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Amid concerns over Maoz, Netanyahu insists he ‘won’t accept’ harm to LGBT rights

Speaking to NBC’s ‘Meet the Press,’ Likud leader expresses ‘doubt’ that Law of Return’s grandparent clause will be revoked, says Trump meeting with Kanye West ‘is just wrong’

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent

Prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu during an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press" on December 4, 2022. (Screen capture/Twitter)
Prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu during an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press" on December 4, 2022. (Screen capture/Twitter)

Presumed incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that he would not allow harm to come to LGBT rights in Israel, amid growing concern over his coalition deal with the homophobic Noam party, which granted the faction’s chairman authority over the Education Ministry unit responsible for informal education at Israeli schools.

“I just won’t accept any of that. It’s not something I’m saying now — I have a record now and a record in general of having two hands on the wheel… I ultimately decide policy,” Netanyahu said when asked about Noam MK Avi Maoz during an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

The interview was one of three Netanyahu has given in recent days to the US press, several of whose outlets have highlighted fears over the hardline lawmakers slated to take up key positions in Israel’s next government. The Likud leader has yet to give similar interviews to the Israeli press, which has similarly sounded the alarm over Likud’s coalition agreement with Noam and other elements of the incoming coalition’s declared agenda.

The agreement will give Maoz — who has said he will work to end female service in the IDF and the annual Jerusalem pride parade, among other things — authority over non-official bodies invited to teach or lecture at schools.

Maoz will also be named a deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Office tasked with running a new national “Jewish identity” government agency, which will come with a budget of at least NIS 100 million ($29 million) and over a dozen staffers.

More than 50 municipalities and over 300 school principals across the country have joined protests against cooperating with Maoz in the next government.

MK Avi Maoz, left, and Likud head Benjamin Netanyahu after signing a coalition deal on November 27, 2022. (Courtesy, Likud)

Netanyahu was also asked Sunday about his decision to include far-right Otzma Yehudit chairman Itamar Ben Gvir in the next government, given his past convictions on terror-related charges. Netanyahu pointed out that Israel’s Supreme Court had rejected petitions to ban Ben Gvir from running, and noted that those who have been critical of some of his likely coalition partners were silent when the Islamist Ra’am party was included in the outgoing government. Netanyahu, too, sought to court Ra’am last year when he was several lawmakers short of forming a coalition.

The prime minister-designate was asked whether his next government would amend the so-called grandfather clause of the Law of Return that allows individuals with at least one Jewish grandparent to immigrate to Israel, so long as they don’t practice another religion.

All of Likud’s coalition partners, and even members of Netanyahu’s own party, have expressed support for narrowing the scope of the law, seeking to significantly reduce the number of immigrants to Israel who are not Jewish according to Orthodox interpretations of Jewish law.

This would principally have a major influence on immigration from the former Soviet Union, but prominent American Jewish leaders have also spoken out against such reforms.

“I doubt we’ll have any changes” to the Law of Return, Netanyahu told NBC, while acknowledging that a “big debate” on the matter would likely ensue under the next government.

The Likud leader, who said he hopes to finalize the formation of his next coalition in the coming days, was asked about former US president Donald Trump’s dinner last month with antisemites Kanye West and Nick Fuentes.

Then US president Donald Trump welcomes visiting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House in Washington, March 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

Netanyahu has already condemned the dinner, as well as West and Fuentes themselves, and did so again on Sunday. But he was also careful to praise Trump for a series of pro-Israel moves he advanced as president, such as recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, moving the US embassy there, recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights and pulling the US out of the Iran nuclear deal.

“He’s done all [of] these great things, and I appreciate it, and I remain appreciative. [But] on… Kanye West and that other unacceptable guest I think it’s not merely unacceptable, it’s just wrong,” Netanyahu said. “I hope he sees his way to staying out of it and condemning it.”

Netanyahu was seen to have had a very close relationship with Trump when the two were both in government. But Trump, after his 2020 election loss, voiced sharp displeasure with the Likud leader over the latter’s decision to congratulate Joe Biden on winning that election and has also claimed that Netanyahu was not interested in making peace with the Palestinians.

The incoming prime minister compared his effort to balance values and interests in the formation of his next government with Biden’s decision to meet with world leaders with whom he had differences of opinion. “For me, the dividing line is very clear. When it comes to questions of our existence, safeguarding our existence comes first.”

“I’m going to safeguard Israeli democracy, I’m going to bring peace, categorically… and I’m going to stop Iran. That’s what I’m coming back for, and that’s what I’m committing to,” he said.

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