Israel's education minister has likened intermarriage among diaspora Jews, and particularly North American Jews, to the Holocaust in a recent cabinet meeting. A spokesman for Education Minister Rafi Peretz confirmed Tuesday that Peretz said that "assimilation is like a second Holocaust."
Peretz, of the Union of Right-Wing Parties, made the statement, first reported by Barak Ravid of Israel's Channel 13 News, during a session on the state of world Jewry, where ministers discussed the global threat of anti-Semitism and other issues concerning diaspora Jews.
His statement puts further strain on the relations between Israel's Orthodoxy and the American Jewish community, much of whose members abide by more liberal streams of Judaism.
The Anti-Defamation League responded in a Hebrew tweet, saying Peretz' statement "adds to the already existing tension between Israel and U.S. Jewry. As education minister and leader of the Union of Right-Wing Parties, we call on @realrafiperets to engage in respectful dialogue."
Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt slammed Peretz, saying remarks about intermarriage are "inconceivable."
President of the Ruderman Family Foundation, Jay Ruderman, said it is “irresponsible and disrespectful to talk about U.S. Jews without talking with them.”
“Israel’s government has a moral responsibility to maintain and improve the country’s relationship with diaspora Jews in general, and with the American Jewish community in particular,” he said in a statement. “I call upon all of Israel’s leaders, and especially those in office, to dedicate time and resources to learn more about the American Jewish community, its life and its challenges.”
The Ruderman family foundation, a Jewish organization which advances the inclusion of people with disabilities in society, also aims to strengthen the relationship between Israel and the American Jewish Community.
“A conversation between the sides is needed,” Ruderman added. “But this requires time and planning, not random comments detached from an ongoing, respectful discourse.”
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Last year, Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel, member of the National Union – one of the member parties to the Union of Right-Wing Parties, sent a letter to employees at his ministry discussing the "assimilation Holocaust." According to Ariel, "During the Holocaust, we've lost about six million Jews. Without at all comparing the two, we're losing a part of our people to assimilation."
Fellow National Union member Eli Ben Dahan said in 2014, while he was deputy minister for religious affairs, that intermarriage are "a silent Holocaust. We must remember that the Jewish people, unfortunately, has gone through a Holocaust. It has been diminishing over the past century … In Europe we have as much as 80 percent intermarriages; in the United States it's 66 percent. It's horrible."
Noa Landau contributed to this report.