External programming unit still under Education Ministry

Far-right anti-LGBTQ Avi Maoz quits government, says his coalition deal was ignored

Noam chief was ‘shocked to find no serious intention’ to create Jewish National Identity Office, will remain in 64-MK coalition; Yesh Atid MK: One less homophobe in the government

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)

The far-right Noam party’s sole lawmaker quit the government on Monday evening, saying he did not believe he would be put in charge of a “Jewish national identity” hierarchy, as stipulated in his coalition agreement with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party.

MK Avi Maoz sent Netanyahu a letter saying that he was resigning as a deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Office because he was frustrated by an inability to bring about meaningful change in the role. He wrote that he “was shocked to find there was no serious intention of honoring the coalition deal.”

An outspoken homophobe who has also made misogynistic statements about women’s role in society and non-Orthodox streams of Judaism, Maoz was slated to be given control over an Education Ministry department that oversees external programming vendors for public schools. The appointment was met with outrage by pro-liberal forces.

A spokesman for the Education Ministry confirmed Monday that the unit remains under its purview.

Despite stepping down from the government, Maoz said he will remain in Netanyahu’s 64-MK coalition, though had he decided to quit that as well, it would not have brought it down.

Still, the resignation highlighted the internal tensions in the Netanyahu coalition which the premier formed over two months ago. It is made up of right-wing, far-right, and ultra-Orthodox factions.

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

Earlier Monday, the far-right Otzma Yehudit publicly “boycotted” a symbolic Knesset discussion and later traded barbs with Likud. United Torah Judaism also bowed out of the discussion, citing coalition agreements that had not been honored. Additionally, Netanyahu squabbled with the Religious Zionism party over illegal West Bank outposts. Rounding out his troubles, Netanyahu in January was forced to fire Shas leader Aryeh Deri from the cabinet, due to his past criminal convictions. The prime minister has yet to find a way to return his senior ally to government ranks.

In the letter to Netanyahu, Maoz wrote that had he unsuccessfully worked to roll back a number of policy points pushed by the last government during his short stint as a deputy minister in the premier’s office.

Among them, Maoz tried to reintroduce the labels “father” and “mother” on official government ministry forms, instead of the more progressive “parent 1” and “parent 2” that was adopted by the government under Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid.

In addition, Maoz tried to change state policy towards an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall. In February, the government told the High Court of Justice that it still plans to improve the section marked for non-Orthodox, egalitarian prayer.

A boy reads from the Torah as part of his bar mitzvah at the Western Wall’s egalitarian section in Jerusalem, on November 17, 2022. (Egalitarian section/Facebook)

Maoz decried the position, writing in his resignation letter that he tried to get the government “to preserve the sanctity of the Western Wall and stop the actions to divide it.”

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.”

Since first bursting onto the political scene in 2019, the Noam party’s campaign has focused on preserving a heteronormative family structure.

A number of Yesh Atid lawmakers celebrated Maoz’s resignation, including former social equality minister Meirav Cohen.

“One less homophobe in the government,” Cohen tweeted, shortly after the announcement.

Moshe Tur-Paz, a religious Yesh Atid MK, jokingly tweeted, “Who will strengthen Jewish identity?” in Maoz’s absence.

Along with the external educational programming unit, Maoz was promised control over Nativ, the organization responsible for processing Jewish immigration from former Soviet states. This decision was also controversial, as Maoz has supported restricting the criteria for who is eligible to immigrate to Israel.

According to Jewish law, Judaism is passed on through the mother, although — strictly for immigration purposes — Israeli law recognizes two generations of patrilineal descent. Maoz supports tightening the Law of Return and has said he wanted to eliminate the so-called “grandchildren clause,” under which many former Soviet Jews immigrate.

Maoz also said he would create a department of consciousness of the Jewish state under his never formed Jewish National Identity office, but the unit’s mandate and responsibilities were never made clear.

For the whole enterprise, Noam was promised 20 hires and NIS 440 million ($125 million) over its first two years.

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