Is Avi Maoz, the sole member of Knesset for the far-right Noam party, really the poster boy that Israel needs as head of its Jewish National Identity Authority?
On Sunday, the cabinet approved Maoz’s reinstatement as a deputy minister and head of the authority, and authorized a budget for it of NIS 285 million – NIS 120 million for this year, and NIS 165 million for 2024. The move came after Maoz, who quit the government in February, alleging that it had no intention of providing funds for his new office, agreed to cast the 64th vote in favor of the state budget in the Knesset last week.
Maoz’s office will be housed within the Prime Minister’s Office and will supervise Geffen, the Education Ministry’s portfolio of approved external tenders offering more than 20,000 programs to supplement curricula in public schools, ranging from bar mitzvah and sex education to farming techniques and English-language enhancement.
According to a government statement, the Jewish National Identity Authority will have four goals: to “strengthen Jewish identity via a number of projects, including research, financial support, grants, joint initiatives and actions among different population groups... youth and adults, people with special needs and others”; to develop a “transparency system for parents” regarding extracurricular programs that are taught in school; to “assist and support educational institutions in the field of national Jewish identity, in coordination with the education minister and with his approval”; and to publish information on topics “deepening national Jewish identity and strengthening it.”
Avi Maoz: The Israeli MK advocating anti-pluralist, anti-secular, antifeminist, and anti-LGBT views
While all this may sound laudable in theory, the problem with Maoz being in charge is that he and his party advocate extremist views that are anti-pluralist and anti-secular, anti-feminist and anti-LGBT. It is no surprise, therefore, that his appointment has aroused anger from a host of progressive politicians and liberal organizations.
Education Minister Yoav Kisch (Likud), meanwhile, has insisted that Maoz would not have the ability to change his ministry’s policies, and that any actions it takes in schools must be approved by him. “All powers remain in the hands of the Education Ministry alone,” he tweeted.
Labor party leader MK Merav Michaeli issued a harsh statement of protest, saying, “Avi Maoz resigned, blackmailed the government and has come back more dangerous than ever.”
MK Meirav Cohen (Yesh Atid), a former social equality minister, went a step further, warning that while there will be no supervision of the haredi educational system, “there will be supervision of the contents of your children’s education by a dark and racist homophobe, to try and destroy secular liberal thinking.”
There are already signs of a rebellion against Maoz. Several mayors, including those from Hod Hasharon and Givatayim, have said their municipal school systems will not cooperate with him. “To the principals – I strongly recommend you give up the generous allowances that Avi Maoz will try to shower on you on the condition that you open the schools you manage to his plans,” Menashe Levy, the head of the school principals forum, told Channel 12.
The religious LGBT organization Havruta also slammed the move, saying, “The majority of MK Maoz’s and his party’s dealings do not strengthen Jewish identity, but rather harm the LGBT and other communities in the State of Israel.”
It noted that Maoz has in the past advocated banning Gay Pride parades, which are due to be held in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in the coming weeks, and reintroducing deeply controversial gay conversion therapy.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a pragmatist who has proved time and again that he can be flexible, and even change his mind, whereas Maoz is an ideologue who is seemingly incapable of flexibility and compromise. Maoz will not only seek to indoctrinate children in schools with his radical brand of Judaism and alienate a huge swath of the Israeli population; he will also tarnish Israel’s image among much of Diaspora Jewry, not to mention the world at large.
We urge Netanyahu and the government to reverse their decision to reinstate Maoz as head of the Jewish National Identity Authority now – before it’s too late.