Feiglin says he’ll run again in September elections, will be ‘more modest’

Zehut leader vows to learn lessons of his failure in April; will clarify party is right-wing, open to merging with other slates

Michael Bachner is a news editor at The Times of Israel

Zehut party leader Moshe Feiglin is seen in Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda market, during a campaign stop on April 4, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Zehut party leader Moshe Feiglin is seen in Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda market, during a campaign stop on April 4, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Months after his surprise rise and demise in April’s elections, far-right politician Moshe Feiglin said Thursday that he would again try to be elected to the Knesset in the upcoming September vote with his quasi-libertarian, pro-cannabis Zehut party.

For a time, Zehut was seen as the Cinderella story of the campaign season, after years of Feiglin 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.

Zehut activists react with disbelief as exit polls predict their party will not clear the minimum threshold to enter the Knesset, in Ramat Gan on April 9, 2019. (Melanie Lidman/Times of Israel)

After his failure to enter the parliament in April, Feiglin claimed there had been a concerted campaign against Zehut from the entire political spectrum.

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.”

Education Minister Naftali Bennett at a press conference for his New Right party in the southern port city of Ashdod on March 26, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Asked if he was considering a merger with Naftali Bennett’s New Right party, which also failed to win Knesset seats in April, Feiglin said he wouldn’t “talk now about things that are happening behind the scenes.”

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.

Raoul Wootliff and Melanie Lidman contributed to this report. 

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