Feiglin Sheds his Bristles
Translated from the B’Sheva Newspaper
MK Moshe Feiglin is surprised at the settlers who do not struggle for the Temple Mount and reprimands Yair Lapid who “still hasn’t gotten out of television mode.”
By Yishai Friedman
By Yishai Friedman
Twenty years ago, MK Moshe Feiglin began a long journey. The journey's end is the prime ministerial seat. In the meantime, he has managed to block traffic in the entire country, be put on trial, change the rules of the game in the Likud and feud with Binyamin Netanyahu, who buried a number of land mines under his legs. The land mines delayed the unconventional politician, but did not stop him. Today he is a Member of the Knesset and serves as Deputy Speaker of the Knesset.
The media still don’t know how to digest Feiglin the politician after years of categorizing him as an extremist and crowning him as the leader of a subversive group called “The Feiglinites”: Finally, they have begun to accept him. Feiglin, who is considered the most eloquent and one of the most talented speakers from among the rightist MKs, has become a popular guest in Israel’s television studios and news programming. Even when the media do not agree with him they are much more accepting of him than they were in the past.
Now that the political novice has spent many months of basic training in the Knesset, we set out to meet MK Moshe Feiglin to find out if anything has changed, moved or softened in his well-defined ideology.
“When it comes to my beliefs, I really don’t think that anything has changed. That is expressed in the way I vote in the Knesset,” says Feiglin, sitting down on the swing on his wooden porch. “I cannot vote against my conscience; that simply doesn’t work for me. If there has been any change, it is in my ability to accept different opinions and communicate with others.”
He also has an explanation for the change in his ability to accept and communicate with others: “When I established Zo Artzeinu twenty years ago, the neighbor across the street didn’t know my name. I was simply Tzippy’s husband. But then, with Zo Artzeinu, I blocked traffic in the entire country. Israel came to a halt. All at once, the whole country recognizes you and is forced to form an opinion of you, because they can’t get to work and they can’t get home. During that era, the media was totally drafted to support Peres and Beilin. They turned me into a demon, into their monster. You are in a situation in which you have no way to get your message out to the public without the media, which are on a single track against you. They cannot not interview you because you are the story, but they do everything they can to turn you into a monster. So you appear on the famous political show, Popolitika, and the entire panel sitting around you wants to eat you alive. You have one or two minutes to deliver the knock-out punch. Frequently, I did manage to deliver a knock-out punch, but the price of a punch is that you can’t do it softly. The struggle for the Land of Israel can turn you into a porcupine brandishing its quills.”
Age also has an influence, says the 51 year old Feiglin, as does the serious traffic accident in which his son, David, was injured. “Suddenly, the quill-less part of me was revealed, says Feiglin. “People who couldn’t connect to my political views, began to discover me. This is all on the backdrop of general changes in Israeli society, which understands that Oslo was a mistake.”
Feiglin established the Liberal Caucus in the Knesset, through which some of his unexpected positions come to light. He has become the most vocal proponent of legalization of medical marijuana, opposes mandatory conscription to the IDF and strongly opposes cooperation with China because of its cruel oppression of regime opponents.
Despite the process of softening and acceptance felt by Feiglin, he nonetheless brought some of the “Feiglinism” symptoms with him to the Knesset: He retains his independent and original ideas and most of all – he continues to be a headache for the Prime Minister. Feiglin has been suspended from two Knesset committees after voting against the government coalition. He has also entered a direct confrontation with Netanyahu over the Temple Mount.
Feiglin says that Netanyahu directed the police to prohibit him from visiting the Temple Mount. “When I was elected to a high slot on the Likud list, I had the will and motivation to work with Netanyahu,” says Feiglin. “To that end, I agreed to be a member of many Knesset committees, which is not a simple task. Let’s be honest: The Likud failed in the last elections. It had almost no Knesset Members to represent it on the various parliamentary committees. Almost everyone in the Likud is a minister, deputy minister or committee chairman. They had nobody left over to appoint as committee members. For that reason, I agreed to represent the Likud in seven committees, in addition to the position of Deputy Speaker of the Knesset, which requires you to be available for the plenum sessions."
