Israeli education minister retracts statement that assimilation is like second Holocaust

The education minister retracted his statement in a letter to Jewish Agency head Isaac Herzog.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

On Tuesday, in a letter sent to Jewish Agency chief Isaac Herzog. Israeli Education Minister Rafi Peretz retracted the statement he made at a cabinet meeting some two weeks ago comparing Jewish intermarriage to a “second Holocaust”.

Peretz, who is an Orthodox rabbi and stands at the head of the Union of Right-Wing Parties, said he “loses sleep” over the assimilation rate in the Diaspora, and his words simply reflected his pain over the phenomenon.

“Out of deep concern for the fate of the Jewish people I made use of the word ‘Shoah,’ an expression which was meant to express the depths of my agony about the issue, but probably was not an appropriate term to use,” he wrote in response to a missive from Herzog asking him to clarify his remarks so as to prevent an unnecessary rift among the Jewish people.

The education minister had used the sensitive number of 6 million people, saying that this was the number of Jews the nation had lost to intermarriage in the last 70 years. His statement was condemned by Israeli politicians and Jewish organizational officials alike.

He had not intended to insult anyone, Peretz continued, saying, “As one who has always championed ahavat yisrael — love of Israel — it is important for me to clarify that I respect and cherish the entire Jewish people in Israel and in the Diaspora.”

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While admitting that his words were not chosen wisely, Peretz doesn’t intend to back down from the issue, having held a meeting with  education ministry officials to look for ways to strengthen Diaspora Jewry’s ties to Israel and the Jewish people in order to help combat assimilation.

Peretz also tried to put out another fire as well – the one over his controversial statement over the weekend that he thought conversion therapy for homosexuals was possible. A furor arose that included rejection of his remarks by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, calls for his resignation by gay activists and opposition politicians and threats from parents to strike against the school system.

In a letter to school principals, the education minister said unequivocally that he had never advised such treatment to a student who came to him for help.

“I know that conversion therapy is illegitimate and severe,” he wrote, adding that he understands it “creates more suffering than help and can even endanger a person’s life through [potential] suicide that can be prevented.”