The prospect of a hardline, ultra-conservative, anti-pluralistic nationalist being appointed as the next government’s head of “Jewish identity” was met with staunch rebuke from politicians from the outgoing coalition, with lawmakers slamming the move by prime minister-designate 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, who holds non-pluralist Jewish views and anti-LGBT, sexist, and anti-Arab positions. He will be appointed 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 on Sunday evening, 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. 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 largely 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?”
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.
In terms of women, 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.”
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.
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.
I joined The Times of Israel after many years covering US and Israeli politics for Hebrew news outlets.
I believe responsible coverage of Israeli politicians means presenting a 360 degree view of their words and deeds – not only conveying what occurs, but also what that means in the broader context of Israeli society and the region.
That’s hard to do because you can rarely take politicians at face value – you must go the extra mile to present full context and try to overcome your own biases.
I’m proud of our work that tells the story of Israeli politics straight and comprehensively. I believe Israel is stronger and more democratic when professional journalists do that tough job well.
Your support for our work by joining The Times of Israel Community helps ensure we can continue to do so.
Tal Schneider, Political Correspondent
We’re really pleased that you’ve read X Times of Israel articles in the past month.
That’s why we started the Times of Israel ten years ago - to provide discerning readers like you with must-read coverage of Israel and the Jewish world.
So now we have a request. Unlike other news outlets, we haven’t put up a paywall. But as the journalism we do is costly, we invite readers for whom The Times of Israel has become important to help support our work by joining The Times of Israel Community.
For as little as $6 a month you can help support our quality journalism while enjoying The Times of Israel AD-FREE, as well as accessing exclusive content available only to Times of Israel Community members.
David Horovitz, Founding Editor of The Times of Israel