Don’t get me wrong: far-right Likud MK Moshe Feiglin is one of the most dangerous men in Israeli politics. Even Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu recognizes this – to the extent that he has resorted in the past to banning his parliamentary colleague from visiting the Temple Mount, declaring such a visit a real threat to national security.
Feiglin is also a threat to Netanyahu politically. President of the Jewish Leadership faction within the Likud, a group which gains its support primarily from settlement activists and which originated from the violently anti-Oslo Zo Artzeinu protest movement, Feiglin has repeatedly challenged Netanyahu’s leadership of the Likud.
Despite his extremist views – for example, only Jews deserve to be full citizens of Israel and that Israel should annex the West Bank and expel the Wakf Muslim Religious Trust from the Temple Mount – Feiglin succeeded in capturing almost a quarter of the votes in the 2012 Likud leadership elections, and his base inside the Likud continues to grow. Senior Likud ministers such as Limor Livnat have accused Feiglin and his supporters of being a fifth column inside the party, seeking to take it over despite not sharing its democratic values or even voting for it come election day.
And yet, one has to admire Feiglin’s day-to-day work in the Knesset. Unlike serial provocateur Miri Regev, Feiglin is a serious legislator who succeeds, most of the time, in keeping his Temple Mount obsession in check.
While the Likud’s Regev goes in search of the next day’s headlines with publicity stunts such as tabling bills calling for the annexation of the Jordan Valley; demanding that 61 MKs would have to preapprove any negotiations on Jerusalem or the status of Palestinian refugees; or her latest and most ridiculous, a bill that would prohibit supporters of the Israeli-Arab Bnei Sakhnin soccer team from waving Palestinian flags during games, Feiglin ignores the daily chatter about the peace process and works diligently on matters that might actually improve Israeli citizens’ daily lives.
His most noteworthy, although ultimately unsuccessful, contribution in this Knesset has been his lobbying in favor of expanding access to medical marijuana. At present, around 14,000 Israelis have prescriptions for medical marijuana to help them combat chronic pain, but until recently only 20 doctors countrywide had the authority to prescribe the drug.
Feiglin tabled a bill that would allow all general practitioners to prescribe medical marijuana, arguing that such a step would prevent great suffering as well as a situation in which patients “are turned into criminals against their will,” due to having to resort to getting the drug from illegal suppliers.
Unfortunately, Health Minister Yael German scuppered Feiglin’s proposed legislation, on the grounds that as there are no clear prescription protocols for doctors when it comes to marijuana, Feiglin’s bill would, in effect, pressure doctors “to write a cannabis prescription for any bump, headache or toothache,” and turn physicians into licensed cannabis dealers. Instead, the cabinet approved new regulations merely increasing the number of physicians authorized to prescribe the drug to their patients to 31, which will do next to nothing to help the many thousands who need quick access to a medication that can relieve their pain.
Feiglin is not alone in the Knesset in terms of representing a beyond-the-consensus political view on the one hand, while working hard on unglamorous issues on the other.
On the other side of political spectrum Dov Henin, from the Arab-Jewish party Hadash, is another such politician, whose serious work as the co-chair of the Knesset’s Socio-Environmental Caucus has made him one of the country’s most impressive legislators.
But regrettably, Feiglin and Henin are in the minority when it comes to working hard on issues that are not guaranteed to raise a headline. As the recent case of Netanyahu’s Jersey bank account shows, most of our politicians are more interested in jumping on a bandwagon than seeking to make a positive difference on anything that could actually improve Israeli citizens’ lives.
If, as Netanyahu maintains, he held a Jersey bank account as a private citizen between 1999 and 2002, and reported the existence of this account to the tax authorities and state comptroller as required by law, then there is no scandal – and yet, Labor’s Shelly Yacimovich and Itzik Shmuli both felt duty-bound to jump into the fray with demands that politicians publicly reveal their financial affairs at the beginning of each Knesset term.
Such populism is wearisome; our political leaders already have to lodge a full report of their wealth with the state comptroller as a defense against corruption, and there is no public interest to be served in making these reports public. Instead of sticking their noses into other people’s bank accounts, Yacimovich and Shmuli would be better off keeping their noses to the grindstone and seeking to promote legislation, a la Feiglin, that could affect people’s lives for the better.
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.