appear in reality. And now there is no solution.”

An audience member putting a question to Moshe Feiglin in Tel Aviv on March 23, 2019.
Sophia Jessen

Feiglin corrected the moderator for his use of words to describe the Palestinians when asked about their right to statehood. “If you refer to [them] as Palestinians, there is nothing I can explain — because I cannot explain with the way that you describe reality. For me this is not the reality, and I cannot deal with a false reality.”

The Zehut leader said the solution he proposed would pay the Palestinians to relocate to other countries. “Luckily, most of them wish to leave. Most of them wish to find a future in a better place,” he said.

“The minority that will not take the [financial] package can stay as a permanent resident with full human rights: No one will touch them, their homes or do to them what happened to us,” he said, presumably referring to the Holocaust. “They will have the exact same human rights, they will not have the same civilian rights,” he said.

“I think Israelis appreciate the fact that [we] are putting some solutions on the table and they understand that a two-state solution is not working,” Feiglin continued, adding that he sees no difference between the solutions being proposed by right-wing parties like Likud and Hayamin Hehadash, and more centrist ones like Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan. “They just talk about a two-state solution with different words,” he said.

The party’s platform declares Israel to be a Jewish state, one that must give broad expression to Jewish culture and heritage. However, it also states that “Zehut will distance the state from dealing with matters of culture and religion.” Quizzed on how this corresponds to the state’s Jewish nature, Feiglin maintained that his party opposes the government’s intervention in a citizen’s way of life.

“It’s very simple. Yes, we want to separate religion and state, but it doesn’t mean that government offices will start working on Shabbat, OK? And it doesn’t mean that kitchens in the Israel Defense Forces will not be kosher. That is not what it means,” he said.

“It means that the individual will not have the state in his veins checking out what he eats and who he has been with,” Feiglin said. “But the state is representing the Jewish identity of the state through the fact that Shabbat will remain our day of not working, and so on.”

Zehut’s economic platform includes the lowering of taxes, removal of import taxes, privatization of hospitals and the introduction of a voucher system to replace the public schools system. Feiglin credited his party’s policies with shaping “all the issues that this election is talking about.”

When asked how his plan to lower prices and liberalize the market is different from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s, Feiglin replied: “As a finance minister, Netanyahu did some very important things and we are all benefiting from what he did many years ago. But unfortunately he doesn’t care about those issues anymore,” adding that he blamed current Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon for being “a total socialist.”

Feiglin argued that Israel needs “someone who owes nothing to nobody, who comes from the outside and doesn’t belong to the old establishment and who can shake the system and make our market free to achieve those things.” In other words, someone like him.

However, some audience members were conflicted by elements of Zehut’s platform. One woman wanted to know what to do when she disagreed with the religious aspects of the platform but supported the party’s stance on the economy, the deep state, socialism and the free market.

Feiglin reassured her that “those issues that you disagree with, we realize we are not going to have under our control — even though I am not hiding what I think and we can stay in disagreement about those issues. But when you feel Zehut is strong enough to make me the prime minister, then you can choose who you are going to vote for.”

Should they enter the next government, Feiglin said his party would be targeting the finance and education ministries to advance their economic and educational reforms.

Asked about the prospects of joining forces with the extremist Otzma Yehudit party — which has been widely condemned for its Jewish supremacist platform — Feiglin said: “I assume that [may happen] when I will be the prime minister, God willing. But it doesn’t look like it is going to happen in this election, so for now we focus on different issues — the economy and education. When I will be prime minister, I am sure the Otzma people will happily vote for that plan. But until then, I don’t see a connection between the two parties.”

Saturday’s event was organized by the Tel Aviv International Salon in partnership with the Times of Israel and the Israel office of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation.