Likud MKs Fear Feiglin Will Drive Centrist Voters Away

Moderate MKs played down far-right leader's achievement in recent party leadership primary, in which he won 23 percent of the votes.

Moshe Feiglin's continued strength in the Likud party is troubling moderate Likud Knesset members, who fear his extreme right-wing views will drive centrist voters away from the party.

On Wednesday, The moderate MKs played down Feiglin's achievement in Tuesday's party leadership primary, in which he won 23 percent of the votes, calling it "negligible." They attributed his support mainly to the absence of other contenders and to many voters' disappointment with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's policies toward West Bank settlements.

Moshe Feiglin - Emil Salman - 31.1.2012
Emil Salman

"Feiglin's gains were negligible" compared to the last primary, when he won a similar percentage of the vote, "and at this stage, no significance should be attached to them," a senior Likud figure said on Wednesday.

Feiglin's voters probably don't even vote for Likud in the general elections, and only registered as members to influence its Knesset list, he added, so they don't indicate any change in the make-up of the party's electorate.

But Improvement of Government Services Minister Michael Eitan (Likud ) told Haaretz he was concerned over how the Feiglin faction's power might affect the next election. Some 30 percent of Likud voters are in the center of the political map, and Feiglin's strong showing could weaken their support for the party, he warned.

"Netanyahu's challenge is to forge a bloc of voters amounting to 35 Knesset seats," he said. "These votes won't come from the radical right, but from centrist voters who are fluctuating between Kadima and Yair Lapid," who recently launched his own party.

"After the disengagement [from Gaza], Likud dropped from 40 to 12 Knesset seats," Eitan continued. "The voters didn't go to the radical right, but to the centrist parties. If Likud is to be the next ruling party, it should be strongly identified with centrists, and they should determine the make-up of the party's Knesset list."

Nevertheless, he added, "Some people voted for Feiglin only to register their objections to Netanyahu. It is clear to everyone that if Feiglin leads Likud, the party will never attain power."

One of Netanyahu's greatest fears before the last election was that Feiglin would win a prominent slot on the Likud Knesset list and drive away moderate voters. Feiglin was ranked 20th, but a petition submitted to the Likud election committee by Netanyahu associate Ofir Akunis - now an MK - pushed Feiglin down to the 36th slot and kept him out of the Knesset.