The Likud held elections to choose a new party leader after the exit of Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister, to form new party Kadima.
Benyamin Netanyahu, a former prime minister, was elected to lead Likud after securing 44% of the votes, followed by Silvan Shalom, the foreign minister, who won 33%.
However, the biggest surprise was the strong showing by Moshe Feiglin, who received nearly 15%.
Feiglin, a fierce opponent of the peace process with the Palestinians, espouses the so-called “Jewish Agenda” which is very similar to the late Rabbi Meir Kahana’s “Jewish Idea”.
Both are based on the concept of “cleansing” Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, including the Gaza Strip, of non-Jews.
In his speeches prior to the elections, Feiglin said non-Jews in Israel would have to accept “Halacha” (Jewish religious law) or leave.
His beliefs find expression among Jewish settlers in the West Bank through the popular slogan “Muhammed Ta’asi coffee” or Muhammed, make coffee [for the Jews]. Muhammed here refers specifically to Palestinians.
Feiglin hailed the results of the Likud elections.
Nearly 15% of Likud members
“This is an excellent night for the people of Israel,” he said, surrounded by supporters.
He predicted that Israel would elect a religious Jewish leadership within a few years.
But his strong showing was criticised by some Israeli government officials who remarked that the Likud was becoming a “Feiglin party”.
Meir Shetreet, a former minister who has defected from Likud to Kadima, said: “A Likud in which Feiglin can win 15% of the vote is not a Likud that I know.”
Ehud Olmert, the former mayor of Jerusalem, said a party that gave 15% of its votes to an extreme right-winger was apparently “veering sharply to the right”.
Feiglin also believes that Jordan, which is referred to as “the eastern land of Israel”, is part of Israel and that the Arab country should be occupied sooner or later.
Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994 and since then the two states have developed close security and intelligence cooperation.
“Nobody denies that we have extremists, but I don’t think that 15% of the vote in a low turnout is a strong showing”
Ira Sharkansky, political science professor, Hebrew University
Feiglin wrote a book a few years ago, entitled The Jewish Leadership, in which he praised Baruch Goldstein, the Jewish extremist who in 1994 killed 29 Arabs praying at the Ibrahimi mosque in downtown Hebron.
In the book, Feiglin also praised Rabbi Kahana, who also called for the expulsion of Palestinians from Israel and the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Kahana was killed in New York in 1990 by an Egyptian following a speech in which he called for the expulsion of the Palestinian people from what he called “Eretz Yisrael” or Land of Israel.
According to Talab al Sanie, an Arab member of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, Feiglin represents the “norm” and not the “exception” within the Likud.
“The views of Benyamin Netanyahu and Uzi Landau are not that different from those espoused by Feiglin. If there are differences, they are in form not in substance,” al Sanie told Aljazeera.net.
He argued that “the racist anti-peace mentality” was dominating the Likud which, he said, made the party utterly unqualified as a peace partner to the Palestinians.
According to the Israeli press, Netanyahu has asked Uzi Landau, leader of the opposition to the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, to formulate the party’s political programme.
“The views of Benyamin Netanyahu and Uzi Landau are not that different from those espoused by Feiglin. If there are differences, they are in form not in substance”
Talab al Sanie, an Arab member of the Israeli Knesset
Landau opposes the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza and advocates granting Palestinians “limited residential rights” but not political rights.
Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestinian lawmaker and spokeswoman, described the new Likud as representing the “antithesis of peace”.
“The strong showing by people like Feiglin exposes the extreme right-wing and racist nature of the Likud.”
She added that it was ironic that the excessive extremism of Likud leaders such as Feiglin, Landau and Netanyahu made Ariel Sharon look like a perfect moderate.
However, some Israeli intellectuals dismiss the “Feiglin phenomenon” as “marginal”.
Ira Sharkansky, political science professor at the Hebrew University, told Aljazeera.net: “Nobody denies that we have extremists, but I don’t think that 15% of the vote in a low turnout is a strong showing.”
Sharkansky said Netanyahu was the real liability facing the Likud.
“I think Netanyahu leads by his slick tongue and even at that, he had reached his zenith; that is why he is ridiculed when he says that he was asked to become Italy’s finance minister.”