Moshe Feiglin says his right-wing Zehut party won’t run in March elections

Politician, who failed twice to win Knesset seats after promising initial opinion polls, says arena is not ready for messages that are beyond pro- or anti-Netanyahu

Zehut leader Moshe Feiglin submits his party's list of candidates to the Central Elections Committee at the Knesset on July 31, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Zehut leader Moshe Feiglin submits his party's list of candidates to the Central Elections Committee at the Knesset on July 31, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Moshe Feiglin, whose right-wing libertarian Zehut party was poised to be the surprise of the elections in April but ended up failing in that vote and withdrawing from the September one, announced Friday that the party would not be running for a third time, saying it will continue operating and promoting its agenda outside the political arena.

Zehut advocates far-right nationalism combined with small-government libertarianism, and had drawn support from an eclectic mix of voters ranging from far-right settlement yeshiva students to pot legalization advocates in left-leaning Tel Aviv. It advocates annexing the West Bank and retaking Gaza, alongside the virtual dismantling of the state rabbinate and other Orthodox-controlled state religious services, and the total legalization of pot, including for recreational use.

Despite many on the right expecting Zehut to now team up with a right-wing religious party to try and boost the political camp in the March 2 elections, which were called Wednesday night after the two inconclusive votes, Feiglin wrote Friday in a lengthy Facebook post that the party would not be running in any form.

“The current political climate prevents any attentiveness to Zehut’s message,” he said of the party’s attempt during the April election to blur the lines between right and left and not commit to backing either camp. The party, he said, was focused on redirecting the discourse to questions of identity (“Zehut” means identity in Hebrew) and Israeliness versus Judaism.

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

He recalled the time before the April election that opinion polls were predicting as many as eight Knesset seats for his party, and admitted he became overconfident and made mistakes that left the party under the electoral threshold.

Feiglin said that the central recommendation from supporters ahead of the September election — to unequivocally state Zehut would back Netanyahu — was implemented, and “that was a big mistake.”

“We lost the special and free space we created for our message and became a superfluous, weird and unclear part of the vision-less right wing. We got completely lost in the old and vapid right/left space, which closes its ears to any message that isn’t either pro- or anti-Netanyahu,” he wrote.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Zehut party leader Moshe Feiglin at a joint press conference at Kfar Hamacabiah in Ramat Gan announcing Zehut’s withdrawal from the September elections, on August 29, 2019. (Flash90)

Feiglin ended up bowing out of the elections and announcing its support for Netanyahu in exchange for a promised ministerial portfolio for Feiglin — a deal that is now off after the premier couldn’t form a government.

Feiglin said Zehut can never run as part of an alliance with another party, since that may make him a lawmaker, but “would drown Zehut’s message.”

If the party cannot run alone for the Knesset, “it must wait, act as an ideological movement, create renewed attentiveness to its ideas and rebuild the right space for its message.”

The party will now work to repay its considerable debt as a result of two failed election campaigns, Feiglin said, promising Zehut will be back some day.

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