Anti-LGBTQ politician Avi Maoz has resigned from the Israeli cabinet, claiming that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu balked on letting him launch an initiative to shape Jewish identity.
Maoz heads the Noam Party, one of three in the far-right Religious Zionist bloc that helped return Netanyahu to office. For the past two months, he has served as a deputy minister in Netanyahu’s cabinet and was placed in charge of a proposed National Jewish Identity Authority. His resignation letter, sent on Monday, said he is not withdrawing his support of the coalition, which still holds a majority of 64 lawmakers in the 120-seat Knesset, Israel’s parliament.
Maoz said in his letter that he had hoped to “cancel the policies of the [previous government] in the ministries of Education, Labor and Health, policies that were aimed at changing our basic concepts of the people of Israel and the Jewish family.”
He continued, “To my amazement, I discovered there was never any serious intention to fulfill the coalition agreement regarding the National Jewish Identity Authority.” Maoz’s letter was posted to Twitter by Times of Israel reporter Tal Schneider.
Maoz is one of a number of Netanyahu allies who have pursued profound shifts in multiple spheres, including by overhauling the judiciary and making significant changes to Israeli West Bank settlements and the country’s education system, among other spheres. The proposed changes Netanyahu’s coalition has advanced have drawn international criticism and massive public protests. Maoz is one of several coalition partners accusing him of slow-walking some of the changes.
Maoz has called himself a “proud homophobe” and has sought to scrub perceived foreign influences from Israeli education. His position as deputy minister came with an office and staff that was intended to shape Israel’s Jewish identity. The agreement he signed with Netanyahu gave Maoz responsibility for extracurricular activity at Israel’s schools, and sparked protests at school districts across the country.
But Maoz said Netanyahu and the Education Ministry have stalled on transferring those responsibilities. Moreover, he said, his efforts to further restrict the rights of non-Orthodox groups to pray at the Western Wall and to force Israeli government forms to have spaces for “Mother” and “Father” (rather than gender-neutral spaces for each parent) “have not been fulfilled as of this writing.”
But in a post to his party’s Facebook page, Maoz wrote that he still supported the Netanyahu government, which he called “100 times better” than its predecessor. He portrayed his decision as a strategic move to maximize his impact in Knesset, where he believes he will be more effective as a lawmaker who can propose laws and sit on parliamentary committees.
“I did not quit the coalition led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu,” he wrote. “I haven’t moved to the opposition and I certainly do not mean to act against the government or coalition. The step I’ve announced is essentially a move from the executive branch to the legislative branch within the coalition.”