Right-wing firebrand emerges as potential kingmaker in Israel

Support for Moshe Feiglin and libertarian Zehut takes mainstream parties by surprise

Zehut party leader Moshe Feiglin advocates a mix of extreme right-wing and libertarian policies. Photograph: Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images

Zehut party leader Moshe Feiglin advocates a mix of extreme right-wing and libertarian policies. Photograph: Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images


Moshe Feiglin and his Zehut (Identity) party have emerged as the surprise package in the Israeli elections and, with polls showing a close race between the main blocs, they could hold the balance of power when efforts begin to cobble together a new coalition after the April 9th vote.

Mr Feiglin, a religious West Bank settler, advocates a bizarre mix of extreme right-wing and libertarian policies.

His support for the legalisation of cannabis has pushed the issue to the forefront of the election campaign and has resulted in enthusiastic support from young Israelis, with more than 8 per cent of voters aged between 18 and 24 saying they intend to vote for Zehut.

Only a few weeks ago Zehut was the butt of political jokes along the lines of “they must have been stoned when they wrote the party manifesto”, but recent polls show that the party will pass the minimum 3.25 per cent threshold for representation in the Knesset and gain four seats in the 120-member parliament.

The polls predict almost a dead heat between the right-religious bloc led by prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud party and the centre-left bloc led by former top general Benny Gantz’s new Blue and White party, supported from outside by Arab parties.

Feiglin, despite his clear right-wing agenda, says he is not in Netanyahu’s pocket and is open to offers after the election, demanding the education and finance portfolios for Zehut, together with a clear commitment to legalise marijuana.

‘Year of legalisation’

He said 2019 would be “the year of legalisation”. “We will kill ourselves over it. No one is going to establish a government in Israel without legalisation.”

Worried that Zehut is taking votes away from the Likud, Mr Netanyahu has promised to examine the possibility of legalising cannabis.

Moshe Feiglin first came to prominence in the 1990s when he headed a protest movement against the Oslo peace accords signed between Israel and the PLO, leading protesters in blocking roads and opposing the evacuation of West Bank outposts.

He was sentenced to six months in prison in 1997 for sedition, later commuted to community service. In 2000, Mr Feiglin joined Likud and served as a Likud Knesset member before quitting the party to set up Zehut.

Zehut proposes cancelling the peace agreements with the Palestinians and extending Israeli sovereignty to the West Bank while offering financial incentives to Palestinians to emigrate.

The party also advocates relocating the Knesset and the supreme court to Jerusalem’s Old City, adjacent to the Temple Mount, which it calls the “beating heart of the entire nation”.

Zehut also calls for ending restrictions on citizens bearing arms, for Israel to assassinate Iran’s leaders and for an end to receiving US aid.