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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Likud primary

The Likud primary is today. Binyamin Netanyahu is widely expected to win; Zo Artzeinu founder Moshe Feiglin is expected to finish second and World Likud Chairman Danny Danon is expected to finish third. The ad above is a Feiglin ad from the side of a public bus; it reads "Feiglin, because he has a God."

The hysteria surrounding Feiglin's attempt to take over the Likud from the inside is astounding. Feiglin first burst into prominence when he co-founded the Zo Artzeinu (This is our land) movement to non-violently oppose the Oslo accords in the mid-90's. Branded as 'enemies of peace' by the Rabin-Peres government that imposed the curse of Oslo on Israel, Feiglin and his co-founder Moshe Sackett were eventually placed on trial for fomenting rebellion by using the same civil disobedience tactics that Martin Luther King successfully used in the United States in the 1960's.

In 2000, Feiglin started Manhigut Yehudit (Jewish Leadership), a movement within the Likud that was designed to bring about change from within. The theory was that despite Israel's fragmented electoral system, the Prime Minister would always come from one of the large parties, and therefore the only real way to bring about change was by working from within the larger parties. It was a theory I had discussed in meetings with friends (one from Maaleh Adumim in particular who tried to recruit me) in the aftermath of the Rabin assassination. Eventually, I was recruited for Manhigut Yehudit without being told that Feiglin was behind it because Feiglin has been so vilified by the mainstream media here. In each election since Manhigut has been founded, its percentage within the party has grown.

When former foreign minister and finance minister Sylvan Shalom (as vapid an Israeli politician as ever existed, he was a disaster at both positions) decided not to contest this primary because the timing was not to his liking, Feiglin was left as the chief opposition to Netanyahu. Netanyahu has tried to instill fear in Likud members, telling us that if Feiglin were to poll 40% today, Prime Minister Ehud K. Olmert would try to paint the Likud as an 'extreme rightist' party. Well guess what: if Feiglin polls 4% today, Olmert will also try to paint the Likud as an 'extreme rightist' party.

And it's not just Olmert. The Jerusalem Post tends to be more to the right than Israel's other mainstream media; here's part of an article about Feiglin that appears in today's editions:
However, there is one main problem. Feiglin and his Jewish Leadership faction do not belong in the Likud.

Feiglin's platform of what is termed "authentic Jewish values" and implementing "Jewish law" owe more to the late Rabbi Meir Kahane than to the heritage of Vladimir Ze'ev Jabotinsky and Menachem Begin.

It is probably true, as Feiglin insists, that the majority of Likudniks consider themselves either religious or traditional Jews.

It is also true that the Likud has been a broad movement ever since Ariel Sharon merged Gahal with a number of smaller parties on the eve of the 1973 election.

But does Bar Ilan University professor, Hillel Weiss, a leading Jewish Leadership figure who verbally abused the Hebron military commander during last week's evictions at the city's wholesale market, really represent a stream of legitimate thought within the Likud?

Feiglin and his Jewish Leadership faction are essentially a party within a party.

Former Likud education minister Limor Livnat attacked Feiglin as an extremist trying to take over the party, and that is, in fact, their stated plan.

The idea of a political takeover from within is not Feiglin's invention. The politics of "entryism" were carried out with great success in the late 1970s and 1980s in Britain by the Trotskyist Militant Tendency, whose dedicated activists joined the British Labor party en masse.

The Trotskyist Militant Tendency, just like the Jewish Leadership, was careful not to describe themselves as a separate party.

They portrayed themselves as an ideological faction trying to win the battle of ideas in Labor's broad church, while remaining a cohesive, extremist voting bloc.

The Militant Tendency was estimated to have no more than 9,000 members at its peak (exactly the same as the Jewish Leadership), yet they succeeded in winning control of the party's youth wing, the Young Socialists, and had three supporters elected to parliament (as Labor party candidates, of course) and even took over control of the Liverpool City Council, making it the first democratically elected Trotskyist council in Europe.

The Trotskyist council left Liverpool in chaos and bankruptcy, while the British Labor Party was to spend this period in opposition as Margaret Thatcher and the British press trashed "the loony Left" without mercy.

For years, the Militant Tendency used the Labor Party constitution to successfully defeat repeated attempts to expel its activists from the party, deriding every such attempt as a "right-wing witchunt."

Eventually the party decided to act, and from 1985 onwards, a series of moves led by Labor leader Neil Kinnock against the Militant group ended its influence in the party.

Binyamin Netanyahu is fond of using historical analogies in his writings and speeches. He would do well to compare the Jewish Leadership with Militant Tendency entryism. He may also consider that only after Kinnock purged the Trotskyites from Labor did enough of the voters in the center consider voting for the party, enabling Tony Blair to eventually return Labor to power.
The comparison of Feiglin with the militant Trotskyites is odious and disingenuous. While Feiglin has said that he agrees with much of what Rabbi Meir Kahane HY"D (may God avenge his blood) believed in, he has explicitly disavowed Kahane's violence. And for the record, Kahane named his son Binyamin Zeev HY"D after Jabotinsky (Vladimir Zeev Jabotinsky was Binyamin Zeev Jabotinsky in Hebrew), so he obviously saw himself as Jabotinsky's spiritual heir. By the way, so did Menachem Begin z"l (may his memory be blessed) whose son is named Binyamin Zeev Begin.

