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Sunday, March 01, 2009

EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Moshe Feiglin

In the early 1990's, a friend dragged me to a meeting in a dreary room in downtown Jerusalem to discuss the possibility of persuading hundreds of Orthodox Jews to join the Likud and take over the party from within. The idea didn't go very far at the time. I attended a couple more meetings and nothing seemed to come of it.

In the mid-90's, after the Israeli government entered into the Oslo Declaration of Principles that accepted the creation of a 'Palestinian state,' a movement called Zo Artzeinu took hold in Israel. The movement was founded by an Israeli named Moshe Feiglin and an American immigrant named Moshe Sackett. Zo Artzeinu believed in non-violent resistance. It did things like ask its members to sit down in the middle of traffic intersections and block them in a bid to show people that Oslo was wrong. Hundreds of Israelis joined.

Blocking traffic intersections in Israel is okay if you are Tel Aviv university students protesting tuition increases or taxi drivers, but it's not okay if you are Right wing activists. Feiglin was convicted of sedition in 1997 and was sentenced to six months in jail, which was later commuted to community service.

One night in 2001, I had a phone call from another friend asking me if I'd be interested in joining the Likud. He mentioned something about a religious bloc. The name Moshe Feiglin never came up. Before the next primaries in the Likud, I got mailings from something called Manhigut Yehudit, which was founded by Moshe Feiglin and Shmuel Sackett. I kept my membership anyway. I even voted for Feiglin and his slate. On more than one occasion.

About a week ago, a regular reader invited Mrs. Carl and me to attend the first annual Manhigut Yehudit dinner in Israel. As an enticement to come, he offered me a 15-minute one-on-one with Moshe Feiglin. That's where this post came from.

Before I get to the interview itself, I have to say that I was very surprised and impressed when I met Moshe Feiglin. When one hears that the man was convicted of sedition and that he led a movement that put thousands of people in the middle of busy traffic intersections across Israel, one has visions of a loud person with a lot of ego. The only time Moshe was at all loud during the evening was when he spoke at the dinner and he wanted to be sure everyone heard him. In our interview, he came across as soft-spoken, highly intelligent with a singular purpose. And - and this is the key if you can imagine a politician like this - the man has NO (and I emphasize NO) ego. He's not in this for himself. He's not in this to take over the Likud - even for his movement. He's in this to save the country. Literally. Or as he put it to me, the other right-wing parties are sectoral, he's in this to save Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. He's in this for everyone. He's in this for Jewish values. He doesn't care who the Prime Minister is so long as the Prime Minister and the government are infused with Jewish values. The ad on the bus above says "Feiglin, because he has a God." I think it's how he sees himself and how he wants others to see him.

And now the interview:
Tell me a bit about your background, where were you born, where did you study, how did you get into politics.

I was born in Israel, I grew up in an ordinary religious Zionist family, I studied in a national religious school and then in Rabbi (Haim) Druckman's Yeshiva High School. I did one thing differently that was a bit unusual in those days. I did ordinary army service, which was not so accepted.

You didn't go to Hesder.

No, I didn't go to Hesder. I served four years in the army and finished as an officer in a combat engineering unit. I served in the reserves for many years. I got married towards the end of my army service. I established a business, I had a family, thank God. I built a home in Karnei Shomron. Everything went along peaceably. I ran my business. I established two companies. This hotel was even one of my customers. My whole life changed from a private path to a public one following the Oslo Accords and Rabin's gaining power. That's when I founded Zo Artzeinu with Shmuel Sackett who is here tonight, and from there things evolved into Manhigut Yehudit (Jewish Leadership) .

When you established Manhigut Yehudit, what did you hope to do? The public perception is that you hoped to take over the Likud. Is that correct?

No, it's completely incorrect. The concept of a 'take over' is completely inappropriate here. If you can say that I sought to take over a party, you could say that about any politician who joins any party. There is no problem in calling a legitimate political struggle a 'takeover.' It's correct that I came to the Likud, and I encouraged people who believe as I do to join the Likud for a set of ideas and not out of any personal ambition. From this perspective it's different than what's ordinary. The system knows how to deal with someone who comes for himself and it automatically puts him in his place to serve the system at the end of the day. It doesn't matter what ideas he starts with because at the end of the day he serves [the party] in the same direction that the system demands of him. With me that doesn't work and therefore it's seen as a take over.

Have your goals changed at all over the last several years?


