A coalition deal signed by Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party will give a far-right Knesset member known for strident anti-LGBT views authority over some content at Israeli schools, an annual budget of at least NIS 100 million and over a dozen staffers, according to a copy of the agreement seen Wednesday.
Netanyahu inked the agreement with MK Avi Maoz, the sole lawmaker in the fringe Noam party, earlier this week, making him deputy minister and head of a new “national Jewish identity” government agency within the Prime Minister’s Office.
The text of the agreement, which was released Wednesday, showed the new body will be granted authority over content at Israeli schools that is taught outside of the regular curricula, drawing sharp criticism, including from the outgoing education minister.
According to the agreement, the Education Ministry unit responsible for external teaching and partnerships will be placed under Maoz’s control, giving him authority over nonofficial bodies enlisted to teach or lecture at schools.
The agreement stipulates that transfer will occur within a month of the new government’s swearing-in.
The Jewish identity body will start with an annual budget of NIS 100 million (nearly $29 million) before growing to NIS 150 million (over $43 million) the next year. It will also receive funding to hire up to 15 officials, including as many as three legal advisers.
The coalition deal gives only a vague description of the body’s responsibilities, namely “strengthening and fortifying the national Jewish identity in all public systems.”
The deal with Maoz, which also gives him control of the Nativ organization managing emigration from the former Soviet Union, has prompted sharp criticism, in light of the lawmaker’s sexist and anti-Arab positions as well as non-pluralistic views on Judaism.
Outgoing Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton denounced the decision to grant Maoz authority over what is taught as “a moral disgrace” and warmed it would harm Israeli schoolchildren’s educations.
“A man whose faith is hatred will be in charge of the content taught to our children. The man with the darkest views will determine the content and the bodies that will teach it,” she tweeted.
Labor MK Gilad Kariv, a Reform rabbi, charged that Netanyahu was giving “a chauvinist, homophobe and racist … a foothold” in Israeli schools. He urged teachers unions to speak out.
“We won’t allow this hateful person to interfere in our children’s education,” Kariv wrote on Twitter.
LGBT groups and liberal organizations also warned against shifting the Education Ministry department to the new office that Maoz will lead.
“It’s clear why they want to take control of the minds and spirits of the boys and girls of Israel. If this happens, Likud and Benjamin Netanyahu will be abandoning the schools. This is a dangerous move that is likely to exact a high cost from Israeli students,” the Israel Gay Youth organization said.
Noam, which ran for the Knesset on a joint slate with the far-right Religious Zionism party and extremist Otzma Yehudit, has campaigned on a platform of intolerance for gays and non-Orthodox stream of Judaism, including billboards describing homosexuality and Reform Judaism as abnormalities.
The party defiantly brushed off criticism of the coalition deal Wednesday.
“We remind those who may get confused: While the progressive agendas were inserted into the Education Ministry in darkness, without deliberation and certainly without legislation or elections, we repeatedly presented [our goal] of returning Jewish identity to the Education Ministry before the elections,” Noam said.
It said those who accuse it “of hatred and darkness should learn how democracy works.”
As part of his portfolio, Maoz is also due to get responsibility for the organization liaising with those eligible to immigrate to Israel from the former Soviet Union, which includes anybody with a single Jewish grandparent, so long as they do not practice another religion.
Maoz has previously come out against “gentiles” using the Law of Return to immigrate to Israel and has pledged to pass a law to limit immigration only to Jews and Orthodox converts to Judaism, though he pledged Monday to respect Israel’s immigration laws.
His inclusion in the nascent coalition is not vital to Netanyahu’s majority — the Likud leader and his allies won 64 seats in the 120-member Knesset in this month’s elections.
Netanyahu helped pave Maoz’s path into parliament, in both this year’s and last year‘s elections, by brokering the party’s alliance with Religious Zionism.
Likud’s agreement with Noam is the second inked during the ongoing coalition negotiations, following a partial agreement with Otzma Yehudit to appoint MK Itamar Ben Gvir as minister in charge of police, as well as assign the party two additional ministers, a deputy minister, and two committee heads.
Religious Zionism and ultra-Orthodox parties United Torah Judaism and Shas, have yet to sign deals with Likud, though all are widely expected to fall in line to form a government in the coming weeks.