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Feiglin says his party ‘similar’ to extremist Otzma Yehudit on Palestinian issue

Zehut head asserts faction concerned chiefly with economic and education issues, but admits that supporters of far-right slate would welcome his plan to transfer Palestinians

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Zehut party chairman Moshe Feiglin (R) is interviewed by TOI political correspondent Raoul Wootliff in Tel Aviv on March 23, 2019. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)
Zehut party chairman Moshe Feiglin (R) is interviewed by TOI political correspondent Raoul Wootliff in Tel Aviv on March 23, 2019. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

Zehut head Moshe Feiglin said Saturday his party has a similar stance to the extreme-right Otzma Yehudit on matters pertaining to the Palestinians, but said his faction was running for the Knesset in order to focus primarily on economic and educational issues.

In an on-stage interview in Tel Aviv co-hosted by The Times of Israel, the head of the up-and-coming party known chiefly for its pro-marijuana legalization stance detailed his support for encouraging Palestinians to emigrate from the West Bank and Gaza Strip — a key facet of Otzma Yehudit’s platform.

Pressed to explain the difference between his party and the slate of self-described Meir Kahane disciples, Feiglin said that for Otzma Yehudit the Palestinian question “is the only issue,” as opposed to his party, which has a far “wider” platform.

“In this election, we are focusing on economy and education. When I will be the prime minister, I’m sure the Otzma people will happily vote for this plan,” the Zehut head said, referring to his encouraged emigration proposal.

Otzma Yehudit party members Michael Ben Ari (C), Itamar Ben Gvir (R) and Baruch Marzel (L) speak during a press conference held in response to the Supreme Court decision to disqualify Michael Ben Ari’s candidacy for the upcoming Knesset elections, due to his racist views, in Jerusalem on March 17, 2019.(Yonatan Sindel/FLash90)

“On that specific question, which unfortunately the Zehut party is not going to deal with in the coming few years, we may see things similar[ly],” he added.

Feiglin was speaking at the latest in a series of English-language events co-hosted by The Times of Israel along with the Tel Aviv International Salon and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, leading up to Israel’s national elections on April 9. The Zehut chairman was interviewed by The Times of Israel’s political correspondent, Raoul Wootliff.

Explaining his support for a one-state solution, Feiglin asserted that over 90 percent of Palestinians in Gaza and 65% of Palestinians in the West Bank already prefer to emigrate, making it possible for Israel to maintain a Jewish majority between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. He did not specify a source for the statistics and the Zehut party was not immediately able to provide one either.

As for the “minority” of Palestinians who chose to forgo the economic incentives and remain, Feiglin said they would be given permanent residency and receive “full human rights” but would not be granted the same “civilian rights” as Israelis.

In addition, those Palestinians who — “for some reason that I can’t even think of” — were interested in obtaining citizenship would be able to do so through a “long process” during which they would be required to “openly swear loyalty to the Jewish state,” Feiglin said, assuring that such an approach would ensure “a real peace.”

Moshe Feiglin, head of Zehut, speaks at the party’s campaign opening event in Tel Aviv on January 30, 2019. (Flash90)

The Zehut chairman and ex-Likud lawmaker first gained national prominence as the founder of the Zo Artzeinu protest movement, which hoped to thwart the 1993 Oslo Accords by blocking traffic across Israel.

“The situation we had in those places (the West Bank and Gaza Strip) before Oslo was a million times better than today,” Feiglin claimed. “The 20 years that passed since then made us forget that there were no rockets on Sderot or buses blowing up.”

Feiglin advocated for Israel retaking military control within Gaza, arguing that the residents of the coastal enclave would receive “more human rights” than those they currently enjoy under Hamas.

But while many of the questions focused on security issues, Feiglin urged the audience to ask him about his education and economic agenda, adding that his party would demand in coalition negotiations following the elections to head the education and finance ministries.

The quasi-libertarian party is promising to revamp Israel’s education system to resemble the US voucher program. However, Feiglin clarified Saturday that he would not force the policy on uninterested parents and schools.

Zehut head Moshe Feiglin, meets potential voters in Jerusalem on March 13, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

He said his government would “encourage parents to establish boutique schools specializing in specific topics,” but that “the old system will remain for those who want it.”

Elaborating on his party’s intention to introduce aggressive free-market economic policies, Feiglin highlighted his support for a flat income tax. While he refrained from offering an exact percentage for the levy, he said “our dream is [for it to be] as low as can be.”

While most polls at the start of the election season did not predict Zehut crossing the electoral threshold — 3.25% of the national vote — surveys in the last month have begun to suggest that Feiglin’s party will receive at least four seats in the upcoming Knesset.

Many analysts have credited Zehut’s rise to its marijuana policy, which the leaders of several other parties have subsequently begun speaking in favor of.

Feiglin has said that he will make support for legalization a condition for any government his party will enter.

Zehut party leader Moshe Feiglin attends an election campaign event in Sderot, Israel, March 14, 2019. (Tsafrir Abayov/AP)

Asked if he’d be willing to sit in a left-wing government with the Meretz party, which also supports legalization, Feiglin said: “We’re not going to give away Jerusalem for legalization.

“These 344 pages [of our platform] show a very specific loyalty to every inch and every grain of our holy land,” he added, dismissing the possibility of being part of a government that would trade land for peace.

At the same time, he refused to rule out sitting in a coalition led by Blue and White party chairman Benny Gantz.

Feiglin argued that both Gantz and Likud Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offer policies of “the deep state and two-state solution,” while only Zehut offers a “free state and a one state solution.”

“I’m going to see which side is going to give me a better chance to work for you,” he said.

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