"Parallel to all this parliamentary effort, I was barred from the Temple Mount. I became aware of this prohibition after several weeks of intense parliamentary work. I made every effort to solve the problem at the lower echelons, far from the PM, for when an issue reaches the PM, it is a dead-end. I went to a number of meetings with the Minister for Internal Security and with the police commanders. Each time they would tell me: Go to the Temple Mount under these conditions. Each time, I would clench my teeth and agree to their conditions, even if that was very difficult for me. Nevertheless, when I would reach the Temple Mount, they would not allow me to enter."
The last thing that the Minister of Internal Security demanded was that I would not announce my visit to the Temple Mount on Facebook. That goes against my entire liberty-based world-view. Nonetheless, I agreed as I didn’t want to get to the point where I brandish my political quills. I felt like a jumbo jet pilot in the midst of rapid acceleration: I was working with the entire party. In a certain sense, I was almost the PM’s favorite: I had no interest in destroying that. But on the evening before my planned ascent to the Temple Mount, the District Police Chief called and told me, in the name of the Prime Minister, that I am barred from visiting the Temple Mount until further notice. As this is a matter of principle, I decided that from that point onward, I would be voting my conscience in the Knesset. In other words, I will be happy to vote with the Coalition if I agree with its stand. But if not, do not expect me to maintain coalition discipline. From that point, my circumstances in the Knesset became difficult and complex.”
Why does Netanyahu oppose your visits to the Temple Mount?
“We are in the midst of a strategic process to cede the Temple Mount,” says Feiglin after a short silence. “In the past, negotiations were first announced amidst handshakes and fanfare on a lawn in Washington, while the Right demonstrated. The current process is just the opposite: They have already reached agreements in principle and now they are going to create the facts on the ground and get the public accustomed to the new reality.”
In other words, they are working on an agreement behind the public’s back?
“The greatest landmines in the past negotiations were Jerusalem in general and the Temple Mount, in particular. Even with Ehud Barak, who was willing to give everything away, the deal fell through over the Temple Mount. That is why they are now using the opposite method: They are ceding the Temple Mount and ceding Jerusalem while declaring that they are doing no such thing. But the facts on the ground show that they are – in front of our eyes. At a certain stage, they will admit the truth and say, ‘What do you want? Just as no Jew steps foot in the Eastern neighborhoods of Jerusalem, so the same is true of the Temple Mount.’
This is a process in which the government is peeling layer after layer of Israeli sovereignty from the Temple Mount. Any act of Israeli sovereignty on the Temple Mount is a catalyst for a blow-out. That is the background of the phone call I received from Netanyahu.“
You are saying something very serious. Netanyahu will surrender the Temple Mount?
“Absolutely. You call it ‘serious,’ but all the Israeli governments since 1967 have ceded the Temple Mount. On Netanyahu’s watch, this phenomenon has accelerated and in my evaluation is coordinated within the framework of a plan: not a surrender here and there, but an overall plan. Why do you think that there is no construction taking place in Jerusalem? The Housing Minister has clearly stated that from the Knesset podium.
Perhaps they fear that the Arabs will riot?
If you have riots, you must overcome them. The issue here is that they want to be rid of the Temple Mount. And the riots suit them well. Or at least, they have no desire to actualize Israeli sovereignty on the Temple Mount, so it is not worth their while to deal with the rioting. They do not believe that the Land of Israel belongs to us. They do not believe that the Temple Mount belongs to us. And so, they do not have the sense of justice that gives us the strength to deal with adversity. This is most obvious on the Temple Mount, but it is also a problem for the residents of Beit El and the residents of Tel Aviv. Israeli youth feel that they are temporary guests in their own home.
And that sense of transience is expressed specifically by the abandonment of the Temple Mount?
