As election day comes closer it is becoming clearer that trends that are unfolding at the fringes of the race will be what determines the next prime minister. What that means is that any party that passes or does not pass the electoral threshold has the power to turn the balance of the right-wing and center-left blocs. Thus, the surprising rise of the Zehut party led by Moshe Feiglin above the electoral threshold in last week’s polls has created among the major parties a sense of unease. So, who are Zehut, what do they stand for, and why have they suddenly jumped in the polls?

In the beginning of the election season, just a couple weeks after Netanyahu declared he was dissolving the government and before any real campaigning had started, the Azrieli Junction in Tel Aviv was suddenly bombarded with giant billboards emblazoned with the words “identity” and “freedom.” The advertisements showed a large picture of Moshe Feiglin, leader and founder of the Zehut party, and seemed to be directed towards young people from Tel Aviv, declaring: “I strongly oppose any coercion, certainly religious coercion. I want you to be whoever you want to be,” “We have become a ridiculous force policing in an occupied country. Stop the occupation!” and “A young couple in Israel works the hardest in the West, earns the least in the West, and pays the most in the West, all while Israel is one of the wealthiest countries in the West.” Anyone who remembered Feiglin as the religious Likudnik who liked to march around the Temple Mount was probably thinking, just as I was, “Why is this guy advertising in Tel Aviv of all places, and why do his ideas sound so similar to my own liberal beliefs?”

It turns out it wasn’t all that strange but a well thought out campaign that can be credited for slowly raising Feiglin’s Zehut party above the electoral threshold in almost every poll. Zehut succeeded in mobilizing a critical mass of new and unexpected voters — young people under age 35, who support libertarian values (especially the legalization of cannabis). However, an examination of the party’s platform suggests that Feiglin has far broader aspirations, aspirations that the Zehut’s campaign are less inclined to advertise on social networks and on the billboards of Tel Aviv.

Feiglin is a quiet man, often seen wearing a signature turtleneck sweater and glasses. He maintains an aura of calmness, though he started of his public career demonstrating against the Oslo Accords as the leader of the right-wing organization Ze Artzenu (This is Our Land). In 1997, Feiglin was convicted in connection to activity in the organization, specifically for the offense of sedition following his call to the public to carry out illegal acts, to seize outposts in the West Bank, and to block major junctions in protest against the implementation of the Oslo Accords. He later joined the Likud (claiming that the only way to make a change was to work on the inside) and led the Jewish Leadership Division, an inter-party caucus working towards a widespread adoption of anti-Oslo and anti-disengagement ideas.

After a long career in a party that never really accepted him fully (many Likud members including Benjamin Netanyahu tried multiple times to stop Feiglin from running) Feiglin was pushed into an unrealistic spot in the party’s primaries for the twentieth Knesset. This led him to announce his resignation and the establishment of a new party, Zehut, which claims two basic principles: Jewish identity and freedom. Members of the faction include a rabbi and a standup comedian, two people who are different from each other in almost every sense. The former is ex-Knesset Member Haim Amsalem from Shas and the latter is Idan Mor, a Tel Aviv-based entertainer better known for his alter ego, a character Gadi Wilchersky. The Wilchersky character is a social activist who walks around wearing a fedora, red-tinted sunglasses, and carries a megaphone as he promotes legalization, veganism, and partying.

Feiglin’s political platform caught many young secular Israelis’ attentions mostly for Zehut’s social and economic programs, an aspect well-advertised by Gadi Wilchersky. These ideas include reducing state involvement in the economy, public transit, and cultural institutions to a bare minimum, and lowering the corporate tax, trade quotas, and the government’s overall budget. The party also believes in the privatization of the healthcare system and social security, promotes the IDF, pushes for full separation of religion and state, the freedom to carry arms, and the legalization of cannabis.

However, the party’s platform includes other ideas as well, ideas that prove this is the same Moshe Feiglin from his days as leader of the extreme right organization Ze Artzenu. He might try to blur this message when he turns to his new pool of voters, but anyone who glances at his platform will easily see that Feiglin continues to suggest, for example, that the Temple Mount authorities be transferred to the Chief Rabbinate, to annex all of the West Bank, the encouragement of “voluntary emigration” to the Palestinians, and denial of rights to anyone who refuses to declare allegiance to the state.

Zehut’s platform completely denies the possibility of reaching a peace agreement and offers a four-stage plan for the future of Israel, which includes:

  1. The complete cancellation of the Oslo Accords and assigning the status of state enemy to all those affiliated with the Palestinian Authority
  2. Offer all terrorists the choice of withdrawal without violent coercion
  3. The reoccupation of the entire West bank by the IDF and full Israeli sovereignty over all parts of the territory
  4. Three options for Palestinians in the West Bank: financial incentives for migration elsewhere; non-citizen residency including individual rights but involving a declaration of loyalty; full citizenship to those who are interested and only after a long and in-depth examination process and enlistment in the IDF or performing national service

It is not clear from the platform what will happen to those who do not swear allegiance as demanded, but it does emphasize that “whoever decides to fight Israel will be expelled or killed.”

Regarding Jerusalem and the Old City, Feiglin proposes the relocation of the government complex, the Knesset building, and the Supreme Court within close proximity of the Temple Mount. Additionally, the party intends to restore full and exclusive Israeli control over the Temple Mount. It will remove the Waqf (the Jordanian Islamic authority) and any other foreign entity that is not subject to Israeli sovereignty, Jewish prayers will be available 24 hours a day, and a synagogue will be built on the site.

Of course, Feiglin, ever the non-conformist, has stated, “We understand that we cannot implement the political-security platform until I become prime minister, and that will not happen in the near future.” Feiglin has further elaborated that the party intends to focus on civil and economic issues and will demand the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Education, where they will be able to implement the immediate goals of the party. While it seems that the whole political system has already been divided into blocs, Feiglin promises that “we will not be in anyone’s pocket, not in the right-wing bloc or in the center-left.” We can’t be sure that Zehut’s sudden rise in the polls will last but we can be sure that the major parties will start recalculating their position on less popular issues, such as the legalization of cannabis and the separation of state and religion, for if they succeed in staying above the threshold, Feiglin’s party is sure to have a crucial role in deciding who becomes the next prime minister.