Coalition deal hands far-right Noam $125m for ‘Jewish national identity’ office
Avi Maoz’s one-man party secures control of several organizations to influence education, immigration and more
Carrie Keller-Lynn is a political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel
Registering staggering concessions for its tiny size in the incoming coalition, Avi Maoz’s one-man Noam faction signed a coalition deal Wednesday that gives the far-right leader a host of powers influencing the government’s stance on Israel’s Jewish identity and values.
Under a soon to be created unit in the Prime Minister’s Office for Jewish National Identity that he will head, Maoz will establish a Department of Consciousness of the Jewish State, whose mandate and responsibilities have yet to be made clear.
This is in addition to taking control over Nativ, the organization responsible for processing Jewish immigration from former Soviet states, and an Education Ministry department that oversees external programming vendors for public schools. The whole enterprise will receive 20 hires and NIS 440 million ($125 million) over its first two years.
A former leader of the movement to bring Soviet Jews to Israel, Maoz now advocates tightening eligibility requirements to be closer to the Orthodox definition of Jewishness. His Noam party campaigned its way to the Knesset on a slew of anti-LGBT, anti-Jewish pluralist and misogynistic stances. He has said he wants control over external school programming to increase “transparency” to parents.
To exercise some political control over Maoz, incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has tucked Maoz’s Jewish National Identity office into the PMO, where Maoz will be a deputy minister. Netanyahu has additionally included a clause that in overseeing the office, Maoz “will be subordinate to the prime minister and will act in coordination with and with the agreement of the prime minister.”
However, the extent of Netanyahu’s control over the minutiae of Maoz’s decision-making is likely to be tested by distractions posed by international pressure against settlement policy, efforts to counter the Iranian nuclear program, fighting the ongoing terror wave, calming unrest in the West Bank and the challenge of governing a tight coalition of 64 lawmakers.
Here are some of the key clauses in Noam’s deal with Netanyahu’s Likud party, finalized on Wednesday ahead of Thursday’s government swear-in.
Influencing Israel’s ‘Jewish National Identity’
Despite details first emerging a month ago, many of the finer points on what Maoz’s Jewish National Identity office will tackle remain unclear, as are its general authorities and responsibilities.
What is known is that the office is slated to house the Nativ organization, the Education Ministry’s unit in charge of external educational programming and a new Department of Consciousness of the Jewish State, whose mandate remains murky.
Nativ plays a critical role between Israel and the Jewish Diaspora in former Soviet states. Under the Law of Return, recognized Jews, as well as their children and grandchildren, are eligible for Israeli citizenship. About 54,000 people affected by the Russian invasion of Ukraine immigrated to Israel via the Law of Return in 2022, driving a 23-year immigration high.
In 2020, about 72% of immigrants from former Soviet states did not identify as Jewish according to halacha, or Jewish religious law.
Maoz has joined a chorus of religious lawmakers who have cautioned against damage to the state’s Jewish national identity if it continues to accept non-Jewish immigrants. Prominent and religious members of the Likud party have come out against amending the Law of Return, as have a host of opposition lawmakers and diaspora organizations.
Regarding education, Maoz has said he wants to increase “transparency” to parents about the content their children receive from external vendors. External programming plays a significant role in public schools, providing courses on a wide variety of topics from sexual health and bar mitzvah preparation to gardening.
Education officials and municipal authorities have railed against cleaving the unit out of the ministry and transferring it to Maoz.
Although it has received funding and manpower, it is not immediately clear what powers the Department of Consciousness of the Jewish State will hold. A spokesman for Noam did not respond to a request for clarification.
The office is also slated to create a “multi-sector cooperation unit that deals with the connection between the various government ministries and civil society organizations.” It similarly remains opaque.
Coalition agreements promise to form the office and transfer Nativ and the Education Ministry unit to its authority within 30 days of forming the government.
Looking to constrict the Law of Return
In line with Maoz’s push to tighten the Law of Return, Noam and its far-right and ultra-Orthodox partners succeeded in obtaining a watered-down promise to amend Israel’s Jewish immigration policy.
Rather than obtaining a promise to remove the so-called “grandchild clause,” which grants eligibility to the grandchildren of Jews, Likud promised to create a coalition-wide committee to determine necessary changes. Shared throughout the various coalition agreements, the clause points to concerns with assimilation and non-Jewish immigration enabled by the grandchild clause.
The coalition agreement states that legal changes will be made to the Law of Return before the government passes the 2023 budget.
Enabling religious segregation, returning gendered parent forms
In another clause shared among several agreements, Noam signed on to a promise to amend Israel’s anti-discrimination law to permit gender-segregated events, as well as denying products or services based on religious belief.
Religious Zionism has submitted a contentious bill that would give private business owners a religious exemption from providing goods or services that contravene their religious beliefs, provided that a substitute is geographically and economically available.
Ultra-Orthodox and far-right parties have discussed their desire to permit gender-segregated public events and higher education.
Earlier this year, Maoz said he would demand rolling back a progressive change that swapped out “mother” and “father” for “parent one” and “parent two” on government forms. While he secured a promise for official government forms to revert to gendered parent roles, the deal with Likud states that alternative forms may be made available.
“This will not detract from the possibility of issuing parallel forms that correspond to a parental alternative to those who wish to do so,” the deal states.
Echoing various other demands championed by religious coalition partners, the Noam deal also supports: advancing a new Basic Law: Torah Study, which affirms that “studying Torah is a basic value in the heritage of the Jewish people”; passing a law to reduce ultra-Orthodox military enlistment quotas; promises to “fix the harm” caused by the previous government in order to keep the status quo on religious issues; increasing rabbinic judge jurisdiction; funding NIS 50 million for a Chief Rabbinate building in Jerusalem’s government quarter.
Pushing for West Bank annexation
Maoz believes it is a religious imperative to maintain Jewish control over the whole Land of Israel, which biblically includes the Gaza Strip and West Bank.
In clauses repeated in other party deals, the coalition agreement states that “the nation of Israel has a natural right to the Land of Israel” and that “the prime minister will lead policy formation and advancement in the framework of extending sovereignty over Judea and Samaria,” though it gives him leeway on “timing” and the need to “consider all of the State of Israel’s national and international interests.”
Judea and Samaria are the biblical terms for the West Bank.
About 500,000 Jewish settlers live in the West Bank, which is also home to about 3 million Palestinians. All Jewish settlers are concentrated in swaths of land called Area C, in which about 300,000 Palestinians also live.
The agreement also includes a promise to amend the disengagement law, which uprooted a small number of West Bank settlements alongside the 2005 disengagement from the Gaza Strip. Noam and its partners want to return Jewish settlement to northern Samaria, as well as formalize yeshiva study in Homesh, a powerful settler symbol and one of the West Bank’s most contentious hilltop outposts.
Additional funding for schools not learning core curriculum
Maoz is signed on to a promise that the Education Ministry will fund unofficial national religious schools at 75% and exempt national religious schools at 55% of the official full budget that goes to public schools — without their promise to teach the full core curriculum.
The deal also promises to consider forming an exemptions committee to give temporary licensing to new school networks.
Supporting Likud-led judicial reform
Maoz’s Noam signed onto a clause Likud inserted into all coalition agreements, by which the party pledges fealty to Likud’s judicial reform platform. This is expected to include sweeping changes that will put political control over the country’s courts.
A key component is the so-called override clause, by which the Knesset could reinstate laws invalidated by the Supreme Court. Likud is also discussing methods of reforming judicial appointments and tenure, as well as raising the threshold for the court to invalidate laws.