Israeli election results came as a surprise to the far-right Religious Zionism party. The party, which is composed of three lists, ended up receiving six Knesset seats after teetering on the verge of the electoral threshold. Lucky number six was Avigdor (Avi) Maoz, head of Noam, a party for "normal people" in Israel.
Noam sees itself as a champion of Jewish, national and religious values. It raises the banner of "Jewish identity,” “family values” and fights against what they call “post-modernism.” While all of which could sound reasonable, in practice, Noam's representatives have emphasized time and again their opposition to LGBTQ and Reform Jews' rights, as well as their will to reform the judiciary system.
The party suggests that "foreign powers and many countries" are behind a massive campaign to undermine and alter every value, norm or concept in Israel and alludes to a sort of a “deep state” running the judiciary and the education system.
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After the exit polls predicted Maoz will sit in the Knesset, he promised it was only the beginning. From now on he will fight against the omnipresence of post-modernist worldviews, which seek to blur the Jewish sacred identity. He also pledged to cleanse the education and judiciary systems from what he called "body tissues infected with post-modernist worldviews," as well as reform the academia and the military.
Now, Maoz is expected to not only raise Noam's "normative family” banner but also promote the party's principles in the Knesset. Maoz's only vice is that he is far from being an ideal politician, he lacks charisma and while "he knows his way around bureaucracy and is a master of finding detours,” as a co-worker at the Construction and Housing Ministry has said, he is not very inspiring.
Maoz, who was one of the founders Kibbutz Migdal Oz, a settlement in the West Bank, makes it into the Knesset at 64. After serving in the Israeli army, he studied at the prominent Mercaz Harav yeshiva, where ultra-conservative Rabbi Tzvi Tau was his spiritual guide. When Tau left the yeshiva over ideological differences with the religious Zionist camp, Maoz followed Tau to his breakaway yeshiva, Har Hamor.
At the time Maoz was heavily involved in the struggle to free Jewish activists in the former Soviet Union who were jailed for their Zionist activity, the so called Prisoners of Zion. He then worked under Natan Sharansky, a prominent prisoner of Zion, at the Interior Ministry and the Construction and Housing Ministry.
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In 2004 Maoz resigned in protest of Israel’s Gaza disengagement plan and focused his efforts on developing settlements, alongside other business activities throughout the private sector.
While it might seem that Maoz was promoted as a candidate thanks to his affiliation with Har Hamor yeshiva, Rabbi Tau and the yeshiva's leadership opted for Maoz mainly due to his experience in the public sector.
The New Normal?
Maoz hopes to utilize his work experience to promote the values of what Noam calls "the normative family.” Promoting “a normative family” is a Noam doublespeak for the struggle against any form of a LGBTQ family, which, as far as Noam understands it, is one of the most serious threats to Israeli society.
In his speeches, Maoz attempts to undermine the efforts to normalize LGBTQ families by calling their democratic legitimacy into question. "When did we all get together and decide that it's appropriate for the education system to teach our children that deviant relations between two men or two women are normative and constitute a desired family model?"
Maoz also vocalizes his views on other matters, such as local initiatives for public transport on Shabbat and maintaining the Chief Rabbinate’s sway over Jewish conversions, regularly fights against liberal Jewish groups, as well as against a proposal for an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall, and takes aim at liberal education, women in combat, and – naturally – the media.
Rabbi Dror Aryeh, Maoz’s predecessor who failed to get Noam into the Knesset in 2019, called his successor “a great, honest and very gentle person.”
“It’s not homophobia," Aryeh said in an effort to defend the party's ideology. "For the radical left, anyone who says they're for family values is branded as homophobic."
Noam's fundamentalist agenda is not generally accepted by mainstream religious Zionism. That is why Bezalel Smotrich, the head of right-wing Religious Zionism and National Union party list, emphasized that the joint run with Noam's list constituted merely a so-called "technical bloc" for the election.
Religious Zionism officials are skeptical that Maoz will eventually join their Knesset faction, in part because of the fact that two women have also made it into Knesset on the Religious Zionism ticket.
Despite stern attempts by Religious Zionism officials to keep Noam and Maoz away from the public eye, Makor Rishon, a right-wing religious publication, interviewed Maoz earlier this month. Referring to his desired familial modal, Maoz said that “the greatest contribution women can make for the state is to marry and raise an honorable family.”
Just days before Election Day, Eldad Rabinowicz, number 11 on the Religious Zionism slate, and a representative of Noam, blasted Likud's Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, who is openly gay.
Rabinowicz argued that it is problematic for such a high-ranking public official to openly express that "important part of his identity."
Religious Zionism officials called such statements by Noam candidates “political suicide.” But that doesn’t change the fact that Maoz was elected and will be part of the Knesset – possibly even the 61st lawmaker Netanyahu needs to potentially secure a coalition. That’s the same Netanyahu who before the 2019 election vowed to promote the rights of the LGBTQ community. If Netanyahu really meant that, perhaps he ought to rethink a possible alliance with an essentially homophobic party.