Moshe Feiglin is the sole challenger that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces for the Likud leadership.

This interview first appeared in the January 20th addition of Olam Katan, a religious Zionist publication. What follows is an original translation by World of Judaica.

They’re Not Laughing Anymore – An Interview with Moshe Feiglin

Oftentimes it seemed that the hardest thing to listen to for the last 13 years has been his complete and utter seriousness while demanding “Faith-based leadership for Israel.” In the end, maybe this makes even us, the religious Zionists, nervous • Moshe Feiglin is running alone against Benjamin Netanyahu for leadership of the Likud. The results of these primaries, even if they don’t end in a victory for him, will still be enough to bring this man’s vision one step closer to reality • Moshe Feiglin answers all the questions you ever wanted to ask – to what extent he believes in his goal. How younger Knesset Members have overtaken him. Why is it that it’s hardest for religious people to come to terms with Jewish Leadership. What mistakes does he admit and what does he remain stubborn about • The Big Race

A long time ago they were sure that he would eventually give up, that the process had exhausted itself and that he himself already understood this.  After the 2006 elections when the Likud won only 12 seats, the pundits mocked him saying that according to the “influence from within the centers of power” logic of Manhigut Yehudit, Feiglin now had to leave Likud and go to Kadima. After he failed to attain a Knesset seat in 2009, they came down hard on him. The religious columnists specifically lambasted him for his arrogance in running for the Likud leadership time and again, on the non-politically-correct “we have come to replace you” approach against the present Likud leadership. They claimed that Olmert became prime minister only because of him.

And despite all this, as the sand continues to blow, Moshe Feiglin (50) is back, running yet again, this time as the only candidate, this time against a sitting prime minister. In political terms this would be considered suicide, but that’s nothing for Feiglin. This is already his fourth time. The first time, 9 years ago, then again running against a sitting prime minister, he got 3.5% of the vote. Two years later he got 12.5%. In 2007, Likud had primaries once again, where he was granted nearly a quarter of the Likud vote. In Jerusalem, the biggest branch of the ruling party, he got nearly 40% of the vote.  He could have even gotten a larger portion, but Netanyahu and his men made a herculean effort to bring their supporters to the polls in order to prevent Feiglin from winning the capital city. Not to mention that in other cities as well that are certainly not settlements, Feiglin achieved impressive results. In Gadera, for example, he got 38% of the vote. In Beit Shemesh, 31%. Yavne, 28%, and even in Haifa he reached 26% support.

They claim that only because of him and Manhigut Yehudit, Sharon decided to leave the Likud and establish Kadima. That Manhigut Yehudit was the only thing preventing the inventor of the concept of Disengagement from taking over Menahem Begin’s historic movement. For these primaries, by the way, he comes armed with surprisingly supportive statements from a Leftist icon, Avrum Burg. Burg, on the “Head to Head” television program on the Knesset channel, said last month that “The only man that presents a serious alternative, and puts forth an organized and relevant political philosophy that is worth contending with and presents a real challenge for us, is Moshe Feiglin.” The conversation we had was a bit harried, since Feiglin was invited to a political event in the Israeli Arab village of Bara. Many Likud voters he probably did not find there, but then again the man is trying to lead the whole country.

Two weeks before primaries where his raising his support level yet again is a real possibility, as the step he told us all to take 13 years ago – joining the Likud party – is making more and more waves in the religious Zionist sector, he is still convinced that a faith based candidacy for leadership of the country is the only viable path capable of stopping the oncoming flood.

Q. Many have followed you into the Likud, and almost all of them have already overtaken you. Hotobeli, Edelstein, and Elkin are all religious Zionists that got close to the leadership thanks in no small part to Manhigut Yehudit voters. They found their way into the coalition table and they are very well licked, while you are excluded.

A. If I would have worked in the normal accepted manner that seeks to get immediate political dividends, no one would have overtaken me, but I insist on remembering the reason I joined the Likud in the first place. Not to be a Knesset Member or even a Minister, but to point the whole country toward one true, large and substantive goal. Light at the end of the tunnel, rather than a rearguard war that many good people in the religious Zionist community are fighting. For the sake of the truth, when I joined politics 13 years ago, there were already many knitted kippot in the crowd, with religious Knesset members and religiously observant ministers. In that sense, the situation has not changed all that much.

My eyes are turned towards the final goal, and because of this there are weights on my legs that may seem to weigh me down in a personal sense from attaining political posts. But in reality, these aren’t weights, but wings I am not willing to cut. I could have said that I would no longer run for the party leadership, that I already did what I had to do, but that would have made the whole revolution culminate in something of a new National Religious Party, this time within the Likud.  While true that we did succeed in getting the faith-based public into the Likud, which is something very important that I do not belittle for a second, I will not allow a situation in which we are in the same sectorial politics, but this time within the ruling party. I’m not interested in yet another knitted kippah in the Knesset, even if underneath that kippah is the name of Moshe Feiglin.  The goal is to lay out a faith based alternative to lead Israel. This is a goal that cannot be accomplished without a conscious decision to run for the country’s leadership, so that the light will not be extinguished, so that there will still be light at the end of the tunnel.

It’s funny. People that fought against me from every podium when I joined the Likud are now in the Likud and continuing to fight me from within. Effi Etam (former leader of the National Religious Party) and Benny Elon (former member of the National Union) already admitted that I was right, but I’m sad to say that even after they’ve said this, many of us still do not have the courage to come and take the truth to its logical endpoint like I’m doing. I didn’t come to the Likud to save the settlements, even though it’s true that from within the Likud there is a stronger power base to accomplish this than there is in the sectorial parties.

They tell me, “You’re trying to fill shoes that are too big for you,” and I answer, “So come with me and then I’ll have bigger shoes!” The coming elections will be decided by 15,000 votes. The gap between me and Netanyahu last time was about 17,000 votes. If the people that tell me I’m trying to fill shoes that are too big for me would have joined Likud, I would have had no problem winning the party’s leadership by now. More than that though, there would have been no problem changing the entire direction of the Return to Zion from Zionism that keeps God out of the picture, to Zionism with the vision of “The Mountain of the Lord is the highest of all Mountains.” The settlement pioneers that ran to Judea and Samaria in the spirit of Rav Kook have been inundated with hardships and trudging through day-to-day affairs, and are incapable of putting forward such a vision.

But sometimes the arrogance of running against a sitting Prime Minister without even the success of first being elected a Knesset member makes for a very strange impression. Wouldn’t it be better to be satisfied with less declarations, superlatives and unwinnable candidacies and to focus in the meantime on less ambitious goals? We all want there to be Jewish leadership, but the way it’s being done seems too belligerent, a bit pompous.

Let’s not forget that thanks to great arrogance we have made great achievements like the wave of religious Zionists joining the Likud. Had I not dared to run for leadership of the party, such a change in consciousness would never have occurred. The language that changes consciousness is not spoken with lips, but with legs. We codified our vision in the “Lehat’hila” journal long before we joined the Likud, but until the point where we began to walk the walk of politics and put our hat in the leadership ring, it didn’t have any real effect on the nation’s consciousness. Many a good man before us tried to convince the right wing to join the Likud, and the fact is they only succeeded in signup up a few people. The fact is, they were not able to convince the public to follow them, and the reason is that the public follows a vision, and not simple tactical moves. Manhigut Yehudit put forward that vision, and from that moment people began to join the Likud through other avenues besides us as well.

For part two of this interview, click here.