Israel’s Zehut Party: Where Jewish Nationalism Meets Cannabis Legalization (with VIDEO)
Led by Moshe Feiglin, the party is gaining traction in polls and shaking up Israel’s political landscape
Right-wing nationalism mixed with a dash of legalized cannabis is the unlikely combination embodied by Moshe Feiglin’s Zehut party, which has emerged as a potential kingmaker in Israel’s April 9 elections.
Founded in 2015, Zehut (“Identity” in English) remained largely under the political radar until polls recently showed the party winning up to six seats in parliament in the upcoming vote.
Some have attributed Zehut’s rise to Feiglin’s declared intent to legalize marijuana.
“We bring some substance to a very boring election,” Feiglin told The Media Line on the sidelines of an event organized by the Tel Aviv International Salon in partnership with the Times of Israel.
Sporting a black turtleneck, blazer and his trademark yarmulke and wire-frame glasses, Feiglin described Zehut as “a kind of libertarian party: We talk about freedom, minimizing the government, [promoting] free markets and free education. The legalization of marijuana is just part of it, it’s not all of it.”
Nevertheless, Feiglin has vowed not to join any governing coalition that refuses to legalize the drug.
The combination of fringe, if not seemingly paradoxical, positions has sparked the curiosity of many Israelis.
“Cannabis in Los Angeles is legal so I don’t see any problem,” Yehuda Draiman, a former mayoral candidate in LA who immigrated to Israel last year, conveyed to The Media Line. “We went through a lot of changes to get it legalized.”
While recreational cannabis use remains banned in Israel, it is partially being decriminalized next month and is already prescribed for medical purposes. According to a recent United Nations survey, 27 percent of Israelis aged 18-65 consumed cannabis in 2017, the highest usage rate in the world.
“I know I don’t look it but I’m 55 years old with a broken neck,” Bruce Webber, an American-Israeli in attendance, told The Media Line. “That’s why I qualify for medical cannabis in Israel. The government needs to change their continuing false premises that are decades old that not only cause harm to the disabled and cancer communit[ies] but affect the entire nation.”
Despite the allure of legalized pot, which is also supported by the left-wing Meretz party, a good portion of the crowd was more interested in Feiglin’s other policies.
“I’ve been following his party since its [inception] a couple of years ago and I’m very much a libertarian,” an attendee told The Media Line on condition of anonymity.
During the event, Feiglin called for an end to American aid to Israel, arguing it was causing “tremendous harm” to the national economy. Additionally, he spoke of lowering taxes and privatizing hospitals.
Zehut also promotes views that many deem extreme, such as abolishing the Waqf, the Islamic body that administers holy sites atop the Temple Mount—known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif. Feiglin has called for moving Israeli government buildings closer to the contentious site at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“The Temple Mount is the holiest place of the Jewish people,” he stated. “This is where the first and second Jewish temples stood. It’s in the middle of Jerusalem, which is the capital of Israel, so what could be more logical than having the Knesset [parliament] as close as can be to that place?”
Another controversial policy is Zehut’s desire to annex the West Bank and cancel the 1993 Oslo Accords. Feiglin has long been against the formation of a Palestinian state and in the 1990s was arrested for organizing mass protests that led to him being charged with sedition.
Instead, Feiglin envisions an enlarged State of Israel that would not provide Palestinians with citizenship but, rather, would pay them to relocate abroad.
“[Over 25 years] after the signing of the Oslo agreement, we all have to agree that the concept of the two-state solution brought only bloodshed and wars,” Feiglin contended. “The truth is that the Land of Israel belongs to the [Jewish] people…and only to the people of Israel.… There is no Palestinian nation – they have no history.
“It doesn’t matter how much we’re going to give the Arabs: Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria [the biblical term for the West Bank], the Gaza Strip—it’s not going to help because what they want is not a state of their own. What they want is the destruction of the Jewish state,” he said.
Feiglin’s bluntness and oft-stated desire to shake up the political establishment have evoked comparisons to another political leader: U.S. President Donald Trump.
“We’re not exactly the same people, but yes [similar] in that way,” Feiglin told The Media Line. “Talking openly, answering questions [and] not being politically correct.”