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The far-right rises in Israeli politics

The success of Moshe Feiglin in this week's Likud primaries heralds a stronger fundamentalist tilt within the already conservative party.

By Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / December 10, 2008

Extremist? Moshe Feiglin spoke with reporters in Jerusalem on Monday. Kadima Party members say his rise indicates the Likud party is more right than mainstream.

jim hollander/epa


Tel Aviv

Though opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu has opened up a lead in the race for Israel's premiership, his campaign hit a snag Tuesday after members of his Likud party backed a parliamentary candidate linked with settler radicals.

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Moshe Feiglin, who encouraged soldiers to refuse orders to evacuate Gaza in 2005 and advocates annexing the West Bank, was repeatedly denounced by Likud elders as an extremist. The fear is that Mr. Feiglin's prominence will prompt a shift among centrist voters toward Foreign Minister Tzippi Livni's Kadima Party.

"[Feiglin] is viewed as too far to the right and almost toxic.... There's a certain name brand that's associated with him that's very negative," says Mitchell Barak, who runs the Israeli polling company Keevoon. "Netanyahu went all out to fight him. It's a first chink in the armor."

Within five years, his movement, Manhigut Yehudit (Hebrew for Jewish leadership) has moved from the party margins to winning Feiglin 20th place on the Likud slate, virtually clinching a spot in the next parliament.

Feiglin's success puts him in position to claim the role as standard-bearer for the party's ideological wing, which forced former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to abandon the party after he withdrew Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip.

An Orthodox Jew who lives in a West Bank settlement, Feiglin says religious nationalists can have more influence through Likud than by voting for their niche parties.

During the party primary, Feiglin denounced Likud establishment leaders like Mr. Sharon as tools of "secular leftist Ashkenazi elite" who ordered the destruction of Jewish settlements.

"When we vote right, what do we get? We get expulsions. We get disengagement," he told the party central committee before the election. "We get the left of the left."

In his many articles and within his movement, Feiglin has called for building a Jewish synagogue on Jerusalem's ancient Temple Mount – a move that would inflame tensions with the Muslim world. He says Israel's secular government should be more influenced by the Torah, though his campaign denies that he supports religious laws.

Moshe Feiglin

• Born in 1962. Grew up in Rehovot, Israel, and studied at Or Etzion high school yeshiva. Married with five children.

• Was an officer in the engineering corps of the Israeli army. After the military, became a businessman.

• Following the Oslo Accords, Feiglin turned to politics and helped start Zo Artzeinu, a right-wing movement that denounced the Israeli-Palestinian deal.

•His political activity resulted in a sedition conviction; he was sentenced to six months' community service.

•Has written two books: "Where There Are No Men" and "The War of Dreams."

• Joined Likud with the intent to lead it and establish "authentic Jewish leadership for Israel."

r Founder and president of Manhigut Yehudit, a group that aims to form an Israeli society based on the Torah.

Source: Manhigut Yehudit