ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 148

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Hod Hasharon mayor pans 'political persecution of educators'

Cabinet to give anti-LGBTQ MK Maoz power to monitor content in individual schools

Mayors say they won’t work with far-right deputy minister; principals’ forum: ‘Shame’ on Israel that ‘homophobe, misogynist, chauvinist, Kahanist’ Maoz has influence on education

Noam's sole lawmaker, Avi Maoz, speaks at the outset of his Knesset faction meeting, December 5, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/ Flash90)
Noam's sole lawmaker, Avi Maoz, speaks at the outset of his Knesset faction meeting, December 5, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/ Flash90)

The cabinet is set to vote Sunday on the appointment of far-right MK Avi Maoz as deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Office in charge of a NIS 285 million ($76 million) “Jewish identity unit” that will enable him to act as an inspector of the external programming taught in schools.

Maoz is an outspoken homophobe who has made misogynistic statements about women’s role in society and has denigrated non-Orthodox streams of Judaism.

The cabinet resolution was proposed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and states that Education Minister Yoav Kisch has agreed to it.

The vaguely worded resolution states goals for the unit, such as strengthening Jewish identity in schools, that are already financed by other ministries.

However, it also includes a provision for a “transparency system for parents regarding the external programs taught in schools that will be accessible to the general public.”

It is believed that Maoz — who has in the past accused (without evidence) the Education Ministry of receiving foreign funding for external programming and for approving apparently liberal study topics — will carry out a full survey of the content and their funding sources, despite the fact that the information is already public, according to Haaretz.

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

Maoz has previously said that he believes the system should be expanded so that it allows the monitoring of individual schools, meaning that he hopes to examine the decisions made by each school principal regarding the external programs.

While the information will be available to parents, it will be collected and collated by Maoz’s unit rather than the Education Ministry, leading to concerns of bias.

According to assessments, the move is geared toward pinpointing principals who promote programs with a focus on topics such as LGBTQ+ issues and sex education, so that parents will then exert pressure on the educators.

Kisch said Sunday that there was “no change in the ministry’s policy and enrichment programs.”

“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.”

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

Labor MK Gilad Kariv responded to directly to Kisch’s tweet, saying that the minister had abandoned children and their educators.

“Who are you trying to kid? You enable the establishment of a monitoring and reporting system for principals and teachers, and all you care about is that your powers are not compromised,” he charged.

“A quarter of a billion shekels for fundamentalist influence on schools, and you tell us that everything is fine. You are abandoning our children and their teachers and principals. What other minister of education would agree to such a disgrace?” Kariv tweeted.

Yesh Atid’s Meirav Cohen noted that while the budget gave money to Haredi educational institutions that were unsupervised, Maoz would be overseeing content in the rest of the system.

“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,” Cohen said.

MK Meirav Cohen in the Knesset in Jerusalem, on January 9, 2023. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Yesh Atid MK Yorai Lahav-Hertzano said “Netanyahu and Kisch are opening our children’s schools to homophobes, racists and misogynists. Avi Maoz will not only supervise, he will educate.”

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

While many mayors have already said they would not cooperate with Maoz, a number were quick to reaffirm that their authorities would not cooperate with his unit.

Hod Hasharon Mayor Amir Kochavi said, “We have already announced that we will budget for any program that he rejects, and I will add that we will not share information for the purpose of the political persecution of educators,” Kochavi said.

Givatayim Mayor Ran Kunik tweeted a screenshot with a report on the planned cabinet vote, and wrote: “No thank you, Avi. We will get on just fine without you.”

Menashe Levy, the head of the school principal forum, also attacked Maoz and the program.

“Avi Maoz is a homophobe, a misogynist, a chauvinist and a Kahanist. Shame on the State of Israel that such a figure returns to a position of influence on the education system. When he resigned from his position, we thought we had saved ourselves from the danger he posed to the children of Israel,” Levy told Channel 12 news.

“I recommend that parents carefully check all the educational programs and the ‘enrichment’ that Maoz will try to instill in the minds of your children in the education system,” Levy said.

“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,” Levy said.

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

Maoz, the sole Knesset representative of his Noam party, quit the government in late February, writing in a letter of resignation to Netanyahu that he was “shocked to find there was no serious intention of honoring the coalition deal” making him a deputy minister with powers to establish “Jewish identity” programs in a new Jewish National Identity office.

Maoz is now set to return after the government’s contentious two-year budget passed last week included the provision for his Jewish identity office to receive NIS 285 million in funding — NIS 120 million ($32 million) in 2023, and an additional NIS 165 million ($44 million) in 2024.

Since leaving his ministerial role, Maoz has continued supporting Netanyahu’s coalition, made up of right-wing, far-right, and Haredi factions, as a Knesset member.

In this handout photo, Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu (L) meets with Noam faction chief Avi Maoz, at Likud headquarters in Tel Aviv, November 8, 2022. (Courtesy)

As part of the coalition deal, he was initially slated to be given authority over an Education Ministry department that oversees external programming vendors for public schools. The appointment was met with public outrage and condemnations from opposition MKs, parents, and some local authorities. That unit currently remains under the purview of the Education Ministry.

In comments since leaving his post, Maoz has said he was filled with “embarrassment and pain” over the prominence of openly gay Knesset speaker Amir Ohana and his spouse at official state ceremonies for Holocaust Remembrance Day, Memorial Day, and Independence Day.

During his brief time as deputy minister, Maoz unsuccessfully tried to reintroduce the labels “father” and “mother” on official government ministry forms and do away with the more progressive “parent 1” and “parent 2” introduced by the previous coalition.

Maoz said last year that he would “make sure” the annual Jerusalem Pride Parade would be canceled after joining the government, an assertion Netanyahu rejected at the time.

Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana, right, and his husband Alon Hadad, attend a state ceremony on Memorial Day, April 23, 2023 (Video screenshot)

According to a report last year, Maoz’s Noam party compiled a list of members of the LGBTQ+ community working in the media.

He also tried to amend state policy on the egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall. In February, the government told the High Court of Justice that it still plans to renovate the section marked for non-Orthodox prayer. Egalitarian prayer, along with progressive parentage labels, are part of what Maoz called “procedures that are concerned with changing our basic concepts, as the people of Israel and the Jewish family.”

Carrie Keller Lynn contributed to this report.

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