Nine days before the recent Likud primary, a Likud official from the Shomron (Samaria) told the Jerusalem Post that he was calling for a voter boycott. He wanted, he said, to protest Benjamin Netanyahu’s anti-Likud policies against Judea/Samaria. One of the boycott’s stated goals was to influence Netanyahu’s future policies. But almost everyone agreed that its most obvious effect would be the opposite--to disenfranchise the boycotters from having any post-primary influence at all. As one on-line reader wrote, “What is the point of boycotting[? If] Bibi wins… your voice is lost”. At first blush, the most rational explanation for the boycott was that it was a pro-Netanyahu ploy to entice Judea/Samaria advocates to engineer their own defeat—or, as another reader wrote: “Oldest trick in [the] Israeli political manual: throw in a third option to steal votes from[a] dangerous opponent. I hope Likud voters are smart enough to see through this dirty trick.”
Was this boycott call authentic-- or a dirty trick? We don’t know. What we do know, however, is that during the week January 22 – January 29, 2012, this report may have been the Jerusalem Post’s only reference to Moshe Feiglin. During the week that Likud members were deciding upon their votes, the Post’s only word on the primary seemed to be a strange boycott story that focused also on a distinctly anti-Feiglin message.
What was this story about—a Likud revolt against Netanyahu or an attack of Feiglin? The story, Likud hawks call to boycott party primary (Jerusalem Post, Gil Hoffman, January 22, 2011), gave two reasons for the boycott (in addition to its goals) which seemed more about Feiglin than Netanyahu. First, the Post reported that non-Feiglin Likud members saw Feiglin as an outsider. He was an undesirable. He represented a ‘foreign influence on the party’. But if the goal of the boycott was—ultimately-- to protect Judea/Samaria—the angry boycotters appeared to be from Samaria-- why attack Feiglin, the candidate who favoured Judea/Samaria? This was strange, indeed. At a time when Netanyahu is considered by many to be one who brings the ‘strange fire’ of the Left into Likud, calling Feiglin the ‘stranger’ seemed bizarre. This election was not about acceptability; it was about protecting Israel; and for anti-Netanyahu nationalists, only Feiglin’s ideas passed muster. With Israel’s existence potentially on the line, why was Feiglin an issue in an anti-Netanyahu story? When your country is threatened and you claim that a popular leader is going in the wrong direction, you do not boycott. You vote to protect your country. If you oppose Netanyahu’s decisions, then you vote for Feiglin. The choice was that clear. To refuse to support the less-popular-but- pro-Likud Feiglin meant that the primary results—and possibly the fate of Judea/Samaria—were sealed before the voting began.
The second reason Likudniks in the story dismissed Feiglin seemed just as odd: Feiglin, they claimed, was a loser(“hopeless…irrelevant”). This was strangest of all because five days earlier, Arutz Sheva had reported (Poll shows high support for Feiglin in Likud, Gil Ronen, January 17, 2012) that a survey within Likud showed 35% for Feiglin, 51% for Netanyahu and 14% undecided. These numbers suggested not only a potential for serious embarrassment for Netanyahu but the possibility that a Netanyahu victory was “not a complete certainty.” If Netanyahu wanted this primary to confirm his total hegemony over Likud (as reported in the media), straw-poll results like this two weeks before the vote suggested that Feiglin was a formidable and dangerous rival—not a ‘loser’.
But there were losers here. Only half of Likud members voted. Before the election, many Likudniks complained about Netanyahu’s Left-leaning decisions. There was talk of voter defiance against him. But if the final vote-count (which has not yet been verified) does not give Feiglin a vote equal to that straw-poll above, then anti-Netanyahu Likud members have, by ignoring Feiglin, given Netanyahu exactly what many had said they did not want to give him—a blank check. The supposedly pro-Right-non-Feiglin boycotters had said that they wanted to send Netanyahu a message. Well, the message they gave him was, “the party is moving [Netanyahu said post-election]… It moved in my direction [and not to the Right].”
Worse for the non-Feiglin Right, Haaretz wrote (Netanyahu won the Likud battle, but he may lose the war, February 3, 2012) that the big winner of this primary was Feiglin, not Netanyahu, because Feiglin, recognizing that Netanyahu would win, had focused his efforts to strengthen his Knesset power base—and a breakdown of primary numbers confirms that Feiglin has become stronger. Netanyahu won the vote, Feiglin got stronger--and the non-Feiglin Right may have lost more than its voice.
Of course, if voter fraud allegations prove to be true, then the question of who won/who lost will have to be re-calibrated.
Afterword: on Friday, February 10 (just as this essay was being sent to publication), Arutz Sheva ran a news brief: Feiglin staff: we’re not a foreign element in Likud, which reported a reference by Netanyahu on the Knesset television channel that Feiglin voters were ‘foreign’ to Likud. This same language was used by supposedly anti-Netanyahu boycotters to describe Feiglin in the Post story above. How do we respond to supposedly anti-Netanyahu Likudniks calling for a protest boycott against Netanyahu dismissing Feiglin with the same anti-Feiglin language used by Netanyahu? Coincidence—or a slip of the tongue that reveals the boycotters true allegiance (and boycott source)?