Avi Maoz is alienating even Likud members

National unity, if it ever arrives, will have to wait for a much later phase and very different circumstances.

 MK AVI Maoz attends a discussion in the Knesset plenum, last month. (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
MK AVI Maoz attends a discussion in the Knesset plenum, last month.
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

Last Friday, I bumped into an acquaintance with whom I occasionally hold arguments on political issues in which we very rarely agree about anything. He is a longtime registered member of the Likud and an avid Benjamin Netanyahu supporter and I am a longtime registered member of the waning Labor Party.

I asked my acquaintance whether he was pleased with the outcome of the election and with the way the negotiations for the creation of the new government were progressing. As I had expected, he was delighted with the election results. However, I was surprised to hear that he was rather upset about the way the coalition agreements were shaping up – especially the appointment of Noam leader Avi Maoz as a deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Office.

Will Yesh Atid and Labor join the coalition?

According to the coalition agreement with Noam, Maoz will be responsible for the Authority for National Jewish Identity, which is to be established in the Prime Minister’s Office, with an initial annual budget of NIS 100 million; for the following two units within the Prime Minister’s Office: Nativ that in inter alia responsible for the Jewish identity of the new immigrants from the former Soviet Union, and the Unit for Multi-Sectoral Collaboration; and most important and worrying of all, for the Unit for External Programs and the Promotion of Partnerships. This unit is responsible for approving educational programs offered by external bodies within the framework of the state education system but primarily the non-religious system that has to the present been part of the Education Ministry and will now be moved to the Prime Minister’s Office. The annual budget of this unit is over NIS 2 billion.

The main problem with this arrangement is the fact that MK Maoz is a racist homophobe, rejects Jewish pluralism, believes that the place of women is in the kitchen, and that their main function is to give birth to and raise children – not exactly the sort of person either my Likudnik acquaintance or myself wish to see formally responsible for Israel’s national Jewish identity.

My acquaintance maintains that this appointment should be thwarted by part of the new opposition – especially Yesh Atid and Labor – joining the coalition. He considers them a lesser evil than Noam. He is less enthusiastic about Benny Gantz’s National Unity Party joining, partially because it includes three MKs who defected from the Likud to form New Hope but mainly because he considers Gantz to have been responsible for the Emergency Unity Government formed in 2020 falling apart.

 Benjamin Netanyahu and Avi Maoz meet ahead of coalition negotiations. (credit: LIKUD SPOKESPERSON) Benjamin Netanyahu and Avi Maoz meet ahead of coalition negotiations. (credit: LIKUD SPOKESPERSON)

ACCORDING TO him, Gantz acted subversively against Netanyahu from the moment he was appointed alternate prime minister. As I see it, the emergency government fell because Netanyahu wanted to renege from the rotation agreement that he had signed with Gantz, and consequently prevented the passing of a budget for the years 2020-2021, which resulted in a fourth round of elections being held in March 2021.

While my acquaintance and I agree that a unity government seems preferable to the all-right/religious government that is currently in the making, we disagree on the premises on which such a unity government should be formed. I believe that it cannot be a government in which Netanyahu maintains his absolute Right/religious majority, thus leaving any Center/Left additions as superfluous in practice. I also believe that Gantz’s National Unity Party must be part of such a coalition, if it is formed, because of its human makeup and its more conciliatory approach, while the Labor Party should stay out of it and concentrate on the creation of a new social democratic party to replace itself and Meretz.

Netanyahu insisted on Noam's inclusion

In fact, I think it is unlikely that at this stage Netanyahu really wants any help to get out of the political mess he has created – certainly not before he manages to get the legislation he strives for, which will create a new balance within our legal and law enforcement systems, and possibly cancel or defer his having to contend with the three indictments he faces in court. That seems to be the main reason why he is so determined to form the all-Right/religious government now, no matter what the political cost.

However, what I cannot understand is why Netanyahu insisted in the first place that Noam – whose electoral power is minute – should be included in the joint Religious Zionist/Otzma Yehudit list for the elections to the 25th Knesset. Did Netanyahu really believe that he might once again fail to gain the support of more than 60 Knesset seats and didn’t even dream of gaining the support of 64 that he finally received? In fact, his fear might have been justified had Labor and Meretz run together in a technical list and had both Habayit Hayehudi under Ayelet Shaked and Balad decided to withdraw from the elections when they realized that they were unlikely to pass the qualifying threshold.

But that is not what happened and Netanyahu need not have reached such a generous agreement with Maoz who, after the Religious Zionist bloc broke up into its three original elements, is a single-member parliamentary group. Netanyahu still has a 63 majority without Maoz. We have not been told why Netanyahu decided to be so generous with Maoz, and whether his negotiating team, headed by prospective justice minister Yariv Levin, tried to warn him against the implications of the move.

Resentment in the Likud

THE RESULT is that it is not only the outgoing government that is planning an all-out protest against Maoz’s appointment, and especially his receiving the Unit for External Programs and the Promotion of Partnerships from the Education Ministry, but that many members of the Likud (such as my acquaintance) seem to be up in arms, as well.

 United Torah Judaism leader Yitzhak Goldknopf and Otzma Yehudit chair Itamar Ben-Gvir with MKs from the likely coalition, November 21, 2022. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) United Torah Judaism leader Yitzhak Goldknopf and Otzma Yehudit chair Itamar Ben-Gvir with MKs from the likely coalition, November 21, 2022. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Of course, it is not only the appointment of Maoz which is the cause of this but the fact that Netanyahu has been excessively generous in the negotiations also with Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir, as well as his haredi partners. The dissatisfaction is not necessarily based on ideology, as is the criticism of the outgoing government but more on the fact that the Finance Ministry and several other important ministries have been given away on very generous terms, thus leaving less important ministries, and ridiculous splinters of ministries for distribution to the Likud.

It is not clear whether there is real Likud resentment about the continued breaking up of existing ministries simply to satisfy the insatiable appetite of the Likud’s partners for power and influence, or whether anyone in the Likud is flabbergasted by the fact that various units in the Defense Ministry that affect Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria will be handed over to a minister (not a deputy minister) on behalf of Religious Zionist who will be appointed in the ministry, side by side with the defense minister from the Likud or by the fact that as minister of national security, Ben-Gvir will be granted full operational control over Magav (Israel’s gendarmerie) units in Judea and Samaria, which include 18 companies, with over 2000 fighters, and to the present have been under the full command of the IDF. Add to this the new outrageous phenomenon of ministerial rotation arrangements in several ministries – first and foremost the Finance Ministry.

It will be interesting to see how Netanyahu will finally contend with Maoz and the rest of his coalition partners. My feeling is that national unity, if it ever arrives, will have to wait for a much later phase and very different circumstances.

The writer worked in the Knesset for many years as a researcher and has extensively published journalistic and academic articles on current affairs and Israeli politics. Her most recent book, Israel’s Knesset Members – A Comparative Study of an Undefined Job, was published by Routledge.