Netanyahu's Nightmare: Feiglin Will Try to Drive Likud to the Right

Yesterday, a day before the Likud primary, a problem arose that temporarily diverted Moshe Feiglin from his political agenda: The Karnei Shomron resident discovered that his professional riding shoes, which he uses to ride his bike through the West Bank hills, had fallen apart. In the afternoon, when he went to buy new ones, he discovered that his regular store was out of stock, and would not be getting more in until the end of the month.

Despite his disappointment, Feiglin managed to maintain his sense of humor: "By then, we'll have managed to set up a halakhic state, expel all the leftists and start a world war," he joked. "By the end of December, this will be Iran."

But Feiglin would have forgone his ride today in any case. Instead, he plans to go to the Temple Mount and pray for the fulfillment of the dream toward which he has worked for years: a high-ranking slot on the Likud's Knesset slate, which will enable him to move the party rightward. It is a dream that constitutes party chairman Benjamin Netanyahu's worst nightmare.

Before hitting the bike store, Feiglin recorded an announcement that his supporters will play outside polling stations today. Vote for Feiglin, the announcement urges, "so that Likud will be Likud, and not a satellite of the left; so that Likud will represent the Jewish majority that has a God; so that you will not again bring expulsion and destruction via the Mahal ballot slip." Mahal, a Hebrew acronym for "the national camp," is what appears on Likud's ballot slips in the general elections.

Netanyahu is fighting a no-holds-barred war against Feiglin and the other candidates from his camp. According to Feiglin, this war "exceeds the bounds of rational politics. It belongs to the world of mysticism." But despite Netanyahu's efforts, a few of these candidates, including Feiglin himself, have a good chance of making it into realistic spots on the party's slate.

Feiglin's "Jewish Leadership" faction was born of the Zo Artzeinu protest movement, which used civil disobedience to fight the Oslo Accords in the 1990s. Its activities led to Feiglin, the movement's founder and leader, being convicted of sedition.

Eventually, Feiglin said, "I understood that demonstrations weren't for me." In their place, he begin seeking a political platform that would enable him "to influence the country's leadership."

He settled on Likud as the proper vehicle, and to that end, persuaded thousands of people, including many settlement residents, to enroll in the party. Most Likud members viewed Jewish Leadership as a mere curiosity - until it succeeded in sending 130 delegates to the party convention in 2003. Feiglin has run for the Likud list three times, and failed every time. But his support has grown with each new attempt.

Though Feiglin says he has "no idea" how many Likud members identify with his faction, other senior members of Jewish Leadership estimate the number at about 9,000. That would make it the largest faction in the party. But many of these people do not actually vote Likud on Election Day.

Feiglin denies that his is a one-man faction. "The people here are committed to a certain idea, not to me," he said. "If I stray from the ideas for which these people registered with Likud, they'll throw me to the winds. This is something magnificent, an unusual achievement: We've enlisted the largest group in the Likud, and not out of a desire for jobs."

Should they be elected, he continued, he and his fellow faction members "will conduct ourselves according to the principles about which we have written books and articles. If there is an idea that stands in complete opposition to the Likud's values, of course I'll oppose [those values too]. But this is not an outside organization that is trying to take over the Likud."

Yet in light of many of his statements - such as his claim that Netanyahu seems to be planning to deliver the party to the left "as a gift" - Netanyahu will apparently have good reason to worry if Feiglin and his fellows are elected.