One would have thought that Attorney General Avichai Mandeblit’s act of calling for an indictment of Netanyahu on various bribery charges might have fractured his right-leaning allies in the election run-up. That did not happen. Instead, the various parties of the right increased their strength, and former Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Ganz’s Kahol Lavan (Blue and White) party, lost five to six seats in the polls.
The major way to explain this focuses on Netanyahu’s possible coalition partners, who held their own or increased slightly (in the polls). The major party to emerge from the shadows is Moshe Feiglin’s Zehut (Identity) party, which now has four seats and shows daily increases. Let me share with you a piece from a radio interview with him.
“The important issue,” he begins by saying, “is not the ‘peace process’ with the Arabs but the process of building our identity, of building a Jewish state that will restore our lost feeling of collective meaning.”
The development of Feiglin’s party through the last nine or 10 months is based on the Jewish state, only, being concentrated on in mind and deed. “If we properly build a Jewish state of liberty, free of bribery, we will merit peace in Sderot (near Gaza), Kiryat Shmona (the largest city in the Galilee, northern part of Israel.) But if we continue to flee the true challenge – if we continue to search for the solution with our neighbors and not inside the house (Israel) – Tel Aviv will not enjoy quiet, either.”
Moshe Feiglin, having served in the Knesset for the Likud and then being kicked out because Netanyahu believed this “upstart” was even further to the right than the Likud itself, seems to be proving, as he suggests, that Israelis want to know who they are before attempting peace with our neighbors.
No one really knows what that “search” entails, but it seems that Israeli voters are, in their minds, joining Feiglin’s political thrust. When asked whether he will join a Netanyahu coalition or a Ganz coalition, his answer is: “Wait and see which coalition truly espouses my hopes for a stronger Israel within before it can negotiate with its neighbors.” His philosophy offers hope to Israelis tired of the “lies” of the left and the right.
Having offered an explanation of Feiglin, it should be mentioned that from zero, he has over four seats and his numbers are climbing. To one reporter, he boldly said, “We could rise to 10 Knesset seats.” As has been suggested would happen, Labor, the descendant of David Ben-Gurion’s pioneering party, has risen to 10 seats in the polls. The union of the ultra-right-wing parties, including former Rabbi Meir Kahane advocates, is now up to eight seats. The strength of several Arab parties combined is 12 seats. Liberman’s party does not have enough strength to enter the Knesset; and the party of [Moshe] Kahlon, the finance minister, barely enters the next Knesset. Zehut, Feiglin’s party, is siphoning votes and does appear to be getting stronger. We will see what happens in the next polls.
No issues are being discussed; the work being done by the party hacks is just to increase the number of votes for their party. Netanyahu is threatening Hamas that if the balloons keep flying into southern Israel and exploding, along with more powerful missiles being used in attacks, Israel will go in and clear the terrorists out of the Gaza Strip. Really nothing more is being said by him, except to vote for the right.
Clearly, Ganz and his party cannot really oppose the “handling the terrorists” because he ran the last war and knows what needs to be done to halt them for a brief period of time. Since his policy in the election is not to say anything of importance because he is afraid to be attacked, it was a welcome relief this past week when a woman photographer, in disguise, attended a party Ganz held for his young supporters. In her film, he was very engaging about running the country, but not much more.
I did a poll of family and friends. Some whom I know are to the left, holding onto their American liberal roots, cannot stand the prime minister and will do anything so he will be defeated. A few friends have become U.S. President Donald Trump enthusiasts, so they think Netanyahu is a clone and want him reelected. Native Israelis are evenly divided, though in Gush Etzion, Efrat and other communities just outside of Jerusalem, practically all support Netanyahu. I did find three or four Feiglin voters. I am not a part of that sector, so I don’t hear much about those individuals.
The current “actual” number of seats for a right-wing coalition is 63, and for a left-wing coalition, 57. To change the momentum, one of Israel’s best-known actresses and TV moderators, Rotem Sela, made a public statement that Israel is a country of all its citizens. The prime minister made a point at the Cabinet meeting to clarify “mistakes some citizens are making.” “Israel is a Jewish democratic state, which protects the rights of all its citizens. It is not racist.”
Last Thursday, riding on a light railway train near the Central Bus Station, I and all those on our train were caught in a Charedi demonstration. Initially, as I transferred from a bus to the train, I saw giant black horses ridden by policemen prancing along (tongue in cheek). As the train neared the large intersection not far from the bus station, Charedim in the hundreds could be seen. Policemen were dragging some away from the train tracks. Our train was halted by two Charedim in their 20s. I was in the first car right behind the driver so I could see everything that was happening.
My train began to move because the two were pulled away by the police. Then I witnessed what makes the horses experts in halting demonstrations. They fold their front hooves and pin the demonstrators to the ground. Back to our train. We seemed to be on the way to the next stop. A 30-year-old Charedi casually walked onto the tracks and blocked the train. No horn blowing by the driver would move him. He looked at the driver and then looked away from him. When the police came to drag him away, he showed that he “would not be moved easily.” He wrestled with police — guess his muscles were rippling. His hat fell to the ground. Four of Jerusalem’s “finest” finally laid him on the sidewalk and held him down.
Purim is drawing near so I hope all of you will dress up for the holiday. The major masks that I have been noticing here in Israel, as people get the costumes ready: Trump; the president of North Korea Kim Jong-un; Netanyahu; Ganz and Rotem Sela.
Rabbi David Geffen is a native Atlantan and Conservative rabbi who lives in Jerusalem.