If the State of Israel denies it destiny, it actually denies the reason for its existence. Our destiny is intertwined with the Beit Mikdash. Turning our backs on the Temple Mount is the modern-day Sin of the Spies. Even though the youngster from Tel Aviv who feels transient in his own land never heard about and does not understand what I just said, this necessarily results in a growing lack of legitimacy in the entire world for the very existence of a Jewish State. Actually, the State of Israel did build a Temple: It is the Holocaust Museum, Yad Vashem. Yad Vashem is the temple of our existence to which we bring all the visiting dignitaries, explaining to them that we are here because if not, they burn us to ashes. The first to pay the price will be the youngster from Beit El. Those who are supposed to herald this message Jewish destiny to the nation and world but don’t, are specifically the people who went to Judea and Samaria.
The settlers are those who are in denial about the Temple Mount?
The groups that visit the Temple Mount are still very small. I would expect that what I have just said would be understood first and foremost by the people who ran to Beit El and Sebastia. As a rule, if a person or group has a mission that they do not accomplish, they are the first to pay the price. We like to blame the secular or the leftists, but the problem is ours. I also cannot complain about Netanyahu or the police, because if only twenty Jews a day visit the Temple Mount, as opposed to tens of thousands of Arabs, then all my words are meaningless.”
Feiglin’s criticism of the National Religious public and its political conduct is not restricted to the Temple Mount issue. Despite the increase in its Knesset seats, Feiglin says that the Jewish Home party has not succeeded in emerging from the sectoral box.
Bennet is Minister of Finance, Uri Ariel is Housing Minister, Slomianski is Chairman of the Finance Committee and Feiglin is just a simple MK. Who has more influence?
“When I established ‘Zo Artzeinu’, one of the personalities who joined Shmuel Sackett and myself was Rabbi Benny Alon. I decided to take the great credit that we had accrued with ‘Zo Artzeinu’ and to invest it in the idea and not in a personal political career. My feeling was that the Knesset was not the goal. Rabbi Benny Alon, who has done many good things and whom I respect, chose otherwise. After half a year, he was in the Knesset and even served as a minister in several different governments. From the historical perspective of twenty years, who has left his mark on Israeli society? Rabbi Benny Alon, who was a minister several times? Or yours truly? That is my vantage point. I have a goal. We planted our stake at the peak of the mountain – not one centimeter below. Our progress is slow and cumbersome because I insisted on advancing within the political framework that is relevant to the goal. My political conduct is designed to project and create a new mentality in the public close to me. So I am not a minister, and it took me twenty years to be elected to the Knesset. But where is the talk about faith-based leadership in the Jewish Home? What language does Naftali Bennet use? Whose words does he speak? By the way, he does not deny this. A new language has been created; a new dream has been woven, and that is the most important thing. We planted a new dream within the public.”
As opposed to the Jewish Home, you do not attempt to influence the Jewish face of the State. For example, you criticized the Jewish Home for their struggle for a Zionist Chief Rabbi.
That is not true. On this issue, I think that the person who proposed the most significant idea – that there should be one Chief Rabbi instead of two – was me. And look what happened: Naftali Bennett adopted the proposal, lock, stock and barrel. I am certainly involved with shaping and strengthening the Jewish identity of Israeli society. But I do not deal with sectoral issues – how to advance the cause of a particular sector. I really do not care if the Chief Rabbi is Ashkenazi or Sepharadi, or if he wears a black or knitted kippah.
But you are closer to the redemptive approach of Rabbi Kook, so you should be very concerned about the identity of the Chief Rabbi.
The entire idea of a Chief Rabbi is becoming less and less relevant. We do not have two Chiefs of Staff, two Prime Ministers – Ashkenazi and Sepharadi. But we do have two Chief Rabbis. After one hundred years of national renaissance, the time has come for religion to begin to do teshuvah. The Chief Rabbinate has become a political struggle between sectors. Aryeh Deri walks around in the Knesset victorious because he brought Rabbi Ovadiah (ed: this interview was conducted before Rabbi Ovadiah zatzal’s passing) the sought-after prize, while the National Religious are abject. In another 50 years, I am sure that nobody will remember what the argument between the knitted and black kippot was. When you will tell them that the argument was over if the State of Israel is the beginning of our redemption or the work of the devil, they will simply laugh.”
