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Avi Maoz: The extremist who could change Israeli education

Avi Maoz: How a far-right politician could transform Israeli education
5 min read
03 January, 2023
In-depth: The Noam party leader, a religious-nationalist settler known for his extreme anti-LGBTQ+ views, will have control over all external curricula in Israel's education system.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government has officially been sworn into office.

Packed with extremists, the government will be the most right-wing in the state’s history and give authority over key sectors to several firebrand politicians.

In particular, Israeli parliamentary member and chairman of the far-right fringe Noam Party, Avi Maoz, will be in charge of a unit in the Education Ministry overseeing external programming in schools.

Maoz has long been a key advocate of illegal Israeli settlements, helping to found Migdal Oz in the occupied West Bank and currently one of several hundred Jewish settlers living in the Palestinian neighbourhood of Silwan in East Jerusalem.

His appointment has sparked a backlash from school principals, mayors, NGOs, and even outgoing politicians, given his anti-LGBTQ+ and sexist positions.

Former Prime Minister Yair Lapid announced his party will open a hotline for parents who want to make sure Noam’s political agenda isn’t part of their children’s learning.

“Maoz will be not allowed to instil the dark, homophobic, nationalist and violent teachings of his party into the schools of every child in Israel,” the party wrote on Facebook.

Outgoing Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton warned Maoz’s new authority would harm Israeli pupils’ education.

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“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 content and the bodies that will teach it,” Shasha-Biton tweeted.

More than 300 school principals signed a petition opposing Maoz’s “racist, homophobic, dark and extreme views that divide and harm entire communities and broad identities in Israeli society".

And more than 50 municipal officials said they would not cooperate with Maoz and instead would self-fund plans affected by Maoz’s decisions.

Maoz is one of several hundred Jewish settlers living in the Palestinian neighbourhood of Silwan in Jerusalem. [Getty]

Avi Maoz's new role

In Israel, education is split between standard forms of teaching through textbooks and classroom learning while the other part focuses on partnerships with the public and private sectors.

Here, students learn through outside programs, such as guest lectures. School administrations are allocated a budget for external activities and choose the programs through an Education Ministry database.

Dr Tammy Hoffman, education policy director at the Israel Democracy Institute, explained that while Maoz can’t determine which programs schools pick, he can dictate the database’s criteria - effectively deciding which organisations are allowed in the system and thereafter in schools.

“The protest is against the idea that you can take public education and start to tear it apart,” Hoffman said, referring to the public outrage against Maoz’s appointment.

Yuval Rahamim, co-CEO of the Parents Circle – Families Forum, an NGO consisting of Palestinian and Israeli families who have lost relatives because of the violence, believes Maoz is planning to change the database’s guidelines.

“That means to favour those programs that are within his agenda, meaning religious, nationalistic, and [others] in those lines. And make it harder for organisations that talk about peace, shared society, LGBT education, and everything that is not within these agendas,” Rahamim said.

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His organisation has been speaking to students for 20 years. Despite current, right-wing protests against the NGO, Rahamim says the forum’s meetings with students consistently receive positive feedback. Yet he fears - with Maoz in charge - external education in Israel could become an untrustworthy institution.

“We are afraid that it will be the end of life for this program because people will not take it seriously once it's so politically managed with guidelines that aren’t based on education but based on a political agenda,” Rahamim said.

With pluralistic and progressive programs under threat, Naomi Beyth-Zoran, the education department director for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, said educators are strategising on how to finance such activities on their own. Yet where the money would come from remains a mystery.

The new Israeli government will be the most right-wing in the state's history and give authority over key sectors to several firebrand politicians. [Getty]

Israeli education now and going forward

The academic curriculum in Israel has long been criticised for presenting a distorted reality of the state’s history and relationship with Palestinians.

In an exceptional move, the Tel-Aviv-Jaffa municipality sent its schools maps this year showing the Green Line, the border demarcating de-facto Israel and areas occupied during the 1967 war.

Israel’s borders are rarely discussed in classrooms, with maps generally not including the Green Line and textbooks not touching upon the issue.

Rahamim said his organisation’s activities in schools can be incredibly impactful for students who aren’t taught about Israel’s occupation of Palestine.

“They are so moved and transformed after these meetings that they have a whole new perspective about the conflict, about what can be done, about reconciliation, and about the humanity on the other side,” Rahamim said.

And that’s what he believes is the danger of Maoz’s new position - keeping Israelis in the dark about the region they live in.

“And this is what they're [the government is] trying to prevent, those mind-opening conversations,” Rahamim said. “Because it is so effective.”

Jessica Buxbaum is a Jerusalem-based journalist covering Palestine and Israel. Her work has been featured in Middle East Eye, The National, and Gulf News.

Follow her on Twitter: @jess_buxbaum