So you're just trying to move the Likud to the right?

No. Not even that. I'm not trying to move the Likud to the right at all. The Likud is firmly in the right and in the nationalist camp, in the healthy national psyche and in standing up for national pride. The Likud has this in its constitution and in the natural desire of the vast majority of its members. It has a problem because its leadership is weak and does not succeed in implementing the principles upon which the Likud was founded. It can be said that the Left has taken over the Likud through its leadership. I also do not blame specific people here. The lacking in the Jewish aspect that gives flavor to the entire nationalist enterprise - I would call it a lacking in the aspect of faith - did not allow any of the four Likud Prime Ministers [Begin, Shamir, Netanyahu and Sharon. CiJ] to promote the Likud's agenda and instead they internalized the Left's agenda.

I am doing the opposite of a take over. I am asking that the Likud implement its own way. For example, there is a paragraph in the Likud constitution that says that the State of Israel has to implement Israeli law over all parts of the Land of Israel that are in our hands. Under the Likud constitution as in effect today, we have to implement Israeli law in all of Judea and Samaria and in the Gaza Strip just as was done in the Golan Heights. So I have no problem with the Likud's constitution - maybe the Likud's current chairman has a problem with it.

I'm not trying to push the Likud to the right. I understood - my colleagues understood - after Zo Artzeinu and after we made all the demonstrations we could - the way to stop the various withdrawals and collapses. We demonstrated and they brought this craziness : Oslo, they brought Arafat here. We brought Bibi into power [in the 1996 elections] and then we understood that the problem is more basic.

You mean between 1996 and 1999.

I mean right after the 1996 election, we understood that a leadership that has no fear of Heaven and has no Jewish faith also has no ability to contend with the big crisis that stands before the people of Israel in the Land of Israel. And we decided to bring this matter into politics, specifically through the ruling party of the nationalist camp and to put this matter to a vote without being ashamed. I ran against Netanyahu the last time, a year and a half ago, and I ran on a campaign of "Feiglin has a God," nothing else.

I remember that.

I got about a quarter of the votes. And I believe that, God willing, sometime soon there will be primaries again and God willing I will receive more votes, maybe even win. We are convinced that the conception that the people of Israel need a leader who has faith is absolutely necessary for the existence and growth of the State of Israel.

Do you believe that with the current makeup of the Likud it will be possible to prevent Netanyahu from making 'concessions' to the 'Palestinians' that will hurt us?

I'm not involved in that.

You're not involved in that?

No. When I called for people to vote for the Likud, I said specifically and I am saying it again now, the Likud under Netanyahu is no less dangerous for the Land of Israel than Kadima or Labor or anything else. I am not in the Likud to save the people of Israel from withdrawals. I'm not in that game. I'm playing another game. My agenda is different. I am no longer involved in putting out fires. I am not involved in trying to influence Netanyahu to behave this way or that way although where we can do this we do and with greater efficiency than any other thing, that is, for example, during the period of the expulsion (from Gaza), Sharon made all of his wars within his own party and that was mainly because of our activities.

But all of this is tactical. On a substantive level a national leadership that does not have a Jewish makeup is not capable of standing against the flood and it doesn't matter if it's from the Likud or any other party. Our goal is to create an alternative. Not to fight Netanyahu.

Why make that alternative from within the Likud and not build another party from the ground up?

I'll talk about that tonight [at the dinner].

You'll speak about that tonight. Okay. I think it's something that people don't understand.


Do you believe that in his heart of hearts Netanyahu wants to establish a 'Palestinian' state?


You don't believe it?

No. Tzipi Livni doesn't want to either.

And not Tzipi Livni either?

No. No one really believes in it. I don't believe that anyone with a brain in his head... they're not foolish people... believes in making a state out of nothing for a people made out of nothing in an area in which there is no room for two states. At the end of the day, both of them - Netanyahu and Livni - grew up on the Likud's ideology that the Land of Israel belongs to the people of Israel. I don't believe that they want [a 'Palestinian' state]. Like I said, the reality in Israel where there is no way out without faith requires you to reach other solutions.

In an interview in yesterday's Washington Post, Netanyahu refrained from committing to 'two states for two peoples,' which is what Livni is constantly saying. In your opinion, will he adhere to this? Is there any meaning to the fact that he refused to say those magic words?


It has no meaning.


And he'll stand up to the pressure?

