Far-right MK Maoz says will act according to law in handling Jewish immigration

Head of Noam party, set to lead new department for ‘Jewish identity,’ wants to change rules to limit right to immigrate; Liberman: His office will stand for ‘blood purity’

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

Noam's sole MK Avi Maoz speaks during his party's faction meeting at the Knesset, November 28, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Noam's sole MK Avi Maoz speaks during his party's faction meeting at the Knesset, November 28, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Noam party head Avi Maoz said Monday he will follow the law when he takes responsibility for the liaison organization to former Soviet Jewry, while pushing to legally tighten the eligibility under which it operates.

On Sunday, Maoz signed an agreement with Likud to take the organization, Nativ, under his control as part of a new authority responsible for Jewish identity to be housed in the Prime Minister’s Office. Maoz, who is to be appointed a deputy minister, will head the new authority.

His appointment has promoted a wave of criticism, given his sexist, anti-LGBT and anti-Arab positions.

Nativ is responsible for processing immigration applications under the Law of Return from citizens of the former Soviet Union, many of whom are not Jewish but apply under the current law’s grandchild clause, which entitles the grandchildren of Jews to citizenship if they don’t practice another religion.

“Entering Israel is according to law. We will act according to the law. All Jews are able to immigrate,” Maoz told reporters Monday.

“We will make sure that people who according to the law aren’t permitted to immigrate” cannot immigrate, he added.

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.

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

Maoz, who is vociferously anti-LGBT, refused to say whether he has concrete plans to advance a corresponding policy.

“When I speak against [something], I don’t speak against a specific person, I speak against ideas and trends,” Maoz said, adding that he had not included his desire to end pride parades among coalition demands from bloc leader Likud.

Details on his new Jewish identity authority are scant, and Maoz declined reporter requests to expand on the department’s additional areas of responsibility, budgets, personnel and plans. However, in overseeing Nativ, Maoz may have significant bureaucratic leeway to jam the gears of an already notoriously slow-moving application process.

A former leader of a movement to bring Soviet Jews to Israel in the 1980s, “Let My People Go,” Maoz said his appointment to oversee Nativ brings the fight “full circle” for him.

But Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman, himself a Jewish immigrant to Israel from Soviet Moldova, said Maoz’s planned appointment will be “a roadblock” to immigration from the former Soviet Union.

The Yisrael Beytenu leader’s party is the political home of many Israelis from former Soviet states.

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks during a press conference at his ministry in Jerusalem, August 17, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In addition to Nativ, Maoz’s to-be-created Jewish identity office is expected to use its influence on areas that Maoz has previously weighed in on, including recognizing only Orthodox conversions to Judaism for the purpose of immigration.

Liberman highlighted the significant number of Israel Defense Forces soldiers currently serving who do not meet Maoz’s Orthodox definition of Jewishness.

Liberman said that about 5,500 Israeli soldiers are not considered Jewish according to Orthodox law, but “in my opinion, they are more Jewish than all yeshiva students… combined.

“Apparently Avi Maoz also wants to block them from entering Israeli society,” Liberman added, saying that Maoz’s office will stand “for purity of blood.”

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