Despite delays, far-right Maoz pledges to take over external educational programming

For now, education minister Kisch confirms unit still under his control; Noam leader says move has not yet happened only because government’s been distracted by other matters

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

Noam party head Avi Maoz speaks during his faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, January 30, 2023. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Noam party head Avi Maoz speaks during his faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, January 30, 2023. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Leader of the far-right Noam party Deputy Minister Avi Maoz insisted Monday that he has not given up on gaining control over external programming in schools, despite the holdup that has stalled the formation of a Jewish National Identity authority under his control in the Prime Minister’s Office.

The initial announcement from Noam and Likud that Maoz — who campaigned on an anti-LGBTQ and misogynistic platform — would be handed control over the unit responsible for approving and funding external programming vendors, providing for supplemental content ranging from sexual education to bar mitzvah preparation in public schools, sparked an uproar from the general public

Several municipalities signed a letter opposing the move or otherwise indicated they would separately fund cut programs.

But Maoz insisted that he was still planning on taking control of the unit, putting the delay down to the government being currently focused elsewhere.

“I haven’t canceled any plan,” Maoz told The Times of Israel at the outset of his one-man faction meeting in the Knesset. “The unit will move to the Prime Minister’s Office, I received responsibility over the unit,” he asserted, in line with the coalition deal Maoz signed with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party.

A government decision earlier this month paved the way for transfer of the external education unit from the Education Ministry to the Prime Minister’s Office, but did not force the execution of the move.

For now, the external programming unit is still housed within the Education Ministry, Education Minister Yoav Kisch confirmed to The Times of Israel on Monday, saying that only one full-time position has so far moved from the ministry to Maoz’s office. Spokespeople within Kisch’s ministry said its fate will depend upon political decisions, in line with the coalition agreement.

“I am responsible for everything, just as it was,” said Kisch, including Gefen, the Education Ministry’s collection of approved, funded vendors, encompassing over 20,000 programs available to public school administrators.

A source close to Maoz said the creation of the Jewish National Identity authority has been held up by administrative issues and “distractions” taking up government leaders’ attention, including a political crisis stemming from Shas leader Aryeh Deri being disqualified as a minister and the government’s push to pass a broad judicial reform.

Tens of thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets to protest the judicial reform package, including the Supreme Court president and opposition politicians.

Incoming minister of Education Yoav Kisch (right) at replacement ceremony for outgoing minister Yifat Shasha-Biton (not seen), at the Education Ministry in Jerusalem on January 1, 2023. (Olivier Fitoussil/Flash90)

Maoz reaffirmed his pledge to introduce “transparency” for parents on external vendors and their content being shared with students, in line with his promise to create a program called Shaveh to provide information for parents on program content, vendor identity and funding sources behind the programs.

“The first thing we have to do is involve parents in the education of their children,” he said.

The deputy minister did not answer questions on whether he would cancel programs that receive parental backlash, or he himself deemed unfit.

Rather, he said that he and Education Minister Kisch “agreed between us that we will continue cooperating and also that the unit that will pass to me will continue to receive full cooperation from every office within the Education Ministry in order to make the needed changes.”

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