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Meet Avi Maoz, Israel's 'proudly homophobic' new powerbroker

As part of Benjamin Netanyahu's new coalition, the Noam party leader and right-wing extremist will have some power over Israel's schools
Avi Maoz and Benjamin Netanyahu agreeing the coalition deal (Social media)

In his youth, Avi Maoz was considered a moderate compared to most settlers.

He made his name campaigning for Jews from the Soviet Union to be allowed to emigrate to Israel and his most high-profile success came when he lobbied the then US President Ronald Reagan to call for the release of Natan Sharansky. 

A political prisoner in the Soviet Union, Sharansky was released and became a successful politician in Israel. He rewarded Maoz, his faithful campaigner, by appointing him his chief of staff. Maoz served as a political appointment of Sharansky’s during his time in the ministries of industry and trade, housing, and the interior. 

But while Sharansky promotes an ethnic Jewish state that maintains a Jewish majority by bringing in secular Jewish immigrants, Maoz rejects the distinction between ethnicity and religion and seeks to use immigration to purify the State of Israel by leaving out those who are not Jewish enough.

'Anyone who tries to create a new so-called liberal religion is the darkness'

Avi Maoz, Noam party

Today, Maoz, who is married and has ten children, is one of Israel’s most extreme right-wing politicians. And he’s sitting as an MP in the Knesset.  

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The 66-year-old is the chairman of Noam, the smallest of the three parties in the far-right Religious Zionism list.  Israel’s recent election results left Religious Zionism as the third-largest political grouping. 

In the wake of the results, it broke down into three components, with each party negotiating separately for positions in the upcoming coalition.

Those negotiations left Maoz as the only representative of Noam to become a member of parliament, and as leader of a one-seat party, he now wields a disproportionate amount of power compared to any other Knesset member. 

Maoz, described by journalist Anshel Pfeffer as "proudly homophobic", has wasted no time in letting Israel's parliament know exactly how he feels about things. On 7 December, he delivered a diatribe aimed at the "darkness" of progressive values. 

“The spirit that the Greeks and the Hellenists tried to instill in the Jewish people is the real darkness,” Maoz said at the Knesset, after singing several lines from the popular Hanukkah song We Came to Expel the Darkness.

"Anyone who tries to create a new so-called liberal religion is the darkness," he continued, before saying that schooling in Israel was "influenced by foreign countries, by foreign funds and organizations and by foreign agendas". Maoz was heckled by several fellow lawmakers, but he's inside the tent now. 

A settler from the start

After his time in government with Sharansky, Maoz moved to focus on the illegal Jewish settlement of the occupied territory. He was a key activist behind the expansion of settlement in the occupied Gaza Strip and Syrian Golan Heights, while he himself settled in Silwan, in East Jerusalem. He was among the founders of the Migdal Oz settlement in the occupied West Bank.

As a national orthodox Jew who studied at the Mercaz Harav yeshiva, Maoz belongs to the messianic branch of Judaism that combines nationalism, militarism, and faith, and believes that the State of Israel is a holy instrument of God and that its territory is possessed through divine justification rather than through international agreements and laws. 

In this, he is part of the religious Zionist movement to which former prime minister Naftali Bennett and the leaders of the far-right Religious Zionism party, Bezael Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir, belong. 

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But Maoz is a different proposition even to Smotrich and Ben-Gvir. He focuses on “family values,” sexual identity, and patriarchy as his main points of interest. 

In 2019 he co-founded the party Noam, which means “niceness” in Hebrew. He remains its chairman and is now its only representative in parliament.

Through Noam, Maoz has set out to combat the “progressive agenda”, and to take a stand against “postmodernism”. 

In its political campaigning, Noam stresses that a family consists of a father, a mother, and children. Any other form of family is a threat to “normative” constructions.

Noam does not have an official party platform, but on its website it trumpets its support for gay conversion therapy, objects to allowing women to serve in the military, and calls for the chief rabbinate to serve as the “fourth branch of government".

Despite its name, Noam is not a nice party: it considers LGBTQ+ people to be an abomination, something not sane and not normal. 

Maoz’s focus on sexuality and gender is influenced by the teachings of Rabbi Zvi Tau, head of the Har Hamor yeshiva and the spiritual leader of the Noam party, who claimed that there is a direct connection between homosexuality, bestiality, pedophilia, and miscegenation. In the thinking of Tau, all are caused by the lack of a “strong identity".

A deal with Netanyahu

On 28 November, Avi Maoz signed the coalition agreement with the Likud party. Although he controls only one seat in the Knesset, Maoz was promised he would be made a deputy minister in the prime minister’s office. 

In addition, Benjamin Netanyahu promised to establish a new agency for “Jewish Identity”, which Maoz will head, and which will carry extensive authority within the education ministry.

Maoz was also promised control over a special unit in the Ministry of Education that authorises cooperation between schools and external organisations. 

Through this unit, Maoz will be able to decide which NGOs will be allowed to speak with pupils in Israeli schools and thus prevent the sexual education classes that certain organisations offer, along with meetings with LGBTQ+ rights activists, and meetings between Jewish and Arab pupils that are organised by peace or co-existence groups.

A petition was signed by over 300 school headmasters opposing giving Maoz these responsibilities, and warning that his: “Racist, homophobic, regressive and extremist opinions are divisive and offensive to entire communities and harmful to wide identities within Israeli society.”

Dozens of mayors have joined the protest against Maoz and his newfound authority. 

As for the man himself, he is still not satisfied with this power and wants to go further. Maoz is now demanding that government forms replace the “parent one” and “parent two” classifications with only “father”, “mother” and “other”. And the former civil servant does not want to stop there. He has promised to cancel the Jerusalem gay pride parade and is against women serving in Israel’s military.

More liberal-minded lawmakers may be heckling and booing his performances in parliament, but following his deal with Netanyahu, Avi Maoz has never had more power than he does right now.

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