It’s happened before in Israeli elections: A minor party, in the right place at the right time, becomes the party of choice for those who are sick and tired of the status quo. And if two new polls are accurate, 2019’s protest darling for the April 9 election appears to be Moshe Feiglin’s Zehut — a party whose platform is a grab bag of disparate elements that range from out-of-the-box to the extremist fringe.
Key to Feiglin’s ability to attract support from Israelis who would normally not identify with his far-right politics: The legalization of cannabis.
In this, he is benefiting from the disappearance of another fringe favorite — the hipster Green Leaf party, which ran in several elections since 1999 but never made it into the Knesset and recently said it wouldn’t run this time around.
Marijuana aficionados have been energized by Zehut’s official position that weed “is no more addictive than other legal substances that harm no one.” If given the power, the party would “create a legal infrastructure for cannabis consumption and trade similar to restrictions on alcohol trade.”
Zehut is a highly unlikely successor to the marijuana movement. It was founded in 2015 by Feiglin, a former deputy speaker of the Knesset and longtime thorn in the side of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — who managed to squeeze him off of the party slate that year and sent him and his extremist settler wing packing from Likud.
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In Zehut, Feiglin combines libertarian, extreme free-market sentiments with a religious settler ethos: A vision you could call “a biblical Wild West in the Middle East,” one that believes the state should not use its power to “impose values, viewpoints and lifestyle on society and the individuals that comprise it.”
He aspires to strip government down to its barest bones and calls for a flat tax, in classic libertarian style. But while he doesn’t like big government, Feiglin does believe in one fearless leader: God.
The recently launched Zehut platform opens with the declaration that “It is not possible to repair the seemingly simple and practical problems of the State of Israel without leadership that believes in the G-d of Israel and turns to Him.”
His unconventional mix of policies are carefully laid out online in something many of Israel’s major parties lack: A slickly presented, detailed platform, complete with explanatory videos in both Hebrew and English.
Even a quick review of Zehut’s stated positions shows that while Israeli pundits are cracking jokes about what the party’s leaders were smoking when they drew up their positions, the consequences of implementing such policies would be deadly serious.
They include, for example, “imposing a one-state solution and a Jewish Temple Mount” (which the Muslims refer to as Haram al-Sharif, featuring the site of Al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock).
Zehut leaders express confidence that when Israelis “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.”
If Zehut has its way, the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians would be “canceled” and “the legal situation restored to its pre-Oslo status.”
Feiglin would then offer three options to the “non-Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria.” The first would be to get out — or, as Zehut puts it, Israel would “enable interested residents to sell their property, and will help them emigrate to the destination of their choice.”
The second: Palestinians wanting to “remain and declare their allegiance openly will receive the status of permanent residents in the Jewish state. All their human and property rights shall be preserved in the same manner as those of other Western countries (as the United States does with the inhabitants of Samoa, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico).”
Israeli citizenship would be offered to Palestinians as a third option, but only to “those who wish to be loyal citizens and serve in the army (such as the Druze, for example) will be able to receive full citizenship after a long and thorough examination track.”
The most potentially incendiary — and logistically complicated — part of Feiglin’s platform involves Jerusalem. His party advocates moving the entire Israeli government complex from the western part of the city to the east, placing the Knesset and Supreme Court inside “the Old City in the areas adjacent to the Temple Mount,” which the party calls “the beating heart of the entire nation.”
Zehut aspires to build a synagogue on the Temple Mount and give authority over the site to the Chief Rabbinate, in order “to regulate the ascent and prayer of the Jews on the Mount within the framework of Jewish law.” Further, it calls “full Israeli control over the Mount” a “national goal of the highest order.”
One policy that might appeal to “America First” Republicans is Zehut’s call for the ending of U.S. aid to Israel. It says this aid “creates Israeli dependence on America, which then receives legitimacy to intervene in Israeli security matters.”
U.S. restrictions, it argues, limit the export of Israeli arms and “Israel’s dependence on American weapons prevents it from investing in its own development.”
Zehut also wants to turn the Israel Defense Forces into a voluntary army. It believes Israelis should be drafted only for basic training and then “anyone interested in continuing to serve in the professional army will be able to apply.”
When it comes to foreign policy, Zehut is as blunt as in its marijuana stance. For instance, it says Israel’s problem with Iran “lies not in the potential for the weapons to harm Israel but in the process of delegitimization and the loss of the justness of Israel’s existence in the eyes of the world.” Therefore, Israel “must use technological means to eliminate the enemy’s leaders and thereby create real deterrence. This is according to the Jewish principle: ‘He who comes to kill you, kill him first.’”
The party wants to reduce the size of government (more than halving the number of ministries, from 29 to 11), get rid of all “unnecessary” laws and then pass as few as possible. It also advocates for a return to religious law.
The party’s education program is also one-of-a-kind in Israel: It wants to eradicate the public schools system and replace it with a voucher system that would fund children’s tuition at private, independent schools.
It would also seek to privatize the health care system and remove all state funding for the arts.
In a move the National Rifle Association could get behind, Zehut says “there is no justification” for depriving Israelis of their right to bear arms for self-defense in a dangerous region. “Zehut will authorize the carrying of arms to all military veterans … and will then formulate a policy of extending permits to all citizens.”
Finally, in another nod to classic libertarian thinking, Zehut advocates that the government stay out of marriage altogether. If official marriages are eliminated, “each couple will be able to marry as they wish, in the type of ceremony they choose and in a manner that suits them,” the platform states.
The party believes this would end the “public debate over government recognition of same-sex marriages” and that “citizens’ freedom to choose how to marry will be preserved.”