Rivals tear into Netanyahu for ‘teaming up with extremist’ Feiglin

Blue and White says PM ‘bought’ Zehut party’s withdrawal in exchange for immunity from prosecution; Democratic Camp alleges election fraud

Prime Minister and Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Zehut party chairman Moshe Feiglin (L) give a joint press statement in Ramat Gan on August 29, 2019. (Jack GUEZ / AFP)
Prime Minister and Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Zehut party chairman Moshe Feiglin (L) give a joint press statement in Ramat Gan on August 29, 2019. (Jack GUEZ / AFP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political rivals on Thursday lambasted him over a deal with Moshe Feiglin, according to which the latter’s Zehut party will drop out of the running for the September elections in exchange for a promise from Likud of a ministerial post and the liberalization of the medical marijuana market.

Netanyahu has been putting intense pressure on several small right-wing factions to drop out of the election in September so that their votes don’t get “wasted” if they fail to clear the 3.25-percent threshold for entering the Knesset. As with Zehut, Netanyahu or his political representatives have also met over the past two weeks with candidates from the extremist Otzma Yehudit and Noam parties.

Blue and White, the main rival party to Netanyahu in the September 17 vote, panned the deal, accusing the prime minister of “buying” the Zehut party leader with a cabinet seat and claiming he was “teaming up with extremists.”

Blue and White said the prime minister had been driven to make the deal in a bid to secure his immunity from prosecution in three corruption cases in which he faces criminal charges, pending a hearing.

“Netanyahu only cares about Netanyahu, and this time he bought Feiglin in exchange for immunity,” the party said in a statement. “Israelis understand the choice is between an immunity government that is only concerned with Netanyahu or a broad government under Blue and White, which will look out for all Israeli citizens.”

Blue and White party leaders, from left to right: Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid, Moshe Ya’alon, Gabi Ashkenazi. Tel Aviv, March 18, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Reports surfaced repeatedly in the weeks before and after the April election claiming Netanyahu was demanding that Likud lawmakers and MKs from potential coalition partners agree to support granting him parliamentary immunity from prosecution in the graft cases as a precondition for joining his planned coalition.

Netanyahu has denied making such a demand of any party or lawmaker, although many Likud members at the time expressed support for immunity for him in media interviews.

In a video posted on Twitter, Blue and White featured several extremist past statements by Feiglin, including saying he was a “proud homophobe” and expressing support for moving the Knesset near the Temple Mount, a contested holy site in Jerusalem’s Old City.

Democratic Camp lawmaker Tamar Zandberg at a hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on petitions to disqualify the extremist Otzma Yehudit party from running in the September elections, on August 22, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Democratic Camp MK Tamar Zandberg contacted Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, demanding that he investigate whether Netanyahu’s promise to make Feiglin a minister — as well as reportedly agreeing to cover Zehut’s debt from the April Knesset vote — constituted election fraud.

Standing next to Netanyahu during a press statement Thursday at the Kfar Maccabiah Hotel in Ramat Gan, Feiglin noted that the deal with Likud still had to be approved in a referendum of Zehut party members slated for Sunday.

“There are things we demanded and didn’t get,” he said of the deal. “That tells me that there’s a real intention to fulfill what was promised here.”

The agreement realizes “Zehut’s vision of freedom,” Feiglin enthused. He said it included additional stipulations, such as a tax moratorium for the first two years of a new business’s existence, as well as setting a government goal to enter the top-ten list of countries on the World Bank’s ease-of-doing-business rankings.

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

Netanyahu confirmed the two key promises that reports this week had said he agreed to: opening up the medical cannabis market to imports and appointing Feiglin to the next cabinet.

“Tens of thousands of sick who need medical cannabis, who deserve it and can’t get it — their need must be fulfilled. We will bring to the Knesset’s approval a bill to legalize medical cannabis,” the prime minister said. The cannabis market would be opened to imports “under the supervision of the relevant authorities,” he added, in order to bring down the cost of the drug to users.

And he told Feiglin: “Zehut’s important voice will be heard in the cabinet. I see you as a partner in the government. I really mean that. I think we can work together. Our success depends on joining forces, before the election and after. That’s why I’m calling on Zehut’s leaders and voters to help us in this mission.”

According to Likud sources, Feiglin won’t get his top choices for cabinet post — the ministries of finance or economy — but will nevertheless hold a “senior economic position in the cabinet.”

Zehut advocates a far-right nationalism combined with small-government libertarianism, and has 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.

Zehut party chairman Moshe Feiglin and activists at a party event in Tel Aviv, on August 27, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Feiglin’s decision was “responsible,” officials from Yamina, a right-wing alliance of religious-Zionist factions, said on Thursday.

“Feiglin understood that these elections will decide the country’s future, and that letting [right-wing] votes go to waste has one clear consequence — a left-wing government that will endanger the country’s future,” a Yamina statement said.

“We’re sure that Zehut voters will find in Yamina the economically liberal home that will pull Israel’s economy to the right,” it added.

Yamina also called on Otzma Yehudit, which has trailed Zehut in polls, to follow Feiglin’s example.

Otzma Yehudit, which considers Yamina and Likud too liberal, was unimpressed with the new pressure.

The party’s head, Itamar Ben Gvir, called on Zehut voters to “come back to your ideological home” in Otzma Yehudit. His party was “a home that always fought for Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel, that was always concerned with the public interest in its struggles, and in my legal fights in recent years to bring justice to Israel,” he said.

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