Supporters hoping to meet Zehut party leader Moshe Feiglin at an upscale central Tel Aviv middle school on Tuesday had their hopes temporarily dashed when the candidate, running late after visiting a number of other voting stations in central Tel Aviv, said he had to cancel the last stop before his lunch break.
But luckily there was a bake sale going on, and this reporter stuck around, enticed by the aromas of the home-baked goods and the espresso machine in the 6th grade classroom at the Gabrieli Carmel School. The enterprising kids raised more than NIS 2,000 ($560) selling their parents’ cookies and cakes and fresh-squeezed lemonade, which they earmarked for renting sound and light machines for their end-of-the-year party.
“The brownies and chocolate are our bestsellers,” said Mika, 12. “We’ve been going around with trays, trying to get people to buy. We do not provide receipts.”
When Feiglin finally changed his mind and showed up at the school, located in a wealthy, left-leaning neighborhood of Tel Aviv, he politely declined the baked goods, saying that he was about to break for lunch.
Feiglin, who appeared relaxed, clad in blue jeans (but not the black turtleneck that has recently become his signature apparel), has emerged as the election’s surprise phenomenon, with a pro-marijuana and ultranationalist libertarian platform. He said he was feeling confident about the results.
“There is a new generation in Israel that knows what to wish for: the taste of liberty, the taste of freedom speaks to them,” Feiglin told The Times of Israel just outside the voting booths.
“I think the English-speakers in Israel know the taste [of freedom]. There’s no reason why so many Israelis should be living in America. It’s because they don’t have this kind of freedom here in Israel — the economic freedom, the freedom of education, the freedom to speak to each other without feeling threatened… That’s the message of Zehut, and it’s catching, it’s exciting.”
“Instead of longing for what you had in America, bring America here,” he added.
With the pro-cannabis Green Leaf party not running in general elections for the first time in 20 years, legalization advocates have gradually warmed to Zehut and Feiglin, who cannily made legalization a plank of his radical and iconoclastic manifesto.
The final polls of the campaign late last week showed Zehut bound for five to seven seats in the 120-member Knesset. If that proves accurate, perennial outcast Feiglin could be poised to play kingmaker when it comes to post-election coalition-building, winning ministerial representation and being well-placed to demand the implementation of some of his key demands.
Initially, as he sought to maximize his popularity, Feiglin played down his far-right nationalist and religious positions. But as support for Zehut has grown, he has emerged from the clouds of marijuana smoke and embraced the ideological purism that has seen him rail against establishment thinking since the early 1990s. Upending established political wisdom, however, did not alienate voters; to the contrary, more and more seemed to be heading his way.
Tel Aviv voter Adi Goldenzweig, a PhD student at the Weizmann Institute in Life Sciences, saw Feiglin on her way to vote, and pressed him on whether he would allow Knesset representatives from his party, which plays up liberty and freedom, to vote as they wished on bills or if they would be required to vote as a bloc.
Feiglin said that on issues that he touches on in his 344-page political manifesto – now the third-best-selling book in Israel – the party will vote as a bloc, but on other issues, members can vote according to their own conscience.
Goldenzweig said that while she appreciated that Feiglin was a much more consistent candidate than other politicians, who seem to flip flop according to the public’s whims, she came planning to vote for Labor and her discussion with Feiglin wasn’t going to change her mind.
“I don’t support his economic platform, and I don’t care about cannabis,” she said. “And I would never vote for someone who can’t shake my hand.”
Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.