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Israeli mayors stand against anti-gay legislator on education

Mayors of liberal cities in Israel have joied the protest of outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid against anti-LGBTQ Knesset member Avi Maoz controlling the unit that decides on external education programs.

Israeli politicians, mayors and civil society groups are protesting the intention of Prime Minister-designated Benjamin Netanyahu to appoint far-right anti-LGBTQ Knesset member Avi Maoz to lead the unit responsible for external-curriculum classes. Many in Israel believe Maoz will block or cancel educational programs aimed at teaching liberal values, gender equality and tolerance towards minority groups. Earlier this week, Maoz said he will work to cancel the gay pride parade in Jerusalem.

As part of his coalition negotiations, Netanyahu agreed yesterday that Maoz, head of the small far-right party Noam, will serve as a deputy minister in the prime minister's office and receive responsibilities that currently belong to the education ministry. Maoz will control the unit that decides on external education programs, meaning the list of non-official bodies authorized to teach or lecture at schools. The agreement between the Likud and Noam parties stipulates that the unit will be transferred from the education ministry to the ministry of the prime minister. Maoz reportedly plans to use this position to strengthen what he calls "Jewish identity."

Outgoing Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton is reportedly organizing a meeting next week with civil society groups, teachers and parents’ organizations, to protest this move.

Outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid sent an open letter yesterday to all the heads of local and regional councils, saying, “I am writing to you with great concern for the future of the education system and the state, since the new government established in Israel has abandoned the education of our children and handed them over to the most extreme and dark elements in Israeli society.” Lapid reiterated today his call on the councils’ heads not to cooperate with the unit under Maoz.

Today, Netanyahu accused Lapid of trying to instigate an anti-democratic rebellion by mayors against an elected government. Lapid responded, “I won’t take any lessons in democracy from you. Not from someone operating a foreign-financed poison machine engaged in slander of the lowest level. There was not one moment throughout the past year and a half in which you respected democracy.’’

Several mayors echoed Lapid’s call. Shirley Rimon Bracha, head of the education department at the Tel Aviv municipality, wrote to school principals in the city that Maoz’s expected appointment “is a management drama that could become a moral drama as well. I assume we all fear extremist, one-sided political intervention in the school material.”

Mayor of the central city of Ramat Gan Carmel Shama Hacohen pledged yesterday that “For every hour of study of liberalism, inclusion and equality that the government will cut, the city of Ramat Gan will allocate [pay for] two hours to those subjects.” Mayors of Herzliya, Petach Tikvah and Mevaseret Ziyon also pledged to finance such programs from their own budget, if the government stops supporting them.

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