Netanyahu moves closer to power after pact with ultranationalist

Benjamin Netanyahu has moved a step closer to forming a new Israeli government, after striking a coalition deal with a small ultranationalist grouping known for its vehement opposition to LGBT rights.

The deal between Netanyahu’s Likud and the fringe Noam party will put its leader Avi Maoz, who supports legalising gender segregation at public events and has called for the banning of Jerusalem’s Pride parade, in charge of a newly created body charged with the task of promoting Jewish identity.

“This is the first step towards bringing back the soul to the state,” Maoz, who will become a deputy minister, said in a statement.

The support of Maoz is not necessary for Netanyahu to build a new government because he is the only Noam member in the 120-seat Knesset. His inclusion underscores the hardline nature of the emerging administration that Likud and four other parties have been negotiating to form since winning an unexpectedly comfortable majority in this month’s parliamentary elections.

Netanyahu must reach coalition deals with all the parties before the new government can take office. They share broad ideological alignment, but talks have dragged on amid haggling over ministerial positions.

However, in recent days, there have been indications that the parties are edging closer to forming a government.

On Sunday, Bezalel Smotrich, head of the far-right Religious Zionism party, which has been locked in tough negotiations with Likud, said that “with God’s help” an administration would be formed “in the coming days”.

Meanwhile, on Friday Likud struck a deal with the extreme right Jewish Power party, under which its leader, Itamar Ben-Gvir, who was previously convicted of incitement to racism, will become Israel’s new minister of national security and take on responsibility for the police force.

The Palestinian Authority said the deal would have “potentially catastrophic results” for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Netanyahu and Ben-Gvir have also made a series of other pledges, including that they will pass a law that will legalise settlement outposts in the occupied West Bank, and make legal changes that will allow the shooting of thieves caught stealing weaponry from army bases.

Netanyahu has previously insisted that the new government will not make any changes to LGBT rights in Israel. However, Likud’s agreement with Noam drew fierce criticism from rights activists and Netanyahu’s political opponents.

Outgoing prime minister, Yair Lapid, branded the deal “nothing short of insanity”. “With every passing day, it seems that, rather than a fully rightwing government, what is being formed here is a fully crazy government,” he wrote on Twitter on Sunday.

“Likud voters, is this what you wanted? That this backwards nationalist will decide about your life? About your daughters? About your gay nephew? Is this what you want the State of Israel to look like?”

Noam was founded in 2019 and quickly made headlines for a campaign under the motto “Israel chooses to be normal” that attacked LGBT rights. It has also staked out hardline positions on women’s rights and the position of Israel’s Arab minority.

LGBT rights group The Aguda described Maoz’s appointment as a “low point”. “A man who called us perverts, paedophiles and freaks, one who puts his entire energy into an obsessive campaign to deprive us of our rights and normalise hatred of LGBT people is not worthy of serving as a deputy minister in Israel,” the group said.

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