Normally, there would be no sane reason to devote 800-plus words to Moshe Feiglin and his Zehut Party. The latest polls, giving him just four seats, show his party may squeak into the Knesset. But the same polls show that Netanyahu may well need Zehut to form a coalition, and a few of Feiglin’s ideas may yet see the light of day.
Most of the media attention has revolved around Zehut’s call for legalizing marijuana; and indeed much of his electoral strength appears to be coming from voters who would normally have supported the pro-pot Green Leaf Party, except that it dropped out of the running.
But the potheads and the other young voters that constitute much of his base should take the trouble to read Zehut’s unusually detailed party platform.
It’s a strange brew of Torah, extreme nationalism and, more than anything else, a call for small government and free markets. Its ideas are so far outside the Israeli political spectrum that at least one commentator has speculated that its framers were jumping the gun on marijuana legalization when they sat down to write it.
Feiglin’s economic agenda comes down to privatizing most government services.
Public hospitals would be sold to investors, National Insurance Institute (social security) functions handed over to insurance companies and state schools would be replaced by private academies funded via a voucher system. Government-owned land would be put in the “control of the citizens.”
He also wants to end U.S. military aid because it hamstrings Israel. He aspires to lower taxes and spin off much government authority to “communities,” including standards of public Shabbat observance.
Even the Chief Rabbinate is targeted for its monopoly on kashrut standards and marriage. Zehut would not only legalize marijuana, it would allow -- heaven forbid! -- gay marriage, all in the name of maximizing personal freedom.
Strangely enough, Zehut also wants an Israel where “state institutions must be committed to Jewish law and tradition.” How does he envision a state grounded in halakha allowing buses to run on Shabbat and where Reform rabbis perform same-sex marriages?
Zehut is silent on this issue, but if you read behind the lines, you get a clue.
Feiglin may be an advocate of extreme liberty, but like other people on the political extreme, deep down he believes that his worldview is the only correct one. Everyone else has yet to see the truth because they are either deluded or corrupt.
His Jewish state of free markets and Jewish law works only if everyone becomes an observant Jew like himself -- and that’s exactly what the Zehut program envisions. Freed of the rabbinic monopoly, Jews will find their Torah mojo.
“The main factor preventing the development of an authentic and free Jewish identity is coercion on all issues: religious and secular. Therefore Zehut will distance the state from dealing with matters of culture and religion,” his platform explains, with the kind of certainty that comes with perfect faith in ideology, not the real experience of history.
The Feiglin fantasy
The Feiglin fantasy extends to his militant security policy, which calls for cancelling the Oslo Accords, annexing the West Bank and offering most Palestinians a choice of second-class status in Israel or a one-way ticket to anywhere but here.
The party also aspires to eliminate Iran’s leadership by “technological means.” (Could Zehut’s leaders also have been bingeing on "Mission Impossible" reruns?)
The world, including it seems the Arabs, will accept all this without protest because - like secular Jews vis-à-vis halakha - deep down they know they are wrong and that Israel has the divine authority to all the Land of Israel. Therefore, Zehut predicts, “When the people of Israel adopt their true identity and stop seeing themselves as an occupying force in their own country, the rest of the world will leave the conflict behind and accept our legal sovereignty.”
Unlike the political platforms of normal parties, Zehut’s isn’t mealy-mouthed about almost anything. Everything revolves around an ideology of free markets and individual freedom that has simple and easy answers for all our problems.
Therefore it promises that a free market economy will deliver Israel rapid economic growth and ever higher standards of living, not because history shows this, but because the ideology of free markets posits this to be true.
In a rare case in which it tries to demonstrate that its ideology has a real world basis, Zehut cites the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World: 2017 Annual Report that shows that the top 25 percent of countries, measured by economic freedom, were also the wealthiest. But the data don’t quite bear out the argument.
If Zehut was right about Israel's overweening government, Israel would score badly in the Fraser rankings. In fact we are in the top 25 percent, which isn’t at all bad considering we’re a small economy with a heavy defense burden in a difficult part of the world. Many of the countries at the bottom of the index, like Iran, Syria, Libya and the Central African Republic, have much bigger problems than a lack of free markets.
Human beings are too complicated to fit into ideological categories. Nature (for example, climate change) and technology (social media) cause fundamental changes in how societies cope. History delivers surprises (9/11). Ideologues plan and God laughs.
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