I repeat - maybe I wasn't emphatic enough - from my perspective, Netanyahu is substantively not part of the game. Netanyahu is a passing phenomenon and it doesn't matter if I replace him or I replace the person who comes after him or someone else replaces him in the name of the ideology I represent. At the end of the day, all of the talk of a solution that does not originate in deep Jewish values does not hold water. I didn't enter politics to influence Netanyahu, to interpret Netanyahu, or anyone else. The Israeli reality, the reality of the Jews in the Land of Israel who are trying to exist as a nation in the Land of Israel while denying their Jewish identity is impossible. It is impossible for Netanyahu, it is impossible for Tzipi Livni, it is impossible for the most skilled people. So it doesn't matter to me and I don't care what Netanyahu said or didn't say. Tomorrow morning he could execute the opposite policy and deny it as he has done in the past. He could surprise everyone and implement this policy even though he said the opposite. From my perspective, it's simply not relevant.

What about Lieberman?

The same thing.

It's worse than the same thing.

No, it didn't surprise me at all that he started to speak of a 'Palestinian' state. It didn't surprise me at all, he said it before. It doesn't surprise me at all. I don't expect anything. I say again, I was privileged with the Jew who just came into the room (Shmuel Sackett) -

I met him.

- to carry out the largest demonstrations that the State of Israel has ever known. I assume you heard a little about them.

More than a little.

And with this my demonstration period ended. I don't demonstrate anymore. Not outside of politics and not inside politics. I don't make demonstrations and I don't demonstrate against Netanyahu or Lieberman or anyone else. We are creating an alternative. That is our thing. And this is the entire story. I'm not in politics to save my house in Karnei Shomron. I'm in the Likud and I'm in politics to save Jerusalem, to save Tel Aviv and to save the nation. And this perhaps is the difference between the gathering here and the gathering that's taking place in another part of this hotel [National Union was having a meeting of activists in the same hotel on Sunday night. CiJ]. And this essentially is the answer to your question why I am in the Likud. I'll be more specific. Why am I in the Likud? Because I'm not acting in the name of a sector and I'm not coming to save a sector. I'm here to save the nation.

We'll talk more later.

Thanks very much.
Feiglin spoke for half an hour during the dinner itself. The time flew. On the question of why he came to the Likud and did not start (or head) another party, he gave an analogy from Jewish law of how milk and meat (which are prohibited from being eaten together under Jewish law) that are mixed together can become Kosher. In a nutshell, the only way it can happen is if there is a massive infusion of one that overwhelms the other.

He also said that he has a bet with a senior Israeli reporter that there will be elections again within a year. I'm sure Tzipi Livni would be pleased to hear that.

They also showed a movie that will be uploaded online (they promied me).

Someone took pictures of me interviewing Moshe Feiglin, which I will post when I get them. And I won a copy of Feiglin's book in one of the many raffles they had during the course of the evening, which he graciously autographed for me. It's about five hundred pages in Hebrew.... Don't expect a review next week....

Finally, I wanted to show you a movie with a brief biography of Moshe Feiglin (Hat Tip: NY Nana). Let's go to the videotape.

Like I said, quite impressive.


At 2:33 AM, Blogger Lois Koenig said...

Thanks for the hat tip,Carl.

That video impressed me the first time I saw it, even though I will never have the chance to vote for him. Til I was sent the video, I had really no idea who he was.

I do hope to see him as PM, though, when enough Israelis see him as you do.

The Oslo Accords? Israel is still paying a very heavy price for that abomination.

At 3:59 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 4:06 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

Moshe Feiglin is that rare Israeli public figure: principled, selfless, fearless and filed with love of G-d and Israel. He gave up the 20th place in the Likud and thereby forfeited a seat in the Knesset. He placed the good of the party and the country above personal ambition and showed Israel that he was a better man than Bibi who feared him.

He wants to lead Israel back to Jewish values - to a Jewish way of thinking. Feiglin doesn't think individuals are as critical to the country's well-being as the power of an idea. I don't know if he will ever become Prime Minister but I do believe his efforts will ultimately bear fruit and one day someone like him will eventually lead Israel.

Its not something that going to happen overnight. It may take years or decades - but in the end Israel will return to its Jewish roots because that is the secret of Israel's strength. All the other roads are discredited.

Judaism is the future of Israel. And Feiglin, who is my age and born in the same year as me, will be remembered as the man who helped to bring it about.

At 4:21 AM, Blogger Mike Dugas said...

