Anti-LGBTQ MK Maoz set to rejoin government, resume role as Jewish identity czar

Far-right lawmaker quit post 3 months ago over unfulfilled promises in coalition deal, will return after receiving millions of shekels in budget for Jewish National Identity office

Noam chair MK Avi Maoz (center) and other lawmakers attend an Education, Culture, and Sports Committee meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on May 8, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
Noam chair MK Avi Maoz (center) and other lawmakers attend an Education, Culture, and Sports Committee meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on May 8, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

Far-right MK Avi Maoz will be reappointed to his role as deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Office in charge of a “Jewish identity” unit at the next cabinet meeting, on Sunday, three months after quitting the role, Hebrew media reported Wednesday.

Maoz, the sole representative of the anti-LGBTQ Noam party, quit the government in late February, writing in a letter of resignation to Prime Minister Benjamin 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.

With the passage of the state budget early Wednesday, Maoz’s Jewish identity office will receive NIS 120 million ($32 million) in 2023, and an extra NIS 165 million ($44 million) in 2024.

Since leaving his ministerial role, Maoz has continued supporting Netayahu’s coalition, made up of right-wing, far-right, and ultra-Orthodox factions, as a Knesset member.

The lawmaker, an outspoken homophobe who has made misogynistic statements about women’s role in society and non-Orthodox streams of Judaism, was promised 20 employees for his office, along with NIS 440 million ($125 million) over its first two years.

As part of the coalition deal, he was slated to be given authority over an Education Ministry department that oversees external programming vendors for public schools. The appointment was met with public outrage and condemnations from opposition Mks, parents, and some local authorities. That unit currently remains under the purview of the Education Ministry.

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

In comments since leaving his post, Maoz has said he was filled with “embarrassment and pain” over the prominence of openly gay Knesset speaker Amir Ohana and his spouse at official state ceremonies for Holocaust Remembrance Day, Memorial Day, and Independence Day.

He has also expressed regret over his role in appointing the speaker when the government was formed.

During his brief time as deputy minister, Maoz unsuccessfully tried to reintroduce the labels “father” and “mother” on official government ministry forms and do away with the more progressive “parent 1” and “parent 2” introduced by the previous coalition.

He also tried to amend state policy toward the 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 sought “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.

Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana, right, and his husband Alon Hadad, attend a state ceremony on Memorial Day, April 23, 2023 (Video screenshot)

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 supports limiting 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 “grandchild 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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