Netanyahu meets far-right anti-LGBT party head after threat to boycott coalition

Noam said it would ‘challenge coalition from the right’ after initially not being invited to meet Likud leader; after ‘cordial’ sit-down, party chief believes it’ll join government

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

In this handout photo, Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu (L) meets with Noam faction chief Avi Maoz, at Likud headquarters in Tel Aviv, November 8, 2022. (Courtesy)
In this handout photo, Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu (L) meets with Noam faction chief Avi Maoz, at Likud headquarters in Tel Aviv, November 8, 2022. (Courtesy)

Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu met Tuesday with Avi Maoz, the leader of the far-right Noam party and its sole lawmaker amid threats from the anti-LGBT party to boycott the coalition.

Noam, which ran together with Religious Zionism and Otzma Yehudit on a united far-right platform, had demanded the right to negotiate for separate terms for including its one seat in the 64-strong right-religious coalition that won Israel’s November 1 election.

Maoz’s demands for joining the coalition are not yet known, according to Likud party sources, and Maoz’s office declined a request to elaborate upon them.

A source close to Maoz said that as of Tuesday morning, Maoz had not received an invitation to meet with Netanyahu despite wishing to conduct talks separate from Religious Zionism and Otzma Yehudit, and that the party was consequently considering staying out of the coalition and challenging the government from its right flank.

The invitation to meet Netanyahu apparently arrived shortly after.

Maoz said after the meeting that it had been “cordial and in good spirits,” adding that he believed Noam would be part of the next government after all.

“We presented to the presumptive prime minister our worldview, according to which there is a need to immediately remove the anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish curricula that have been inserted into the education system, in addition to strengthening the state’s Jewish identity,” he told reporters.

Noam was hand-stitched into the far-right Religious Zionism-Otzma Yehudit slate by Netanyahu in an effort to preserve right-wing votes in what was forecast to be a tight election.

Maoz has captured headlines for his anti-LGBT stance, and in the days since Religious Zionism became the Netanyahu-led bloc’s second largest party, has said he would legislate a ban on pride parades, reinstate banned and largely debunked conversion therapy, reverse reforms that opened the kosher certification market, and promote “Jewish education” in public schools.

Likud finds itself in the uncomfortable position of being the left-most member of the coalition it is forming. The party has a prominent gay lawmaker, and several of its MKs have dismissed some of its far-right partners’ more extreme ideology. The Noam party source suggested that there might be forces within Likud who want Maoz out of the coalition.

Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu arrives coalition talks with his political allies, in Jerusalem, November 6, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

However, Likud sources reaffirmed their “intention to bring [Maoz] into the coalition.”

On Sunday, Netanyahu met with party heads Bezalel Smotrich from Religious Zionism, United Torah Judaism head Yitzhak Goldknopf and Degel HaTorah subfaction head Moshe Gafni, and Shas leader Aryeh Deri.

On Monday, Netanyahu met with Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben Gvir, who is leading a separate negotiation with Netanyahu but affirms his commitment to coordinate with Smotrich before finalizing the coalition.

Relegated to the opposition since June 2021, Netanyahu is reportedly pressing partners hard to form a government quickly and hammer out the fine details after. Smotrich, said to be wary of relying on un-inked promises, has reportedly pushed back against a thin agreement focused mostly on dividing up ministerial portfolios and instead wants to close a policy-laden coalition agreement before agreeing to join the government.

Led by Netanyahu’s right hand Yair Levin, the fast-moving coalition negotiations may see Likud part with more positions of power than the party initially hoped.

Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu meets in Jerusalem with UTJ MK Moshe Gafni on November 6, 2022. (Courtesy)

Although Likud had reportedly wanted to hold onto the high-profile defense, foreign, and finance ministries for its own members, Smotrich is said to want defense or finance, with an emphasis on the second being more possible.

Ben Gvir, who ran his far-right campaign on deporting “disloyal” Israelis, loosening military open-fire rules when combating Palestinian violence, and improving governance and personal security within Israel, has demanded the Public Security Ministry, a possibility that is reportedly becoming more likely. It has also demanded a second ministry for Ben Gvir’s number two, first time lawmaker Yitzhak Wasserlauf.

Shas is reported to want the interior ministry, among other demands.

United Torah Judaism is expected to regain the powerful chairmanship of the Knesset Finance Committee for Gafni, and deputy minister positions for its lawmakers, who are ideologically barred by their rabbis from accepting ministries.

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