Tel Aviv and several other local authorities vowed to push back after Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to give a far-right Knesset member known for strident anti-LGBT views authority over some content at Israeli schools.
The agreement between Netanyahu and MK Avi Maoz, the sole lawmaker in the fringe Noam party, gives Maoz an annual budget of at least NIS 100 million ($29 million), as well as over a dozen staffers, as a deputy minister at the helm of a new “national Jewish identity” government agency within the Prime Minister’s Office.
The text of the agreement, which was released Wednesday, showed the new body will be granted authority over content at Israeli schools that is taught outside of the regular curricula.
According to the agreement, the Education Ministry unit responsible for external teaching and partnerships will be placed under Maoz’s control, giving him authority over non-official bodies enlisted to teach or lecture at schools.
Local authorities in Tel Aviv, Givatayim, Ramat Gan, Herzliya, Ramat Hasharon and Hod Hasharon all said they would fight back if liberal programs are cut from schools.
A senior official at the Tel Aviv Municipality said the city will fund any pluralistic educational activities and programs that get canceled by the presumed incoming government.
The head of the Tel Aviv education department, Shirley Rimon Bracha, said in a letter to school principals in the predominantly liberal city that Maoz’s expected appointment “is a management drama that could become a moral drama as well.”
“I assume we all fear extremist, one-sided political intervention in the school material,” she wrote. “This is not a minor incident.”
Israel Zari, an official with the Ramat Gan municipality, told Channel 12, “There is no chance that changes Maoz intends will go through quietly.”
“For us, it’s important for every school and high school to have lessons on the gay community,” Zari said. “It has nothing to do with being on the right or left. What matters is taking care of our youth.”
In a missive to heads of local councils, outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid said that “the new government being formed in Israel has forsaken our children’s education and handed it over to the most extreme and backward figures in Israeli society.”
Lapid said Maoz’s Noam “is an extreme, racist, homophobic and dangerous party.”
He urged local leaders not to cooperate with Maoz’s department.
“The solemn responsibility for the educational content our children will study in schools now passes to you,” he said, encouraging them to use their authority to veto problematic content and “keep our educational system respectable and liberal.”
“You must now serve as the gatekeepers.”
Young people from the gay community also expressed fear over Maoz’s position.
A 16-year-old transgender student from Ashkelon told Walla that LGBTQ studies need to be a part of the school curriculum.
“We need to talk more about the LGBTQ subjects, gender identity and sexual orientation, which are not well-known subjects among young people outside of places like Tel Aviv,” he said.
“When I saw that Maoz will be responsible for programs in the Education Ministry I was shocked,” another transgender student said. “How is it possible after everything he said to give this to him? School is supposed to be a second home for children, and if he is responsible for programs, that will hurt us.
“The gay community is much more exposed to violence and the school programs on LGBTQ subjects are critical to prevent that,” the student said.
According to the Association for LGBTQ Equality in Israel, 80% of youth from the community have reported experiencing violence or hate at school due to their identity.
Hila Peer, the association’s chairwoman, said that Maoz’s appointment “should worry every parent in Israel.”
“This is an abandonment of LGBTQ youth,” she said. “Netanyahu and the Likud party need to stop this danger now. We will not stand by and will not allow the abandonment of our children’s lives.”
The Israel Gay Youth organization said: “It’s clear why they want to take control of the minds and spirits of the boys and girls of Israel. If this happens, Likud and Benjamin Netanyahu will be abandoning schools. This is a dangerous move that is likely to exact a high cost from Israeli students.”
Outgoing Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton denounced the decision to grant Maoz authority over teaching as “a moral disgrace” and warmed it would harm Israeli schoolchildren’s educations.
“A man whose faith is hatred will be in charge of the content taught to our children. The man with the darkest views will determine the contents and the bodies that will teach them,” she tweeted.
Labor MK Gilad Kariv, a Reform rabbi, charged that Netanyahu was giving “a chauvinist, homophobe and racist… a foothold” in Israeli schools. He urged teachers unions to speak out.
“We won’t allow this hateful person to interfere in our children’s education,” Kariv wrote on Twitter.
Maoz’s party, Noam, which ran for the Knesset on a joint slate with the far-right Religious Zionism party and extremist Otzma Yehudit, has campaigned on a platform of intolerance for gays and non-Orthodox streams of Judaism, including billboards describing homosexuality and Reform Judaism as abnormalities.
The party defiantly brushed off criticism of the coalition deal Wednesday.
“We remind those who may be confused: While progressive agendas were inserted into the Education Ministry under cover of darkness, without deliberation and certainly without legislation or elections, we repeatedly presented [our goal] of returning Jewish identity to the Education Ministry before the elections,” Noam said.
It said those who accuse it “of hatred and darkness should learn how democracy works.”
Maoz’s inclusion in the nascent coalition is 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.
Netanyahu helped pave Maoz’s path into parliament, in both this year’s and last year‘s elections, by brokering the party’s alliance with Religious Zionism.
Likud’s agreement with Noam is the second inked during the ongoing coalition negotiations, following a partial agreement with Otzma Yehudit to appoint MK Itamar Ben Gvir as minister in charge of police, as well as assign the party two additional ministers, a deputy minister, and two committee heads.
Religious Zionism signed its own far-reaching coalition deal with Netanyahu on Thursday.
Ultra-Orthodox parties United Torah Judaism and Shas have yet to sign deals with Likud, though they are widely expected to fall in line to form a government in the coming weeks.