On Tuesday evening, February 23, 1999, I went to a pre-election event at AACI in Jerusalem. It was called the AACI Election Forum, and it had been organized by my partner Havah, who was the programming director of AACI at the time.
Havah called every party and invited them to send representatives. About 15-20 parties sent people. It was massive. Their big open area was packed, and they had to put some of the smaller parties into rooms off of the main area.
I wandered into one of these small rooms, and saw a young guy in his 30s, close cut beard and knitted kippah, and he sounded interesting, so I sat down. He was telling a story about how in the town where he grew up, there were no stores open on Shabbat. And there were no laws against opening stores on Shabbat either. Today, he noted, there were laws against opening stores on Shabbat, but in the town where he grew up, dozens of stores were open on Shabbat.
He saw a direct correlation between the two, and more than that — a causal relationship. He said that he believed the increasing number of stores that were open on Shabbat was a direct result of the laws forbidding it.
This made a ton of sense to me. I grew up with a major authority problem, one which I still have. Though really, that’s the name my father gave to it. I’ve never actually seen it as a problem. But to me, it was obvious on the face of it that if you tell people they can’t do something, then even though they’re already not doing it, they’ll feel put upon, and often start to do what they’ve been forbidden.
This guy really impressed me. So much so that when he subsequently held an event at the Israel Convention Center in Jerusalem to launch his party, Manhigut Yehudit, I went, and I volunteered to do what I could to help. Later that year, he decided to have Manhigut Yehudit become a faction within the Likud, and attempt to contest Netanyahu’s leadership of that party. I’ve written about that on this blog in the past. I did what I could to sign people up for the Likud through Manhigut Yehudit for a while. Then, because of a combination of personal and economic reasons (remember the dotcom bust?), I left Israel.
For the next 14 years, I followed Moshe Feiglin’s career. I watched as he got 3% of the vote in his campaign for party head. I watched as he got 12% of the vote. I watched as he got 24%, and Netanyahu decided that playing by the rules was going to end with Moshe Feiglin as the head of the Likud, so he tossed them aside. Which was the point at which Feiglin left the Likud, and along with some 440 other people, founded the Zehut Party.
And it’s interesting. Today, I responded to a comment by someone on Facebook in which he claimed that Feiglin had never been interested in personal liberty. That he was simply using the subject in order to further his nationalist goals. Of course, Feiglin already addressed that over a week ago in a video, but apparently some people didn’t see it. Or maybe they saw it, and thought it was just so much spin. That’s why I felt the need to write this. I didn’t know Moshe Feiglin in the days of Zo Artzeinu. But I knew him from the pre-Likud days of Manhigut Yehudit, 20 years ago, and he has not changed his views on personal liberty (other than some nuances, perhaps) in all that time.
How many politicians are there that take a position and stick to it? Binyamin Netanyahu was against Oslo and then for it. For the Disengagement and then against it. Against a two state solution and then for it. And then against it again – maybe. Betzalel Smotrich is proud of the government approving Arab building in Area C. Bennett was in favor of a technical bloc with Zehut (and vice versa), but when Shaked came out of her all too short retirement, he went along with her refusal to consider such a thing.
Moshe Feiglin is a national treasure. The Zehut Party is a gift to us all. A party of strong, consistent, coherent values, run by a man with the same. I honestly don’t think there’s any question about what we should do next month on Election Day.