Cabinet approves Maoz’s return to role overseeing school programing, Jewish identity

Far-right MK seeks to increase ‘transparency’ for parents on vendor-provided curricula; education minister says he won’t permit ‘extremism’ or changes to his ministry’s powers

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a former political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

Noam chair Avi Maoz speaks during a function at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on March 20, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)
Noam chair Avi Maoz speaks during a function at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on March 20, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)

Far-right MK Avi Maoz has been granted the authority to exercise oversight over educational vendors in public schools, following a Sunday cabinet decision to reinstate the lawmaker as a deputy minister, handing him NIS 285 million ($76 million) in funding for his Jewish National Identity Office.

Both Maoz and his office will be contained within the Prime Minister’s Office, returning the lawmaker to government as part of a deal to win his support for the 2023-2024 state budget, which passed last week. Maoz, the only member of Knesset from the Noam party, left the government in February in protest over what he said was “no serious intention” to create or fund his office.

Maoz and Noam espouse anti-LGBT, anti-pluralist, and anti-feminist views, garnering significant concern and criticism from politicians and organizations opposed to his drive to exert control over the external educational vendors who supplement curricula in public schools.

Education Minister Yoav Kisch told Army Radio on Sunday that Maoz’s new powers will not change Education Ministry policy, claiming that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised him that the position “would not affect” Education Ministry powers.

“All powers remain in the hands of the Education Ministry alone,” the education minister tweeted, along with a screenshot of a section of the resolution stating that the new monitoring system will be enacted only on the condition that “it does not harm the authority of the Education Ministry.”

Kisch added to Army Radio that he is “in principle in favor of transparency to parents,” but “I won’t let extremism in, from both sides [of the political map].” Maoz in January announced plans to create a unit that would strive to create “transparency” over external educational vendors.

Education Minister Yoav Kisch in the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on March 15, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The unit would have oversight of Gefen, the Education Ministry’s collection of approved, funded vendors, encompassing over 20,000 programs available to public school administrators. Spanning a range of offerings from sex education to bar mitzvah preparation to farming, external programming vendors are integral parts of public education.

The program would be nicknamed “Shaveh,” Hebrew for “equivalent” or “worthy,” with the full title translating to “Transparency and Notification of Parents.” One of Maoz’s core stated goals in the coalition has been to provide information for parents on educational program content, vendor identity and funding sources behind the programs. Some of the programs are funded by the Education Ministry directly, while others are sponsored by external donors, including — according to Maoz — foreign entities.

In addition to the “transparency system for parents,” Maoz’s Jewish National Identity Office will have three other purposes, according to the vaguely worded government decision.

The office will also “strengthen Jewish identity” via research projects and grant support, “assist and support educational institutions” with regards to Jewish national identity, and publish information about “deepening and strengthening Jewish national identity.”

Several opposition politicians and organizations expressed concern about Maoz’s planned return to the education arena, especially given his clear public positions against LGBT rights, gender parity, and pluralist approaches to Judaism.

Labor party head MK Merav Michaeli at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on March 20, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“Avi Maoz resigned, blackmailed the government and has come back more dangerous than ever,” said Labor party leader Merav Michaeli, in a Sunday tweet in anticipation of the cabinet’s decision.

Yesh Atid’s Meirav Cohen tied the Maoz decision to educational decisions in the recently passed budget. While the budget gave money to Haredi educational institutions that are unsupervised, Maoz would be overseeing content in the rest of the system, she noted.

“There will be no supervision and enforcement of the Haredi education system, which will receive more money in order not to teach core curriculum and perpetuate Haredi poverty. But there will be supervision of the contents of your children’s education by a dark and racist homophobe, to try to destroy secular liberal thinking,” Cohen said.

“Netanyahu sold the future of our children, both Haredi and secular, to his political partners,” the former social equality minister added.

Former education minister Yifat Shasha-Biton tweeted that “dark elements will interfere in the education system.”

Meanwhile, several mayors, including from the central cities of Hod HaSharon and Givatayim, said their municipal school systems would not cooperate with Maoz’s plan. The head of the school principals forum also attacked Maoz and the program.

“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,” forum chief Menashe Levy told Channel 12.

Religious LGBT organization Havruta also attacked the move, saying in a statement: “The majority of MK Maoz and his party’s dealings are not strengthening Jewish identity, but rather actions to harm LGBT and other communities in the nation of Israel.”

Maoz has recently advocated shutting down Pride parades, reinstating the terms “mother” and “father” on government forms in lieu of the newly adopted “parent,” and enabling now-banned and largely debunked gay conversion therapy.

His Noam party’s spiritual leader, the prominent national-Haredi Rabbi Zvi Tau, 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.”

Last year, Tau was accused of a spate of sexual assaults, allegedly reaching back decades.

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