Lapid: 'What is being formed here is a bonkers government'

‘Insanity, unreal’: Netanyahu slammed over deal with anti-pluralistic, homophobic MK

Politicians from outgoing coalition say Likud chief’s agreement to put Avi Maoz in charge of Israel’s Jewish identity is a ‘slap in the face,’ could ‘plunge Israel into the abyss’

Michael Bachner is a news editor at The Times of Israel

Noam MK Avi Maoz arrives for a meeting with President Isaac Herzog at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on November 10, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Noam MK Avi Maoz arrives for a meeting with President Isaac Herzog at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on November 10, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The prospect of a hardline, ultra-conservative, anti-pluralistic, homophobic nationalist being appointed as the next government’s head of “Jewish identity” was met with staunch rebuke from politicians from the outgoing coalition on Sunday, with lawmakers slamming the move by prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu as “insanity,” “racist” and “unreal.”

Avi Maoz, the single lawmaker of the fringe Noam party, is one of the Knesset’s most far-right politicians, holding non-pluralist Jewish views and sexist, anti-LGBT and anti-Arab positions.

He will be appointed as a deputy minister and head a to-be-created authority for Jewish identity, which will be housed under the Prime Minister’s Office, following an agreement signed Sunday with Netanyahu.

While Netanyahu’s Likud only shared partial details of the agreement, the party said that among the organizations to be transferred to Maoz’s authority is Nativ, which is responsible for processing Jewish immigration to Israel from the former Soviet Union.

Maoz has said he wants to constrain eligibility for Jewish immigration to Israel by removing the ability for grandchildren of Jews who are not Jews themselves to qualify under Israel’s Law of Return.

Many immigrants to Israel from the former Soviet Union obtain their citizenship under the so-called grandfather clause, and transferring the office that handles their applications to Maoz’s purview may affect their processing.

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

Maoz and religious political allies are also pushing to carve out non-Orthodox conversion to Judaism from acceptable proofs of Jewishness for immigration.

His Noam party has likened Reform Jews to the Nazis.

Maoz has also said that he wants to increase Jewish education in Israeli public schools and wants to scrap unspecified “progressive study programs,” including undefined “gender studies.” Maoz has recently advocated shutting down Pride parades, reinstating “mother” and “father” on government forms in lieu of the newly-adopted “parent,” and enabling now-banned and debunked gay conversion therapy.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid, set to be unseated in the coming days or weeks, chastised the news of Netanyahu’s agreement with Maoz as “no less than insanity.”

“With every passing day, it seems like rather than a fully right-wing government, what is being formed here is a fully bonkers government,” Lapid tweeted.

“This is the man who opposes women’s enlistment to the IDF, opposes women in senior roles, supports conversion therapy for the LGBT, and supports every other backward view imaginable,” he added, addressing Netanyahu supporters: “Is this what you wanted? For this backward nationalist to make decisions over your life? Over your daughters? Over your gay nephew? Is this how you want the State of Israel to look?”

File: 2019 election ads by the far-right religious-conservative Noam party bear anti-gay messages on billboards outside Tel Aviv. The slogan reads: “Israel chooses to be normal.” (Courtesy Noam party)

Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid party said in a statement: “From now on, according to Netanyahu and Avi Maoz, there are Class A Jews and Class B Jews.”

Maoz’s Noam party ran campaign ads in advance of the November 1 election that said that Arab teachers in Jewish schools contributed to the erasure of Jewish identity, a position condemned as racist by some Jewish lawmakers.

Maoz has pushed to “immediately” close the Israel Defense Forces’ gender affairs unit that promotes women’s place in the military. He is against women in combat positions, has called to shut down egalitarian prayer at Jerusalem’s Western Wall, and supports a religious party-backed proposal to legalize gender segregation at public events.

Maoz campaigned on strengthening the Orthodox Rabbinate’s monopoly over religious life, injecting religious law into broader society and promoting “family values.”

Outgoing Defense Minister Benny Gantz tweeted Sunday evening: “This isn’t Jewish identity — this is racist identity.” He vowed to “fight this extremist Netanyahu government with all the available means.”

Severe criticism also came from lawmakers for the secularist right-wing Yisrael Beytenu party, which is part of the outgoing government and primarily represents immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

“Only someone who has national identity problems with himself needs an authority for Jewish identity to be formed for him,” tweeted Yisrael Beytenu MK Yulia Malinovsky, while her colleague Vladimir Beliak decried handing Maoz control of Nativ as “a direct path toward blocking aliyah from the former Soviet Union, a spit in the face of all immigrants and applicants from those countries.

“Once, the Soviet leaders prevented Jews from migrating to Israel. Now we have the new Soviets — Netanyahu and his partners,” Beliak added.

Nachman Shai, the current Diaspora minister in the outgoing government, said that forming the new body for Jewish identity “cheapens those words and their meaning.”

“Like the cat who got the cream, MK Avi Maoz, soon a deputy minister, will screen potential immigrants from Russia and Ukraine,” he said. “Unreal.”

Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai attends the Jewish People’s Lobby, at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on November 15, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The leader of Shai’s Labor party, Merav Michaeli, said Israel was facing a “dark age.”

Posting the photo of Netanyahu and Maoz shaking hands after reaching the deal, Michaeli wrote: “The prime minister-designate next to a racist, chauvinist homophobe. It’s stomach-turning. We will fight them in any way possible. We won’t allow them to plunge Israel into the abyss.”

Labor MK Gilad Kariv, a Reform rabbi, called the appointment a “slap in the face” to secular people, traditionalist Jews, women and gays.

“MK Maoz will find that the majority of the public will stand up to his party’s attempts to proselytize and sow hatred,” Kariv tweeted.

Labor MK Gilad Kariv leads a session of the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, June 26, 2022. (Olivier FItoussi/FLASH90)

The Reform movement in Israel also came out strongly against the coalition agreement.

“We remind the presumed head of the [Jewish identity] authority that there is more than one way to be a Jew or Jewess. Avi Maoz, who got a job with excessive funding from the [presumed] prime minister-elect will not decide for millions of Jews and Jewesses in Israel and the Diaspora what those ways are,” the movement said in a statement.

Maoz’s inclusion in the nascent coalition was not vital to Netanyahu’s majority — the Likud leader and his allies won 64 seats in the 120-member Knesset in this month’s elections. But Netanyahu helped pave Maoz’s path into parliament in both this year’s and last year‘s elections, by brokering alliances on the political far-right, and plainly has no reservations about empowering so radical a politician with so resonant a role as head of a government authority on Jewish identity, albeit one with as-yet unspecified responsibilities.

The coalition agreement with Noam, with the resonant responsibilities and deputy minister’s post for Maoz, was announced just days after Likud agreed to make far-right provocateur Itamar Ben Gvir police minister with expanded authorities. It brings Netanyahu one step closer to forming Israel’s most hardline government ever, comprising only right-wing, far-right, religious, and ultra-Orthodox parties.

The Religious Zionism, United Torah Judaism and Shas parties have yet to sign a deal with Likud.

Carrie Keller-Lynn, Judah Ari Gross, Jacob Magid and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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