Prime Minister Yair Lapid launched a blistering attack on Sunday against presumed incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to hand over control of external programming at schools to far-right MK Avi Maoz, whose Noam party campaigned on a homophobic and anti-pluralistic platform.
Lapid said he gave his full support to local authorities who have said they could rebel against extremist interference in their schools. Lapid also dismissed reports that Netanyahu plans to be personally involved in overseeing the content Maoz seeks to bring to schools and will have the final say — reports that have been seen as a bid to calm concerned educators.
“Netanyahu himself knows this is a lie. He says it in the hope that the storm will pass,” Lapid wrote on Facebook.
“[Netanyahu] says this because he knows he has done a terrible deed — he has transferred a budget of over NIS 2 billion ($587 million) into the hands of a dangerous racist, with an open ticket to the heart and mind of every child in Israel,” Lapid said.
“If we don’t stop them, Avi Maoz and his unenlightened gang will put unenlightened, racist, extremist, misogynistic and anti-LGBT content into our children’s schools. Even the Likud party admitted that it was a grave mistake to give Maoz control of all the educational programs, but Netanyahu is weak,” Lapid wrote.
More than 50 municipalities have joined protests against the decision to transfer control of external programming to Maoz, which would happen when — as is presumed all but certain — Netanyahu forms the next government. In addition, over 300 school principals have put their names to a letter condemning the decision.
Maoz has also courted controversy by vowing to scrap the Jerusalem Pride Parade, with the intense and immediate backlash forcing Netanyahu himself to promise he won’t let that happen.
Unnamed officials from Netanyahu’s Likud party gave seemingly contradictory briefings to various outlets on Sunday morning, possibly indicating that the party was caught off guard by the intense opposition to the coalition deal with Maoz.
Army Radio said in an unsourced report that Likud officials were considering slowing the transfer of authority to Maoz in the hope that he will decide to quit.
The report said that it was “hoped” that if the bureaucracy took too long to resolve, Maoz would resign without the Likud party having to violate the agreement signed with him.
According to the Kan public broadcaster, senior Likud officials have said that they do not intend to remove the authority for external programming from Maoz.
The report quoted the officials as saying the campaign against Maoz was an attempt at delegitimization, and Netanyahu did not intend to fold.
The comments were made in “closed conversations,” the report said, usually code for statements given to reporters unofficially.
Reporting on comments apparently made by other senior unnamed Likud officials, the Israel Hayom daily reported that there was a growing understanding that Netanyahu could end up letting Maoz go to the opposition since he does not need his single vote in the government, given that the bloc won a majority with 64 seats.
“If Avi Maoz causes too much trouble for Netanyahu and continues to speak out against the pride parade, he will find himself outside the coalition. He is not needed, there are 63 votes without him,” an unnamed Likud official said.
Meanwhile, far-right leader Bezalel Smotrich, whose Religious Zionism party ran on a united slate with Noam as well as Itamar Ben Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit party, gave his backing to Maoz in Sunday morning interviews.
“Every parent can teach at home and in afterschool activities whatever they want, but the state system needs to draw boundaries based on consensus,” Smotrich told Army Radio.
“The whole campaign of intimidation and incitement against Avi Maoz is a show of irresponsibility. We don’t live in a reality where there’s a free and open education system. Let’s not be hypocrites — the parents are a captive client of the [local] authorities,” he said.
Netanyahu last week in coalition negotiations agreed to give Maoz, the sole lawmaker in the fringe Noam party, an annual budget of at least NIS 100 million ($29 million), as well as over a dozen staffers, as a deputy minister at the helm of a new “national Jewish identity” government agency within the Prime Minister’s Office.
According to the agreement, the Education Ministry unit responsible for external teaching and partnerships will also be placed under Maoz’s control, giving him authority over non-official bodies enlisted to teach or lecture at schools.
That aspect of the deal in particular has caused a public uproar among opponents of Noam’s agenda and has led many local leaders to talk of rebellion against any attempt to bring an extreme agenda into schools.
Channel 12 news reported that the unit has an approximate NIS 2 billion budget for educational programming.
“We’re talking about 3,000 programs that deal with the core of education in the education system — history, civics, reducing inequality and tolerance,” a former director-general of the Education Ministry, Shmuel Abuav, told the network.
Over 50 local authorities have said they will not allow Maoz to dictate their educational curricula, and over 300 school principals sent Netanyahu a letter in protest.
However, it remains unclear how many authorities would be able to step in to provide funding if needed.
“We won’t allow primitive views to dictate the agenda,” the Ynet news site quoted the principals as writing.
However, Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion, whose city has the largest education system in the country, did not take a stand on the matter in a statement on Sunday morning.
“Jerusalem has stood out, since time immemorial, for its great diversity and its ability to accept and accommodate all as equals, while striving for excellence,” Lion said. “The school principals have broad powers and we encourage independent thinking, which is good.”
On Friday, Channel 12 cited unnamed officials in Likud as saying giving Maoz the portfolio had been a serious blunder during coalition negotiations.
The sources said negotiators had not realized the importance nor the scope of the education division that he had demanded.
“We did not know that we gave him the keys and now it is too late to reverse,” the report quoted the source as saying, calling it a “double catastrophe.”
Netanyahu, the Likud leader, has until December 11 to form a government, although he can request a 14-day extension if he fails to do so in time.