Feiglin confirms meeting Bennett to discuss cooperating in elections

Zehut party head says he held ‘long and positive’ talk with New Right leader, calls for further partnerships with like-minded politicians

Zehut party leader Moshe Feiglin speaks at a Passover event in Tel Aviv, April 14, 2019. (Flash90)
Zehut party leader Moshe Feiglin speaks at a Passover event in Tel Aviv, April 14, 2019. (Flash90)

Far-right politician and head of the quasi-libertarian, pro-cannabis Zehut party Moshe Feiglin confirmed Saturday that he had met with New Right leader Naftali Bennett to discuss cooperating in the upcoming election campaign.

Both the Zehut and New Right parties failed to clear the electoral threshold to make it into the 21st Knesset in the April 9 elections, but are looking to make a political comeback in the September 17 elections following the dissolution of the parliament on Wednesday.

“The meeting was long and positive, and it certainly seems that there is a basis for further examination of the possibility of cooperation in the upcoming elections,” Feiglin wrote on his Facebook page.

“After the loss of the elections and in light of the lessons we have learned, it is important for us to emphasize that the Zehut party is indeed open to political connections. But these connections will be made only with parties which share our same values,” he wrote.

He said his recent campaign had created a new political movement in Israel, which he dubbed the “freedom camp,” and called for further cooperation between like-minded political players.

“120,000 Israeli citizens voted for the idea of freedom built on a base of Judaism,” Feiglin wrote. “Zehut will continue to act to advance personal freedom alongside efforts to strengthen Jewish identity and national values.”

“We call upon every political entity that sees itself as part of the freedom camp to put personal considerations aside and to join together in a technical bloc that will run on a united list in the coming elections,” he wrote.

He went on to call for open primaries, available to all members of the Israeli public, to determine who would head the “freedom camp” in the September 17 elections. He called for Bennett and popular co-leader of the New Right Ayelet Shaked to participate in the primaries.

Naftali Bennett, left, and Ayelet Shaked, right. (Flash90)

A Friday report said that Bennett was planning a political comeback and was working to persuade several small right-wing parties, including the far-right Otzma Yehudit, to run on a joint ticket in the September 17 elections.

It wasn’t immediately clear if Shaked, who along with Bennett left the Jewish Home party to form the New Right ahead of the previous election, would part ways with her longtime political partner.

On Saturday, Channel 13 news reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was mulling firing Bennett and Shaked from his interim cabinet and replacing them with members of his own party as he gears for the upcoming vote. Since tanking in the last election, the two are no longer members of the Knesset, but remain part of the cabinet for the time being. Bennett serves as Education Minister and Shaked as Justice Minister.

For a time, Feiglin’s Zehut was seen as the Cinderella story of the campaign season, after years of the politician wandering in the political wilderness. Early polls ignored the party, but, as its cannabis position took center stage, Zehut gradually grew in popularity, with most polls predicting it would win four to seven seats.

However, it ultimately failed to pass the 3.25 percent electoral threshold, gaining 2.73% of the April 9 vote with 117,587 ballots.

Zehut had presented a broad plan to “end the persecution of cannabis users” through “full and regulated legalization of cannabis, based on the restrictions on the sale of alcohol and on the restrictions already in use where cannabis is legal.” Feiglin also sought to play up other libertarian domestic policies, including an anti-labor union platform, school vouchers, animal rights and free market economics.

As he sought to maximize his popularity, Feiglin had mostly played down his radical nationalist and religious far-right positions — even though they are set out in full in his 344-page bestselling manifesto — in favor of his message of personal freedom.

Moshe Feiglin, head of the Zehut, during an election campaign tour in the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem on April 4, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

On Thursday morning, hours after the Knesset voted to disperse and set new elections on September 17 amid a deadlock in coalition negotiations, Feiglin gave a blitz of interviews, announcing that he would run again. He said that while Zehut’s platform would remain the same, the party’s strategy would be different as several conclusions drawn from the previous failure would be implemented.

Feiglin said he would be open to collaborating and joining forces with other parties to increase the chance of clearing the threshold.

“In these elections we will weigh mergers with other right-wing parties,” he told Channel 13. “We are open to mergers.”

Apart from that, Feiglin said the main change he would make was that unlike the previous campaign, when he refused to commit to backing Netanyahu as prime minister and said he would join any government that would accept his demands, Zehut would this time around clarify from the start that it is a right-wing party.

In a social media video published Wednesday night, even before the Knesset vote, Feiglin said he would not recommend as premier anyone from the left.

Another takeaway was to be “more modest,” he said.

“We still want cannabis legalization but now we are modest and not presenting conditions,” he added, referring to his stated key demand ahead of the previous election.

“The policy platform is the same platform, the principles are the same principles, but the style will be different and much more modest,” Feiglin told Army Radio.

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