I see a correlation between the Likud and my own Republican Party as far as the behavior of the party's representatives in DC. They too claim to have a core set of conservative beliefs that they seem to set aside when in Washington where they become Dem-lite's so to speak. The loss of principled faith in DC is at the core of my nations troubles and so it would seem Israel's also. We need our own Moshe Feiglin here in the USA.

At 7:49 AM, Blogger Eliyahu in Shilo said...

"One night in 2001, I had a phone call from another friend asking me if I'd be interested in joining the Likud. He mentioned something about a religious bloc."

Me! Me! That friend was me! I got mentioned on IsraelMatzav! Woohoo!

I've since given up on the State of Israel as the key to the redemption. I've also come to believe that Israeli politics are way too corrupt for an honest man like Moshe to succeed. He has a great idea and if this were a democracy, it might work, but its not and it won't.

Eliyahu in Shilo

At 7:54 AM, Blogger Carl in Jerusalem said...


It was indeed you.

As you know, I was very distressed with the manner in which Bibi treated Moshe Feiglin both during the race for party leader and in the primaries for the Knesset.

If Feiglin stood for himself, I would agree with you: Feiglin himself may never be Prime Minister. But his ideas are so powerful that one day they have to win out.

Here's one idea I forgot to mention when I wrote up the interview: Israel has to change from the State of the Jews to the Jewish State.

The current politicians may fight it all the way, but ultimately the State of the Jews doesn't have a lot more behind it than 'Israeliness.' But the Jewish State has some powerful things going for it and it will - God willing - ultimately succeed.

At 9:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Ye'ush sheh'lo mi'da'at lo havei ye'ush.

At 10:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What I wrote above in Hebrew transliteration is a Jewish Halachic (legal) principle. It roughly means abandonment (normally of a personal belonging) without knowledge (of the owner) is not (i.e., cannot be assumed as) abandonment.

Practical example: if an identifiable item falls from someone's pocket, the finder cannot assume that the owner has given up on ever finding the item, and the obligation remains to return the item to its owner (the Mitzvah of Hashavat Aveidah).

I'm using the term here losely to imply that giving up on something important, such as Jewish leadership of our country, without thinking through how much potential we have to accomplish this over time (and not overnight), is not a justification to quit and just suffer through the situation that we're in by doing nothing.

At 12:53 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Carl - I think we're pretty much in agreement. Feiglin with Manhigut Yehudit is not trying to change Israeli politics. He is trying to change the Israeli culture. The mistake conservatives made in America is to assume political power is where the culture can be molded and shaped. Its the other way around. Which Feiglin gets. Feiglin's enemies inside the Likud and on the Left don't grasp what he is doing. They assume its the individual that's the danger to them when in reality its the vision. And he offers one that his critics don't have an answer to. At the end of the day, it will out and it won't really matter if he ever becomes Prime Minister because he will have already done his job. The movement he launched will continue long after he's gone from the scene.

At 1:10 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Shy Guy, you'd be correct in thinking Manhigut is an informal think tank cum political movement. Its brought together thousands of Israelis from all walks of life and has breathed a new idea into Israeli politics. Its really a very simple one: the way Jews live their lives will change the face of the country. A lot of ordinary people do just that and an example is David Shapira's willingness to risk death to save fellow Jews in Mercaz HaRav last year. He talked about the Jewish Idea and mentioned the Shema as a source of heroism for the Jewish people in an interview. That when the Jew leads, he will be blessed by G-d. This is not theocracy in the Islamic sense in which obedience to Heaven is dictated top down by the clergy. In Judaism, its exactly the reverse. In a true (and Jewish) theocracy, one obeys G-d by taking oneself to fulfill the divine law by setting through one's personal conduct, a model lesson to other Jews on how to behave and live as a Jew. There are countless examples of this in the Torah.

The most famous example is Abram going to the Land Of Israel. It is through the merit of his deeds that he is blessed by G-d and then becomes the father of many nations, with the name Abraham. In righteous conduct, the Jew builds faith and so establishes the rule of G-d on earth. That is the essence of the Jewish Idea and its how a Jewish State suffuses the Shechinah in it not just in the Land Of Israel but throughout the entire world.

At 6:05 PM, Blogger Red Tulips said...

AMAZING! Thank you for this wonderful interview with Moshe Feiglin. It gives a new perspective on Feiglin, what he is seeking, and what he represents.


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