The next Prime Minister of Israel

Posted: Jan 05, 2005 12:00 AM

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon referred to them as "crazy extremist intruders." Tommy Lapid, leader of the Shinui party in the Israeli Knesset, says they are "fascisizing Israeli politics." "They" are the members of the Manhigut Yehudit (Jewish Leadership) faction within the ruling Likud Party. Their leader is Moshe Feiglin. As the Christian Science Monitor says, "Mr. Feiglin has become an increasingly potent political force who, even his detractors concede, can no longer be ignored."

 Feiglin shouldn't be ignored -- he should be encouraged. He embodies the future of Israel, a future in which true Jewish values will guide political decisions. It is Feiglin and Manhigut Yehudit that have opposed Ariel Sharon's capitulation to terror in the form of a pullout from the Gaza Strip. It is Feiglin and Manhigut Yehudit that have stood up against Sharon's unilateral withdrawal from Israeli territory through the Trojan Horse of the security fence. It is Feiglin and Manhigut Yehudit that have called attention to the fact that Sharon's government has broken faith with the Israelis who elected it by contravening the stated platform of the Likud Party.

 Feiglin, age 42, has been a rising power in Israeli politics for the last decade. During the early days of the disastrous Oslo "Peace" Process, Feiglin organized Zo Artzeinu (This Is Our Land), a group dedicated to non-violent opposition to Oslo. Tens of thousands of Israelis joined him and held sit-down strikes to protest the Accords. Feiglin was jailed for "sedition" by the Yitzhak Rabin government, which would brook no dissent. In 1999, Feiglin decided to join the Likud and bring change from the inside. His Manhigut Yehudit is now the largest faction within the Likud Central Committee, the body that decides Likud Party policy.

 I had the opportunity to speak with Feiglin on Dec. 29 by phone from Israel. What came across in our conversation was Feiglin's deep-rooted faith in God and in the eternal vitality of Jewish identity. Feiglin criticized Prime Minister Sharon, explaining that Sharon "has the wrong identity. You can't really ask why Sharon is giving in without asking why every Likud prime minister, from (Menachem) Begin to (Yitzhak) Shamir to (Benyamin) Netanyahu, has also given in. The reason is because they all have the wrong identities. To try to separate God from Israeli politics is a mistake, but the Israeli government has been doing it all along."

 Feiglin cited the 1967 Six Day War to exemplify what he meant: "When Israel liberated Jerusalem in 1967 from the Jordanians, they raised the Israeli flag over Har HaBayit (the Temple Mount). Two hours later, Moshe Dayan, the Israeli general, took it down. ... His problem was that he was afraid of the re-establishment of Beit HaMikdash (the Holy Temple). He was afraid that if the Israeli flag stayed over Har HaBait, in 100 or 200 years, all of a sudden, the Beit HaMikdash would be standing again."

 But Feiglin, unlike Dayan, is unafraid of a renewed, vibrant Jewish identity. "I have a different dream," he said. "I want to move toward the goal of Beit HaMikdash. I may not see it in my lifetime, but if you have the correct goal, you have the correct identity, and if you have the correct identity, you can take the correct means and measures."

 Feiglin feels that redefining Jewish identity is integral to building "not only a real Jewish state but also a free and democratic Jewish society in Israel." His clarion call for a fundamental redefinition of Jewish identity and the Jewish state intimidates many, including Sharon, who sees Feiglin as his chief political opponent. But Feiglin has what Sharon lacks: "that vision thing." While Sharon may be a masterful day-to-day politician, he lacks a long-term plan. Political machinations cannot overcome the simple fact that a weak-kneed Israel, an ashamed Israel, a self-loathing Israel is an Israel that cannot survive.

 Feiglin recognizes that Israel's largest problem is not intractable external enemies but internal identity. And he seeks a solution not in complacency and appeasement but in that elite-scorned idea, national pride. "I'm calling for a complete revolution in Jewish identity," Feiglin stated. "We need to identify as Jews through the Torah (Bible), because you can't identify the enemy until you identify yourself. Once you know who you are, and once you know that what you are doing is justice, fighting the enemy becomes simple."

 It is a lofty goal. Feiglin remains unwavering in his pursuit of it. As he once wrote, "The Jewish people deserves leadership capable of extricating it from these dire straits and realizing its mission -- putting the world to rights in the kingdom of the Almighty. It deserves leadership based on belief." And Feiglin deserves a chance to be that leader.