We have counseled restraint in reacting to reports of leadership appointments in the new coalition government being hammered out by Israel’s prime minister-designate, Benjamin Netanyahu. And we continue to believe that appointees and holders of significant government portfolios should be given a chance to do their work before being judged or criticized. Still, we are concerned.
While we deeply respect the will of the Israeli electorate and accept the fact that Israel’s voters have chosen by a wide margin to support an array of hard-right, nationalistic and religiously assertive members of Knesset — many of whom will become ministers or senior portfolio holders in an expanding universe of significant government positions with direct impact on every segment of Israel’s diverse society — nothing in that respect and deference needs to tolerate racism, religious intolerance, homophobia or other discriminatory agendas.
In the opening round of reports concerning coalition discussions, we saw a number of familiar names. We heard a lot about Itamar Ben-Gvir, Bezalel Smotrich and Aryeh Deri before, during and after the November elections, and watched the chess-like moves Netanyahu made as he navigated ministry allocations among the leaders of his emboldened and demanding right-wing and haredi coalition partners. And yes, we wonder with the rest of the world about the wisdom of appointing the avowed nationalist and proponent of more confrontational security measures like Ben-Gvir to the newly created position of National Security Minister. And we wonder about the package of ministerial positions reportedly promised to Smotrich and his Religious Zionist Party in exchange for Smotrich stepping back from his impossible demand to serve as the country’s defense minister. Further, we can’t quite understand why the Knesset should be asked to change existing law in order to enable twice-convicted Deri to become a minister in the government and serve as deputy prime minister. Nonetheless, we are willing to wait and see what these newly minted ministers do with their new portfolios.
But even our deference can’t abide Netanyahu’s announced agreement to appoint Knesset member Avigdor (“Avi”) Maoz to be the next head of “Jewish Identity” for the Israeli government. Maoz is the single lawmaker of the fringe Noam Party (which partnered with the Religious Zionists for election purposes) and is one of the Knesset’s most extreme far-right politicians. He espouses non-pluralist Jewish views and anti-LGBT, sexist and anti-Arab positions. Maoz wants to change the Law of Return to exclude non-halachic Jews from immigrating to Israel; he wants to impose stricter Shabbat observance on Israelis and strengthen the Orthodox Rabbinate’s monopoly over Jewish life in Israel; and he espouses a self-righteous program of “family values” as part of his multi-pronged, homophobic campaign against the LGBTQ community.
The appointment of Maoz to any position of leadership and authority in the new Israeli government is a declaration of war against any effort to create a cooperative and accepting civil society in the State of Israel and a startling slap in the face to the overwhelming majority of Diaspora Jewry. Maoz’s intolerance and the policies he promotes threaten to create deep rifts within Israel and extreme discomfort and rejection in the Diaspora. That is not in Israel’s interests.