Moshe Feiglin: Pro-weed, Pro-third Temple, Pro-annexation, 'Proud Homophobe' and Israel's Next Kingmaker

Israelis prepare to head to the polls on Tuesday to elect their next prime minister. The contest has largely become a referendum on the continued rule of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has held the office since 2009 (and previously from 1996 to 1999), and oversaw a notable rightward shift in Israeli politics.

Only one candidate—former Israel Defense Forces general Benny Gantz, who leads the Blue and White coalition—is considered capable of stopping Netanyahu, who, despite facing bribery charges, is neck-and-neck with Gantz in the polls.

The Israeli parliament—the Knesset—is made up of a large number of small parties. To form a majority government, leaders must therefore secure coalitions. Though the election will put either Netanyahu or Gantz in the prime minister's office, one far-right libertarian candidate might be left holding the keys.

Moshe Feiglin leads the Zehut—or "Identity"—party. The ultra-nationalist libertarian group holds many extreme views. Among them, that Israel should annex all Palestinian territories in the West Bank, enourage all Palestinians to leave Israel and the West Bank, reimpose Israeli military control in the Gaza Strip, build a third Jewish temple on the disputed Temple Mount and limit the authority of the Supreme Court and attorney general.

Despite the party's controversial policies, the most recent polls predict that Zehut will win about six seats. Though a tiny proportion of the Knesset's 120 seats, it could be enough to push one of the major coalitions over the majority line. Such a performance could make Feiglin the election's most unlikely kingmaker.

Feiglin has denied that he has "a preference" between Gantz and Netanyahu, and according to anonymous sources quoted by The Times of Israel, is even considering putting himself forward as prime minister after the election if neither coalition can agree to Zehut's demands. Though such an outcome is not at all realistic, Feiglin's growing profile is feeding his ambitions. "I will be prime minister eventually," Feiglin told The Times of Israel last month. "Then we can really start to work."

On Sunday, Israel's Channel 12 station said Feiglin will not commit to either side without negotiating with both. He—along with all other leaders whose parties win seats—would then speak with President Reuven Rivlin, who must decide which leader should be invited to form a government. Feiglin has previously said he would demand control of the Finance Ministry in exchange for Zehut's support.

"If they offer [something], they'll get [something] in return," he said in an interview with Radio 103FM last week. "If they don't offer anything, they won't get anything in return."

Feiglin—who for two years represented Netanyahu's Likud party in the Knesset—has taken the edge off his more contentious policies by running on full cannabis legalization.

The stance has attracted voters who otherwise would not engage with his extremist agenda and secured him far more media attention than he otherwise would have received. In a television interview this weekend—which included whiskey drinking, mutual foot-slapping with the host and a slow dance—the host described Feiglin as the "guru of the stoned."

But hidden behind the smokescreen is a raft of far-right nationalist and racist proposals. Though Feiglin has often tried to steer the focus away from such policies, the possibility that Zehut might hold significant sway once all the votes are counted will do little to soothe those fearing the rightward slide of Israeli politics.

Zehut's manifesto calls for the cancellation of all agreements with the Palestinians—who Feiglin has said are not a real people—forcing Arab Israeli citizens to take and pass loyalty tests and offering to pay financial incentives to encourage any Arabs who refuse to accept Jewish control of the land to leave the country.

In the past, Feiglin has voiced his strong opposition to any non-Jewish participation in Israeli politics. "You can't teach a monkey to speak and you can't teach an Arab to be democratic," he told The New Yorker in 2004. "You're dealing with a culture of thieves and robbers. The Arab destroys everything he touches."

Feiglin has also been accused of misogyny for suggesting the role of Israeli women should be based on biblical principles. He has also previously described himself as a "proud homophobe," though more recently has said that while he may disagree with LGBTQ lifestyles, he is no longer a homophobe and will fight to uphold LGBTQ rights. He has also spoken out against Reform Jews for their less traditional interpretation of the religion.

He was banned from entering the U.K. in 2008 because of hate speech, and was sentenced to six months in prison for sedition over anti-Oslo Peace accord protests he organized in 1995. This was later commuted to community service.

Netanyahu has been shifting to the far right in a bid to shore up a coalition capable of securing a majority. He has already agreed to an alliance with the ultra-nationalist Jewish Power—whose leader Michael Ben-Ari has been banned from running due to his incitement for racism—and Jewish Home parties.

Zehut could yet be another crucial—and ultimately election-winning—addition to his bloc. Alternatively, the party could side with Gantz and be a catalyst for the end of "King Bibi's" reign. Whichever way it goes, Feiglin is certainly enjoying—and making the most of—his moment in the spotlight.

Moshe Feiglin: Pro-weed, Pro-third Temple, Pro-annexation, 'Proud Homophobe' and Israel's Next Kingmaker | World