The Israeli cabinet is set to sanction an investment of 285 million shekels ($76.5 million) to form a new Jewish Identity Authority. This entity will be led by Avi Maoz, the chairperson of the far-right, homophobic Noam party, stirring controversy amidst a backdrop of recent political turbulence.
Avi Maoz: A New Role with Broad Power
Maoz, recently reinstated after stepping down from the government three months prior, is poised to return to the education arena in a position of significant influence. Formerly responsible for external educational programs at the Education Ministry, he is now expected to serve as an independent overseer of school curricula in parallel to the Ministry’s own authorities.
The Minister of Education, Yoav Kisch, claimed that the Ministry’s policies and enrichment programs will remain unaltered, clarifying in a statement, “All powers were and remain in the hands of the Education Ministry alone.”
An Uncertain Path: Vague Mandate and Funding Concerns
The role of Maoz in the new Jewish Identity Authority bears similarities to Orit Strock’s National Missions Ministry. The Authority is expected to utilize state budget funds to promote religious observance among students and adults and to bolster “Jewish national identity” in schools, in collaboration with the Education Ministry.
However, the cabinet resolution is ambiguous concerning the specifics of Maoz’s role and the allocation of funds. Interestingly, several goals specified in the budget – such as integrating religion into schools and supporting religious programming – are already being funded by the Education Ministry, among other bodies.
Content and Funding: Old Accusations and New Concerns
Maoz, who has a history of criticizing the Education Ministry for approving ostensibly liberal educational programs and curricula sponsored by foreign entities, is likely to identify and scrutinize such initiatives under his new role. His claims, however, remain unverified, according to an article by Haaretz.
The intent to extend the system to monitor all curricula taught nationwide and the plans to collect information independently of educational professionals have sparked apprehensions of potential bias.
Potential Ramifications: Looking Ahead
Critics worry that principals selecting liberal programs focusing on topics like LGBTQ+ issues, sex education, and gender studies may be targeted. This could lead to parents exerting pressure on school administrators by sidestepping the Education Ministry and local authorities.
Shlomit Barnea Farago, the Education Ministry’s legal adviser, urged a professional examination of the authority’s spending by Ministry staff and legal advisers. She insisted that the unit must ensure equitable spending based on evidence-based criteria.
As the cabinet prepares to vote on the contentious resolution, concerns are rife about the implications for Israel’s education system.