Are the 12 seats of the Jewish Home party nothing more than a political bubble?
“As opposed to Lapid’s Yesh Atid party, the Jewish Home has ideological and social foundations. Political parties are like stocks. They have their real price and the value at which they are being traded at a given point in time. The value of the National Religious Party is approximately 8 Knesset seats. For a long time, the NRP was traded for less than its real value, due to internal disputes and lack of electoral savvy. For over twenty years, the Religious Zionist public has been disinherited from its position as representative of Jewish identity. The ultra-Orthodox public that does not serve in the army as do the Religious Zionists, outstripped them and now represents the religious public. Suddenly, an opportunity to restore the National Religious public’s lost status arose and that boosted its stock over and above its true value. Naftali understands what his more conservative party colleagues do not: the secret of success for the party is the non-observant public. In my opinion, he will not succeed in emerging from the party’s sectoral essence.”
In the past, you wrote that Yair Lapid has not gotten past the medium of television. Please explain.
“Yair Lapid has a wonderful stage presence. There is no doubt about that. He is an extraordinary rhetorician.The best. But that is not all that is needed to build a state. The same is true of Obama. There is a post-modern perception that says: There is no truth, only narratives. That is a television-based perception in which there is no reality except for what is on the screen. This approach works well in the short run and brought Lapid 19 seats. But examine what he really says. Not much, if anything. What did he do right? He created a feeling, an atmosphere. But when you begin to face reality, it suddenly turns out that the budget deficit is not because of the ultra-Orthodox. If there is a sector that is responsible for the budget deficit, it is the Arabs. But it is extremely not-politically-correct to say that. So we blamed the ultra-Orthodox and gained some points. But the deficit remained. Dealing with the security budget doesn’t go over well on television because the public relates to the draft as a type of bar-mitzvah rite – despite the fact that it eats up our funds. Dealing with the money we spend on the peace industry is certainly not television material. All that we have left is the milk cow called the middle class. Lapid is doing the very things that he railed against.
So Lapid, like his father, will disappear off the political map?
Lapid has qualities that his father did not have. He knows how to appoint very bright people to surround him and the list of people he brought to the Knesset is very impressive. He has elements that do express a true public need; elements of an attempt to connect, in his own way, to the Jewish identity that he has. He placed a rabbi on the second spot on his Knesset list and included Ruth Calderon on his list. He himself studies Torah. In other words, his Jewish identity interests him. Yair Lapid is not Tommy Lapid, despite the fact that he inherited his father’s objection to the ultra-Orthodox. In my estimation, Yesh Atid will significantly contract, but will not disappear so quickly.”
When asked if he still believes that he will sit one day in the prime minister’s chair, he answers without pause. His opinion has not changed or softened. The Likud will lose the ruling position, Feiglin says, if he will not be at its head. “The Israeli center today is searching for meaning and liberty. That message is lacking today. Although I respect them both, Lapid and Bennett do not herald a new message. Nothing new has come from them. The only one in the Knesset with a new message is me. If I am not at the head of the Likud in the next elections, the Likud will not win. “
Feiglin divides his time between his Knesset duties to caring for the health of his family. His wife, Tzippy, suffers from Parkinson’s Disease and his son David is recuperating from a severe traffic accident. His son was in a coma for three months after the accident. Since he woke up three years ago, he is in the process of rehabilitation from the head injury that he sustained. “I have a lot of discussions with my son,” says Feiglin and is quiet for some time. “He asks me, ‘Why did G-d do this to me?’ and I tell him that I do not know, but after we pass on and see the entire film, we will understand that it was all for the best. If we are lucky, maybe we will be able to understand that while we are still alive. But we must believe that all is for the best. It is not at all easy to deal with this while being so busy with my public duties. I believe that my coping with my family issues brings my ability to cope with public issues to a more mature place."
Did you ever have a moment of crisis? Of despair?
“No, I never had a moment like that,” Feiglin says decisively. “I certainly am not saying that it is easy. But I never had a crisis and I pray that I never will. I pray that G-d will give me strength.”