While the mainstream media and most Israeli politicians speak of Kahane with unbridled contempt, it is clear to those of us who have lived through the last fourteen years here in Israel that Kahane was right about a number of important points. It was Kahane who said that the Arabs would never go along with a Jewish state, thus becoming the first to understand that our dispute with the Arabs is not about land but about our very existence as a Jewish state in this part of the world. It was Kahane who said that Israel would either have to convince the Arabs to leave or some day make a choice between being a Jewish or a democratic state. Kahane favored voluntary transfer of the Arabs - pay them to leave. Until Yasser Arafat responded to Ehud Barak's offer of 95% of Judea and Samaria, all of Gaza and the 'above-ground' portions of the Temple Mount by starting the intifada in 2000, most Israelis thought Kahane was overboard by advocating transfer. Today, I've heard estimates as high as 40% of Israeli Jews who favor the idea. And while the 'demographic problem' is overstated by far in the media, without 'transfer' it will likely eventually become an issue.

Feiglin seems to understand that the left in Israel would rather give the country to the Arabs than see it populated by religious Jews. Netanyahu doesn't seem to understand that.

This weekend, surprisingly, I received a letter from an ultra-Orthodox group within the Likud urging support for Feiglin - who is national religious. This is the first time I have seen any ultra-Orthodox group get involved in the Likud. In poll after poll, the ultra-Orthodox are consistently the ones least likely to favor 'land for peace' piece of paper. The ultra-Orthodox are typically 0% in favor of it (Rabbi Ovadia Yosef notwithstanding). Even the national religious typically poll in the teens in favor of land for piece of paper. So it's not surprising that the ultra-Orthodox would support Feiglin's ideas. But it's surprising that they would come to the Likud and support Feiglin himself.

But the last straw for me with Netanyahu was his reaction to Professor Hillel Weiss last week. Netanyahu's own brother-in-law, Haggai Ben Artzi lived in Hebron (I'm not sure whether he still does) and after Netanyahu signed the Why Why Wye accord in 1998, in which most of Hebron was given to the 'Palestinians,' Netanyahu's own mother asked him if this was why his brother Yoni died leading the raid on Entebbe in 1976.

While I would certainly support Netanyahu in an election against Olmert, Livni and/or Barak, I think Netanyahu needs a reminder that the Likud is a right wing party - and that is nothing of which to be ashamed. That's why I intend to vote for Moshe Feiglin today.

Update 12:32 PM

See more prescient comments from Batya here.


At 12:05 PM, Blogger Batya said...

I wrote this the other day.

And remember that in the Israeli system, coalition politics, it won't be Bibi against Barak. It's all the parties against each other, so I'll vote for Arie Eldad.

At 4:14 PM, Blogger Daniel said...

I was a Kahane supporter, my only issue was that he did not build a party apparatus but a personality cult. He told me he was more afraid of being killed by RAabin than the arabs.
I often wondered if the Mossad had any complicity in his murder?

At 4:59 PM, Blogger Torahmike said...

Bibi is the only electable leader and demonstratively competent leader in Likud. Bibi only signed the Why accords because the public demanded it.
He is also a true Israeli patriot, as shown by his work around the world supporting Israel against, with little fanfare.
Mr. Netanyahu deserves our unwavering and total support. We need him to take back the reigns from Evil Olmert. G-d bless.

At 6:33 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

There is an assumption here that Israel is an independent country that can elect a government capable of disobeying America. What evidence supports this?

At 10:09 PM, Blogger DTC said...

Let's rephrase the assumption:

There is an assumption here Israel is an independent country that can elect a government capable of doing anything. What evidence supports this?

At 8:09 AM, Blogger HEADJANITOR said...

I cannot agree with Carl more, on all points--except, I am not at all convinced (any more) that Netanyahu is a safer bet than Olmert. Boy, is that a long way from where I used to stand with respect to Netanyahu!

Feiglin, I am more and more inclined to believe, represents not merely the ideological future of Israel, but the realpolitik future as well.

Feiglin's voice might, for the present, seem to speak for a relative minority of Jews; but, that voice is crystal clear and powerful in effect.

Netanyahu might have won the Likud primaries...but Feiglin stands like an oak between Netanyahu and the PM's Office.

At 10:20 AM, Blogger Carl in Jerusalem said...

Dr. Wills,

You may want to read what I posted this morning regarding where Netanyahu appears to be heading.

At 12:57 PM, Blogger Batya said...

Carl, first, thanks for the mention. Second, I'd translate Feiglin's slogan differently. No "a." "he has G-d," or more slangy, "he's got religion."

Michael, If "Bibi only signed the Why accords because the public demanded it." is true, then Bibi's no leader.

At 12:58 PM, Blogger Batya said...

oops, sorry, it's mike not michael


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