Tel Aviv — He’s the man who has brought God into Israel’s ruling Likud party and is perhaps the most important party insider you’ve never heard of.
A bearded, yarmulke-wearing settler, Moshe Feiglin sips coffee and says with conviction that he will lead Likud further right and will become prime minister. He doesn’t have a Knesset seat, and he talks like a dreamer, but analysts say he may control more than one-fifth of the votes on Likud party committees that select candidates for the Knesset.
“Feiglin and people associated with Feiglin have actually restricted Netanyahu’s orientation to the center,” said Abraham Diskin, a political scientist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Feiglin, a resident of the West Bank settlement Karnei Shomron, joined Likud 12 years ago, after years of grassroots activism, with the explicit goal of radicalizing the party from the inside. And in February, after long years of building up support within the party’s central committee, he made his strongest bid so far to lead the party that governs Israel. His movement, Manhigut Yehudit, or Jewish Leadership, had recruited about one in 10 of the 100,000 Likud members eligible to vote in the party primary, but his popularity in that election went well beyond these loyalists. In the Likud primary contest that month, he received almost one in four votes.
While this left Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu firmly in the helm as party leader, his rivalry with Feiglin is far from over. In fact, it may be about to go into full swing.
The decision by the centrist Kadima party to walk out of the ruling coalition on July 17, just 70 days after agreeing to join, has fueled rumors that elections could be in the cards again. If so, this will necessitate a new party primary to select a list of Likud candidates for the next Knesset — a task over which analysts say Feiglin will have significant power.
“He can make a difference by pushing hawkish Likud members up the list, making the ability of Netanyahu to follow policies of the center more difficult,” Diskin said. If the Likud is returned to the Knesset with a strong Feiglin contingency, he said, Netanyahu could never repeat the 10-month freeze on the expansion of Jewish settlements on the occupied West Bank that he offered the United States in 2009–2010.
During a period in which all meaningful power politics is taking place within the right, Gidi Grinstein, founder and president of the Reut Institute think-tank, believes that Feiglin’s effort is currently “splitting Likud” between those willing to discuss territorial compromise and those seeking to drive a stake through any such impulse.