Far-right MK Avi Maoz says he may soon return as Jewish identity czar

Noam chief says he’s in advanced talks with ruling Likud party to resume role as deputy minister in charge of a Jewish National Identity unit in the PM’s office

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)

Far-right MK Avi Maoz, the head of the one-man, anti-LGBTQ Noam party, may soon take back his role as deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Office in charge of a “Jewish identity” unit, nearly two months after he quit the government in protest of the promised authority not being granted to him by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Maoz told the Kikar HaShabbat Haredi news site on Monday that “in the coming few weeks, it is possible that I will return to my post, with all the powers” he was promised.

“There are negotiations, and they have advanced quite a bit, to my satisfaction. We still need to finalize some details… and I very much hope this will work out and I’ll return to my role,” he said in brief remarks.

Maoz 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.

His party was promised 20 hires and NIS 440 million ($125 million) over its first two years.

Since quitting his ministerial role, Maoz has continued backing the hardline coalition, made up of right-wing, far-right, and ultra-Orthodox factions, as a Knesset member.

The MK, an outspoken homophobe who has made misogynistic statements about women’s role in society and non-Orthodox streams of Judaism, was also slated, as part of the coalition deal, to be given control over an Education Ministry department that oversees external programming vendors for public schools. The appointment was met with outrage by opposition lawmaerks, parents, and some local authorities. That unit currently remains under the purview of the Education Ministry.

During his short stint as deputy minister, 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 previous government.

He also tried to change state policy toward an 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.

Maoz decried the position, writing in his resignation letter to Netanyahu 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.

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

Carrie Keller Lynn contributed to this report.

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