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Anti-LGBT party to demand law banning ‘gender studies’ in elementary schools

Avi Maoz of Religious Zionism’s Noam faction calls for closure of Western Wall egalitarian section if he’s to join coalition, but will support Netanyahu-led government regardless

MK Avi Maoz at the Knesset in Jerusalem on June 21, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
MK Avi Maoz at the Knesset in Jerusalem on June 21, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Avi Maoz, the head of the homophobic Noam party, which ran as part of the far-right Religious Zionism alliance, said Sunday he will condition his entry into the government on the promotion of a law to prevent the teaching of “gender studies” in elementary schools.

In an interview with the right-wing Channel 14, Maoz said that although he had conditions for entering a potential Benjamin Netanyahu-led government, he would in any case support the coalition unconditionally.

Maoz did not specify what he meant by “gender studies.” There is very little emphasis in the Israeli education system on any form of sex or relationship education, particularly in elementary schools.

“As far as I’m concerned, this government must pass this bill. That’s the condition,” he said.

Maoz said his party “came to implement our principles,” before adding that he would bring loyalty and experience to the potential government.

“We are here to strengthen the Jewish identity of the state and strengthen the education system,” he said, adding that he would also demand the Education Ministry scrap unspecified “progressive study programs.”

Maoz told the far-right news outlet that his party was also demanding the closure of the egalitarian section of the Western Wall, an area used predominantly by progressive Jews but also by some more liberal Orthodox Jews, who prefer to eschew the gender-segregated main plaza for more intimate bar and bat mitzvah ceremonies. The egalitarian section, also known as Ezrat Yisrael and Robinson’s Arch, is located in an area south of the main section with its own separate entrance.

The Noam party chairman said he planned to demand legislation that would “determine that the prayer traditions for the entire length of the Western Wall will be the Chief Rabbinate.”

That would put Maoz squarely at odds with the majority of Diaspora Jews and even some parts of the right-wing religious Zionist community in Israel, which see the egalitarian section as a stopgap measure to ensure that the main plaza of the Western Wall will continue to be gender-segregated and follow a strict Orthodox interpretation of Jewish law.

The Jewish Agency, which maintains the egalitarian section, refrained from commenting on Maoz’s platform in an apparent attempt to remain apolitical, but said it “remains dedicated to enabling all Jews to pray at the Kotel in a way that is meaningful to them and is committed to furthering the plan to enhance the Ezrat Israel section.”

Liberal religious groups denounced Maoz’s demand, calling it provocative and irresponsible.

“The Noam party and its partners have a desire, apparently, to light fires and to act like the worst provocateurs, including with the Western Wall, instead of acting responsibly and seriously for the benefit of all citizens of Israel,” the modern Orthodox Ne’emanei Torah V’Avoda group said in a statement.

The Women of the Wall activist group, which fights for the right of women to read from the Torah at the Western Wall and more generally for religious pluralism at the site, also fiercely condemned Maoz.

“The Western Wall belongs to all Jews and Jewesses, in Israel and in the Diaspora, and not just to Avi Maoz and his pack of bullies, who are trying to seize ownership of Judaism’s holy site by force,” the group said.

Maoz gave the interview a day after his spokesman declined to detail Noam’s demands for entering the government, saying it “does not conduct negotiations via the media.”

The far-right Religious Zionism soared to 14 seats in the November 1 election and is expected to be a crucial partner in a governing coalition led by Netanyahu.

The Likud chair brokered the merger of the extremist Religious Zionism, Otzma Yehudit and Noam parties to ensure that no far-right votes would be wasted if any of the parties fell below the electoral threshold.

While Maoz ran on a slate alongside Bezalel Smotrich’s Religious Zionism and Itamar Ben Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit, who have announced they would form a united bloc for coalition negotiations, he said Sunday that he would be conducting his own separate talks with Likud.

MK Itamar Ben Gvir (R) and MK Bezalel Smotrich (L) at an election campaign event in Sderot, October 26, 2022 (Flash90)

Several members of Religious Zionism and their allies have spent the days following the election detailing their plans to curb gay pride events.

Last week, Maoz said he would work to legally abolish an annual Pride Parade in Jerusalem and indicated that he would seek to roll back a Health Ministry ban on so-called conversion therapy, allowing “psychological consultations for those who don’t want to be gay.”

Health officials around the world say that conversion therapy is scientifically dubious and possibly dangerous, with major health organizations pointing to what they term pseudo-scientific methods and the treatment of homosexuality as a mental illness.

However, Netanyahu has said in internal conversations that his government will not allow any change to the status quo regarding LGBT rights in the country, including limitations on pride parades, according to multiple reports Friday.

Maoz’s Noam party burst onto the political scene in 2019 with a series of provocative highway billboards and video ads with the slogan “Israel chooses to be normal.” The party claims that the LGBT community has “forced its agenda” on the rest of Israeli society, which believes in a “normal” (heteronormative) family structure.

Noam party highway billboards outside Tel Aviv that read “Israel chooses to be normal.” (Courtesy)

It has also likened LGBT and Reform Jews to the Nazis: A 2019 campaign video compares Reform Jews, left-wing activists and gay rights advocates to Nazis and Palestinian suicide bombers, saying all of them “want to destroy us.”

The extremist party enjoys the express backing of Rabbi Tzvi Tau, the founder of the hardline Har Hamor Yeshiva in Jerusalem.

The 85-year-old has been a leading voice in the national religious community against LGBT acceptance. In 2017, he wrote that homosexuality is the “ugliest deviation, which breaks down family life… and contradicts the first basis of human existence.”

People march in the annual Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem, on June 2, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Beyond the LGBT issue, Maoz campaigned on “strengthening the Jewish character of the State of Israel” by having stricter national observance of Shabbat, bolstering the Orthodox Rabbinate’s monopoly over religious life, injecting religious law into broader society and promoting “family values.”

In an interview with the Makor Rishon national religious weekly last year, Maoz explained his concern regarding current social trends in Israel.

“There is an attempt to engineer our consciousness, to change our concepts. Until a decade ago, you could ask any child: ‘What is a family?’ He would tell you, ‘A father, a mother and children.’ You could ask him, ‘What is the nation of Israel?’ Every child once knew what is a Jew and what is a goy.”

Maoz, who is also against women serving in the IDF, told the newspaper that the greatest strength of women is to get married and have children.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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