Israel is a diverse country with a wide array of opinions on a given topic, but when it comes to Moshe Feiglin, the gushing is universal: the ultra-orthodox oppose him for his opposition to religious parties, the left oppose him for his capitalism and centrality of Judaism in nation-forming and the political center find his views too radical altogether.
With his calm and eloquent demeanor, it is not obvious why Moshe Feiglin is one of the most controversial figures in Israeli politics. Feiglin, who currently serves as the Knesset’s deputy speaker, is a member of the governing Likud party and an old rival of its chairman the incumbent Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
Feiglin, detested by the left and misunderstood by the right, is an anomaly who takes positions that to the masses often seem counterintuitive. But his positions have also won him a fan base of the oddest kind, from yarmulke-wearing settlers to techies roaming the streets of Tel Aviv. In the American context, Feiglin is somewhere between Ayn Rand’s objectivism and the philosophical articulacy of William Buckley.
Feiglin opposes governmental coercion and celebrates choice. He is a believer in man’s ability to thrive without a societal safety net afforded to him by taxpayers, but unlike Rand’s objectivism, recognizes man’s limitations by acting humbly in accordance with the moral code found in the Torah.
As a religious Zionist, he opposes the Zionism of the Israeli left. “Whoever thinks that the state is the supreme value edges uncomfortably close to fascism,” Feiglinlamented. With such statements Feiglin echoes Yeshayahu Leibowitz who warned of putting might of the army ahead of spirituality.
For a thoughtful observer, Feiglin’s demeanor is far from the bombastic and Spartan bearing of the younger generation of Zionist leaders like Naftali Bennett.
Indeed, there is something disconcerting about Naftali Bennett, Danny Danon and Avigdor Liberman. All three act as the guardians of the Jewish people, espouse ideas and solutions without hesitancy or doubt. Many see Feiglin as part of the clique of the populist new right, but to lump Feiglin together with tough-talking Liberman would be to surrender to the power perception and give no credence to substance.
In fact, whether the loyalty oath, biometric passport or the law to ban certain NGO’s, Feiglin seems different. Unlike Liberman, Feiglin’s views emanate from a different tradition and Liberman’s authoritarian instincts are part of the statism which Feiglin opposes.
In a nutshell, Feiglin is a Jewish libertarian, for whom libertarianism should be harnessed to serve the sole purpose of solidifying Israel as a Jewish state. Unlike many of his peers, Feiglin is unwilling to push for laws that might or might not alter the future. Indeed, laws such as the NGO bill and biometric passport are based on the premise that Israelis must be protected from events that might or might not occur.
Indeed, the element of faith seems to be the main difference between Feiglin and his peers on the right.
One Likud insder thinks that Feiglin is out of step with the Israeli public because of his rampant indifference to public opinion.
“Feiglin doesn’t do much to help himself though. He and his movement are anti-PR people. That is, they don’t think about appealing to a wider audience, by picking their strongest issues or finding the right time and manner of pursuing them. They just don’t care. There’s a certain psychology to it.”
Most politicians in Israel succumb to the admittedly heavy web of interests that often force ideologically opposing sides to strike a deal on a decisive issue. Indeed, the perception of Israeli politicians as hardened ideologues is largely false. Party leaderships flock to the center when in the government, and oppose the government when in opposition.
A recent indication of this was witnessed when the nationalist Jewish Home party, led by Naftali Bennett, agreed to stay in the government after it was decided that Israel would release over a hundred terrorists as a good will gesture towards the Palestinians.
For better or worse, Feiglin is neither a populist looking to incite the public nor a party hack always willing to toe the party line. He leads his own faction, Manhigut Yehudit (The Jewish leadership Movement) which for lack of a better comparison is to the Likud what the Tea Party is to the GOP establishment: a pain in the neck. If PM Netanyahu is John Boehner, then Feiglin is Ted Cruz.
U.S aid is another hot button issue that separates Feiglin from the mainstream. Most Israelis take U.S aid as a given. However, most Israelis prefer not to be perceived as America’s Middle Eastern poodle, but only a few are willing to do much about it. Although the relationship between America and Israel is largely mutually beneficial, Feiglin is against U.S. aid to Israel.
“This aid is not in our favor, not economically, not militarily, not in any way. This aid serves psychological purposes, not anything else. We are talking about 1.5 percent of our income, of what Israel is producing — we can definitely deal without it.”
Israelis are generally apathetic when it comes to the conflict, but have begun to regain some of that passion and fervor embedded in the Jewish culture, but easily forgotten in the Mediterranean surroundings where leisurely pursuits often take precedence over philosophy.
Feiglin’s agenda of liberty is starting to resonate although still haunted by his reputation. Many Israelis belonging to the disjointed left, and who thought they had once again found their collective voice during the tent protests of 2011, have started to listen to what Feiglin is preaching.
After failed attempts to achieve better conditions – largely due to the incoherence of the demands and an element of youthful foolishness – the educated Israel middle-class might one day turn its attention to the man they still view with suspicion. Feiglin’s internal rival, Benjamin Netanyahu has lost the battle for the middle class, but Feiglin’s political destiny is yet to be sealed.