They're Not Laughing Anymore - An Interview with Moshe Feiglin
January 23, 2012...
In advance of the election for Likud Chairman on Tuesday, January 31 between Moshe Feiglin and Benjamin Netanyahu, we bring you this in-depth interview which first appeared in the January 20th addition of Olam Katan, a religious Zionist publication. What follows is an original translation by World of Judaica.
Oftentimes it seemed that the hardest thing to listen to for the last 13 years has been his complete and utter seriousness while demanding “Faith-based leadership for Israel.” In the end, maybe this makes even us, the religious Zionists, nervous • Moshe Feiglin is running alone against Benjamin Netanyahu for leadership of the Likud. The results of these primaries, even if they don’t end in a victory for him, will still be enough to bring this man’s vision one step closer to reality • Moshe Feiglin answers all the questions you ever wanted to ask – to what extent he believes in his goal. How younger Knesset Members have overtaken him. Why is it that it’s hardest for religious people to come to terms with Jewish Leadership. What mistakes does he admit and what does he remain stubborn about • The Big Race
A long time ago they were sure that he would eventually give up, that the process had exhausted itself and that he himself already understood this. After the 2006 elections when the Likud won only 12 seats, the pundits mocked him saying that according to the “influence from within the centers of power” logic of Manhigut Yehudit, Feiglin now had to leave Likud and go to Kadima. After he failed to attain a Knesset seat in 2009, they came down hard on him. The religious columnists specifically lambasted him for his arrogance in running for the Likud leadership time and again, on the non-politically-correct “we have come to replace you” approach against the present Likud leadership. They claimed that Olmert became prime minister only because of him.
And despite all this, as the sand continues to blow, Moshe Feiglin (50) is back, running yet again, this time as the only candidate, this time against a sitting prime minister. In political terms this would be considered suicide, but that’s nothing for Feiglin. This is already his fourth time. The first time, 9 years ago, then again running against a sitting prime minister, he got 3.5% of the vote. Two years later he got 12.5%. In 2007, Likud had primaries once again, where he was granted nearly a quarter of the Likud vote. In Jerusalem, the biggest branch of the ruling party, he got nearly 40% of the vote. He could have even gotten a larger portion, but Netanyahu and his men made a herculean effort to bring their supporters to the polls in order to prevent Feiglin from winning the capital city. Not to mention that in other cities as well that are certainly not settlements, Feiglin achieved impressive results. In Gadera, for example, he got 38% of the vote. In Beit Shemesh, 31%. Yavne, 28%, and even in Haifa he reached 26% support.
They claim that only because of him and Manhigut Yehudit, Sharon decided to leave the Likud and establish Kadima. That Manhigut Yehudit was the only thing preventing the inventor of the concept of Disengagement from taking over Menahem Begin’s historic movement. For these primaries, by the way, he comes armed with surprisingly supportive statements from a Leftist icon, Avrum Burg. Burg, on the “Head to Head” television program on the Knesset channel, said last month that “The only man that presents a serious alternative, and puts forth an organized and relevant political philosophy that is worth contending with and presents a real challenge for us, is Moshe Feiglin.” The conversation we had was a bit harried, since Feiglin was invited to a political event in the Israeli Arab village of Bara. Many Likud voters he probably did not find there, but then again the man is trying to lead the whole country.
Two weeks before primaries where his raising his support level yet again is a real possibility, as the step he told us all to take 13 years ago – joining the Likud party – is making more and more waves in the religious Zionist sector, he is still convinced that a faith-based candidacy for leadership of the country is the only viable path capable of stopping the oncoming flood.
Q. Many have followed you into the Likud, and almost all of them have already overtaken you. Hotobeli, Edelstein, and Elkin are all religious Zionists that got close to the leadership thanks in no small part to Manhigut Yehudit voters. They found their way into the coalition table and they are very well liked, while you are excluded.
A. If I would have worked in the normal accepted manner that seeks to get immediate political dividends, no one would have overtaken me, but I insist on remembering the reason I joined the Likud in the first place. Not to be a Knesset Member or even a Minister, but to point the whole country toward one true, large and substantive goal. Light at the end of the tunnel, rather than a rearguard war that many good people in the religious Zionist community are fighting. For the sake of the truth, when I joined politics 13 years ago, there were already many knitted kippot in the crowd, with religious Knesset members and religiously observant ministers. In that sense, the situation has not changed all that much.
My eyes are turned towards the final goal, and because of this there are weights on my legs that may seem to weigh me down in a personal sense from attaining political posts. But in reality, these aren’t weights, but wings I am not willing to cut. I could have said that I would no longer run for the party leadership, that I already did what I had to do, but that would have made the whole revolution culminate in something of a new National Religious Party, this time within the Likud. While true that we did succeed in getting the faith-based public into the Likud, which is something very important that I do not belittle for a second, I will not allow a situation in which we are in the same sectorial politics, but this time within the ruling party. I’mnotinterestedinyetanotherknittedkippahintheKnesset, evenifunderneaththatkippahisthenameofMosheFeiglin. The goal is to lay out a faith-based alternative to lead Israel. This is a goal that cannot be accomplished without a conscious decision to run for the country’s leadership, so that the light will not be extinguished, so that there will still be light at the end of the tunnel.
