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.
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.
"The illusion of a center-right party was shattered this morning, and it's clear that this is the most right-wing extremist list the Likud has produced since its establishment," said Haim Ramon, a Kadima Knesset member, in an interview with Army Radio. "Any sane person will understand that you can't vote for the Likud."
Mr. Netanyahu and the rest of the Likud establishment are worried. Anti-Feiglin banners hung on the Jerusalem roadside read, "The left is praying for Feiglin."
"It might harm our chances to win the election because he and his group are very different from the Likud," said Yuval Steinitz, a Likud Knesset Member and Netanyahu loyalist before the primary. "Their positions are very much to the right of the Likud."
Amnon Shomron, a Feiglin spokesman, says Feiglin is a faithful supporter of the Likud's central political stance: opposition to a Palestinian state.
Feiglin first came to prominence during the negotiations with the Palestinians in the early 1990s as the leader of Zo Artzeinu, a movement that sponsored civil disobedience to protest returning land to the Palestinians.
The demonstrations won him at least one criminal conviction and an infamous antiestablishment reputation. Breaking with Orthodox compatriots who have promoted the settlement movement from smaller ideological political parties, Feiglin pursued a beachhead within the Likud.
Still, some political analysts say Feiglin's success won't necessarily imperil Likud's margin over Kadima. They argue that Feiglin's presence at the extreme right will have the opposite effect.
An expert on Jewish extremism argued that Feiglin is an ideological cousin of settler radicals who used violence against Palestinians and Israeli security forces last week. The only difference is that Feiglin wants to change the government from within, says Motti Inbari, author of the forthcoming book, "Jewish Fundamentalism and the Temple Mount."
"They believe this is the destiny of the state of Israel, to be a [theocratic] state, their mission is to go into politics," he says. "The same people who are throwing stones in Hebron, these are the same people from which Manhigut Yehudit was established."