Israel's Hod Hasharon municipality announced on Thursday that it would finance any educational programs whose funding gets pulled by Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Avi Maoz (Noam).
Maoz has been outspoken in his distaste of that which he views as divisive left-wing propaganda, such as LGBTQ+ issues and feminism.
Amir Kochavi, mayor of Hod Hasharon, said that "the decision ensures that the Gefen reform and the coalition agreements will not harm the municipal education in Hod Hasharon." The Gefen program is a government initiative to increase flexibility in education and give school administrators more individual power over their institution's content.
The Hod Hasharon Municipal Council, in order to preemptively combat any budget cuts, approved a special budget to finance any external programs that Maoz may try to cancel. The decision was a unanimous one, including council members who affiliate with coalition parties.
The purpose of the city council's decision, according to a statement from the municipality, is "to enable educational equality in all schools in the city, for all tracks, according to the educational agenda of the various school communities and in accordance with the values of the city of Hod Hasharon."
What power does Maoz really hold?
Israel's cabinet approved the decision to transfer the Education Ministry unit responsible for external programs to the Prime Minister's Office in January, at which point all external educational programs became subordinate to Noam leader MK Avi Maoz.
"When that was signed, it didn't sound like such a [big deal]," noted the Jerusalem Post's Senior Contributing Editor and Diplomatic Correspondent Lahav Harkov, in a December episode of the Jerusalem Post Podcast. "But then, it turned out that what he's actually in charge of is approving all external contractors that work within the education system."
Harkov explained that external contractors in the educational system are a very significant part of Israeli education. Essentially, she said any school assembly that contains educational content involving parties not employed by the school is considered external content.
"Non-profits have been coming into schools for decades in Israel," added Jerusalem Post Editor-in-Chief Yaakov Katz.
"People are worried that he's going to reject things that, at least for secular schools, are considered part of the norm," Harkov said.
The coalition agreement conditions
This decision was part of the coalition agreement between the Likud and Maoz's Noam party.
The full name of the government body in question is "The Unit for External Programs and Promoting Partnerships." Due to its small size, the government decided that the unit's transfer will be coordinated directly between the Prime Minister's Office and the Education Ministry with the approval of the Civil Service Commission, and will not require further government decisions.
Maoz claimed during the coalition negotiations that there were NGOs with hidden progressive agendas who were operating in schools, without transparency by the Education Ministry, and that his goal was to increase transparency. However, the unit he took over said that all of the external programs are listed on its website and that there were none that were hidden from the public.
Education Minister Yoav Kisch said to reporters ahead of the January decision that while the aforementioned unit would indeed move to Maoz in the PMO, all of the authorities relating to the Gefen program – which gives school principles flexibility in choosing which topics will be taught more than others – would remain under the Education Ministry. This, he said, "put an end to the fake-news campaign."
Eliav Breuer contributed to this report.