It’s funny. People that fought against me from every podium when I joined the Likud are now in the Likud and continuing to fight me from within. Effi Etam (former leader of the National Religious Party) and Benny Elon (former member of the National Union) already admitted that I was right, but I’m sad to say that even after they’ve said this, many of us still do not have the courage to come and take the truth to its logical endpoint like I’m doing. I didn’t come to the Likud to save the settlements, even though it’s true that from within the Likud there is a stronger power base to accomplish this than there is in the sectorial parties.
They tell me, “You’re trying to fill shoes that are too big for you,” and I answer, “So come with me and then I’ll have bigger shoes!” The coming elections will be decided by 15,000 votes. The gap between me and Netanyahu last time was about 17,000 votes. If the people that tell me I’m trying to fill shoes that are too big for me would have joined Likud, I would have had no problem winning the party’s leadership by now. More than that though, there would have been no problem changing the entire direction of the Return to Zion from Zionism that keeps G-d out of the picture, to Zionism with the vision of “The Mountain of the Lord is the highest of all Mountains.” The settlement pioneers that ran to Judea and Samaria in the spirit of Rav Kook have been inundated with hardships and trudging through day-to-day affairs, and are incapable of putting forward such a vision.
But sometimes the arrogance of running against a sitting Prime Minister without even the success of first being elected a Knesset member makes for a very strange impression. Wouldn’t it be better to be satisfied with less declarations, superlatives and unwinnable candidacies and to focus in the meantime on less ambitious goals? We all want there to be Jewish leadership, but the way it’s being done seems too belligerent, a bit pompous.
Let’s not forget that thanks to great arrogance we have made great achievements like the wave of religious Zionists joining the Likud. Had I not dared to run for leadership of the party, such a change in consciousness would never have occurred. The language that changes consciousness is not spoken with lips, but with legs. We codified our vision in the “Lehat’hila” journal long before we joined the Likud, but until the point where we began to walk the walk of politics and put our hat in the leadership ring, it didn’t have any real effect on the nation’s consciousness. Many a good man before us tried to convince the right wing to join the Likud, and the fact is they only succeeded in signup up a few people. The fact is, they were not able to convince the public to follow them, and the reason is that the public follows a vision, and not simple tactical moves. Manhigut Yehudit put forward that vision, and from that moment people began to join the Likud through other avenues besides us as well.
Religious People with Little Faith
But nevertheless, do results not matter? After 13 years, you got to 24% of the party vote, and you have yet to become a Knesset member. At this rate it will take another 40 years to become the party leader. And even if theoretically you do beat Netanyahu one day, he’ll leave the party the same day and everyone will follow him. Everyone understands that the true Likud is no longer here.
When my family came to Israel 120 years ago, everyone was still in Belarus and shook their heads at that one rich Jew that decided to take his successful family to a barren wasteland. It was the craziest and most illogical thing to do. But at the end of the day, since it was the right thing to do, the realistic thing to do, that is to say it was G-d’s Will, because of that, we – his descendants – live here, and we all know what happened to those who stayed behind. We believe that the Third Return to Zion will not be undone, that the Holy One Blessed Be He isn’t joking around with us only to return us back to exile. And since the State of Israel will continue to exist, it cannot be anything but a State that fulfills the will of G-d. That is to say, and the end of the day, this country must have faith-based leadership. The only question is, what part will we take in this story.
Actually, I’m doing exactly what my grandfather’s grandfather’s grandfather did, meaning what I believe the Will of G-d to be. Anyone who refuses to join us is, in practice, delaying the development of Jewish leadership for the State of Israel, he’s the one that is unrealistic, refusing to develop, he’s the one that I’m sad to say will pay the price. G-d wills that this country have Jewish leadership. There is no other possibility.
Who knows what G-d’s will is? The Holy One Blessed Be He also destroyed Gush Katif and brought us the Holocaust.
In truth, I don’t know how long it will take before our victory becomes actualized. Just like the Wright brothers who thought up the idea that a body heavier than air could fly, tried a hundred times to build it and they all crashed. But in the end it flew. And the very second it began to fly, all of the 100 failures became part of the ultimate success. Understand what kind of success it was when in the last primaries nearly a quarter of the Likud membership – not the NRP or the National Union – a quarter of the membership of the biggest political party in Israel voted for me. I surpassed all the senior ministers, Uzi Landau, Yisrael Katz…I surpassed Shaul Mofaz, which is why he left to Kadima.
For whatever reason, the Likudniks don’t ask themselves these types of questions you’re asking me. The ones who ask me, and weak of faith they are in this case, are specifically the religious ones, and I must say, it frustrates me to a great deal. There’s a process going on here where specifically the ones who are supposed to believe that “the redemption of Israel happens slowly but surely” find it difficult to understand for some reason. We’re in the middle of a necessarily inevitable victory, a process that can’t NOT win according to our worldview. If you’re a leftist and you think the country is going to be destroyed because of what we’re doing and that we’re promoting national disintegration and destruction, then fine. But if you understand that we are in the process of redemption, then I simply don’t understand how it’s possible NOT to understand the implications of my candidacy. Manhigut Yehudit is continually gaining strength, and even the Prime Minister is showing through his behavior how much he is stressed out by my progress.
