MK Avi Maoz of the far-right, anti-LGBT party Noam sparked outrage Wednesday by comparing the outgoing government to the Hellenizing Jews cast as the villains of the Hanukkah story.
Maoz, a firebrand set to be given sway over curriculum in school and a new “Jewish identity” office as part of Benjamin Netanyahu’s nascent coalition, delivered a diatribe at the Knesset against the “darkness” of progressive values to the sound of heckles and boos from fuming lawmakers across the aisle.
“The spirit that the Greeks and the Hellenists tried to instill in the Jewish people is the real darkness,” Maoz said, after singing several lines from the popular Hanukkah song “We Came to Expel the Darkness.”
“Anyone who tries to harm real Judaism is the darkness,” he said. “Anyone who tries to create a new so-called liberal religion is the darkness. Anyone who — with intentional concealment and obfuscation — tries to brainwash the children of Israel with their agendas, without the knowledge of the parents, is the darkness.”
The Hanukkah story revolves around a revolt by an army of Jewish zealots known as the Maccabees against the Greek Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV in the 2nd century BCE, after he outlawed Jewish religious rites, and against local Jews who had fallen under the influence of Hellenic culture and sought to bring Judaea in-line with the Greek world.
In Israel, the holiday has become closely associated with the idea of using light to drive away darkness, represented by the nightly kindling of a menora in remembrance of a miracle in which a small amount of ritually pure oil burned for eight days.
Maoz also spoke out against the state of schooling, claiming it was “influenced by foreign countries, by foreign funds and organizations and by foreign agendas.”
During the speech, Maoz was heckled by several lawmakers, including MKs Michal Shir and Yorai Lahav-Hertzano, as well as Labor MK Naama Lazimi.
“Who are you to decide who is a good Jew and who is a bad Jew? Hutzpah,” Shir shouted from her seat.
She also accused him of wanting to brainwash children and of being guilty of tarring other religious Jews by giving them a bad name.
“You think anyone who wears a skullcap thinks like you and you are causing them to be hated,” she charged.
Lahav-Hertzano asked incredulously how other lawmakers could countenance Maoz’s denigration of his political opponents as Hellenizers.
“You should be ashamed,” he shouted at Maoz. “This is how the education system is going to teach?”
In 2021, MKs Moshe Gafni of the United Torah Judaism Party and Moshe Arbel of Shas, two ultra-Orthodox parties also aligned with Netanyahu, drew rebuke for calling Religious Services Minister Matan Kahana Antiochus, for his attempts to reform state-run Kashrut certification.
Maoz, whose one-man Noam faction was elected as part of an alliance with the far-right Religious Zionism party, campaigned on a platform of intolerance for gays and non-Orthodox streams of Judaism, with billboards describing homosexuality and Reform Judaism as abnormalities. He is considered among the most extreme lawmakers in an emerging government said to be among the most right-wing the country has ever known, and his ascension, along with other far-right extremists, has given way to fears of a kulturkampf, or culture struggle.
Under the terms of a coalition deal still being finalized, Maoz is set to become a deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, with control of a new Jewish Identity body whose responsibilities have yet to be clearly announced. He will also be in charge of determining curriculum in Israeli schools coming from outside the education system and will take the reins of Nativ, which administers Jewish immigration from the former Soviet Union.
Maoz has promised to work to roll back rights for the LGBT community and implement rules banning public transportation on Saturday, among other conservative agenda items.