Your book “Where There are No Men” is a book on the revolutionary period of your ZoArtzeinu Movement during the Oslo Accords. Maybe it was better back then, as a protest movement outside the political realm?
For me personally it was a lot more fun back then. It was fun being a child with no responsibility. There’s nothing easier than blocking a highway, sitting in jail and reaping the fruits of praise. My position in Zo Artzeinu was a springboard for me that I could have used for a soft landing into politics all for myself, but I understood that that wouldn’t accomplish a thing. We don’t lack knitted kippot in politics. We lack men with vision who are actually trying to achieve that vision, showing the public that its leaders are taking them in the wrong direction and showcase an alternative. It’s one or the other: Either we don’t have an alternative to the current reality, and then the question arises as to why we’re complaining about Barak, Sharon and the rest, or we have an alternative – and then it has to come together with contending for the leadership of the country.
I’ve learned this from the Israeli Left. The Leftists were never a majority in Israel, so how did it happen that their ideology set the Israeli reality? Very simple. They were not satisfied with putting up a bunch of settlements, meaning Kibbutzim and their own communities. The immediately translated their ideology into public policy and ran for leadership of the country. They had a leadership consciousness. By us, however, nothing of the sort has ever over crossed the boundary of private or local community-based belief to the point of national leadership. The Right does not lack protest movements. This is not what I was looking for. I was looking for a solution. A faith-based alternative to the whole process of collapse that we find ourselves in.
If the 3% of radical leftists were able to take control of the Zionist enterprise in the 20’s and 30’s because they had a vision, and then succeeded in directing the entire process of the Return to Zion to one that has no G-d, that leaves G-d aside, why aren’t we capable of initiating the reverse? The answer is that we don’t believe in ourselves enough. We don’t believe that our Torah is relevant, and worst of all – we don’t believe in the Nation of Israel and its uniqueness.
And I’m telling you that the Nation of Israel is waiting and anticipating this kind of message with baited breath. You see it in the music that is becoming more and more faith-based, in the culture that is turning into this, in the yearning for a return to family values…you have no idea how many times this comes up in the polls again and again. You see that the Nation of Israel wants to be Jewish, so why are we afraid of giving it to them, giving them leadership that can provide it? Why do we continually place ourselves in the role of barking at the passing convoy? Why are we afraid to think big?
They’re afraid? No, We’re Afraid.
I hear people say that there’s nothing to be worried about. That we just have to stand our ground in Judea and Samaria and we’ll fight tactical wars where we need to and we’ll vote for the least bad candidate and the situation will somehow work itself out in our favor. We saw in the Disengagement where such thinking leads. In an overall sense, we’re in a process of redemption, but in the immediate sense, the State of Israel is being led by forces that do not share our beliefs. Therefore, it follows necessarily that if there won’t be Jewish leadership, the Disengagement will have a bitter sequel. I’m not saying this in order to scare anybody, but from a very simple dialectical analysis. If you don’t present an alternative, there is a limit to how many fingers you can put in the dike in order to stop the raging waters.
What’s your opinion on Rabbinic leadership and the general leadership of the religious Zionist sector?
I respect them very much. They’re doing work one can only admire. It pains me a little that I’m seen as one who doesn’t know how to value the efforts of Torah-based groups, or love of Israel that organizations like Tzohar effectively demonstrate. It’s simply untrue. I know how to value and even admire these people.
On the other hand, I must say that I only say what I think is true. Of course with love, an embrace, but the truth must be spoken. I am against blurring identity in order to preserve unity. In Manhigut Yehudit I see declared secularists, even atheists, and on the other hand I see Ultra Orthodox. On either side, saying the truth doesn’t scare them. I learned that when you speak the truth with conviction and humility, it doesn’t scare people away. Those who really listen can value it.
What do you think about Yair Lapid joining politics?
He’s a ratings candidate. Shelli Yechimovich’s candidacy I saw in a positive light, since she expresses a coherent philosophy, even if it’s dangerous in my opinion, and the impression I get is that she actually believes what she says. This is a type of politics that is absent in Israel, and I do not see this in Lapid. I certainly don’t see it in Noam Shalit, a man that did not contribute a thing to Israeli society but exacted a terrible price from it, and he’s coming into politics off the back of the fact that he was able to take a lot. Lapid and Shalit symbolize bad politics in my opinion. I’m more comfortable talking with an ideological enemy with a consistent philosophy.
Netanyahu knows that the map with the correct destination the country has to go in and will in the end arrive at, is in my hands and yours. Journalists always ask me why he’s so afraid of me, and the answer is that this is exactly what he’s afraid of. He knows very well and understands the potential of Manhigut Yehudit, seemingly even better than all of my voters. The fact is that the public is divided between those that love me and those that deeply hate me, but nobody’s laughing at me. Deep down, the public knows that there’s something very, very real going on here.