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Israeli Education Minister Rafi Peretz. Photo: Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images

Israel's newly appointed Minister of Education Rafi Peretz said at a Cabinet meeting on July 1 that the rate of intermarriage among U.S. Jews is "like a second Holocaust," according to 3 people who were in the room.

Why it matters: Peretz, a former chief rabbi of the Israeli army, is the leader of a bloc of ultra right-wing religious parties. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was personally involved in forming this political bloc, which also includes the Jewish supremacist "Jewish Power" party. If Netanyahu wins the upcoming elections, Peretz will likely stay on as education minister.

  • Peretz's remarks represent the growing rift between the Orthodox parts of Israeli society and politics, and the majority of U.S. Jews who are much more liberal, and most of whom identify with the Reform or Conservative denominations.

How it happened: The July 1 Cabinet meeting included a briefing by Dennis Ross, chairman of the board of the "Jewish People Policy Institute" and a senior official in the Obama, Bush, and Clinton administrations, on trends in Jewish communities around the world, in particular in North America.

  • During Ross' briefing, the ministers discussed the growing rate of marriages between Jews and non-Jews in America.
  • Peretz said the assimilation of Jews around the world and mostly in the U.S. was "like a second Holocaust," and added that due to intermarriages in the last 70 years the Jewish people "lost 6 million people." Peretz's spokesman confirmed this account.
  • Minister of Energy Yuval Steinitz pushed back on Peretz's remarks and said assimilation wasn't a critical problem. Steinitz added: "First we need to stop disregarding and looking down on Jews in America that see themselves as Jews not only religiously but even more culturally and historically."
  • Netanyahu concluded the discussion by saying he is less concerned by political trends among U.S. Jews who are more liberal than by the demographic trends.
  • Netanyahu added that growing numbers of U.S. Jews are drifting away from Jewish traditions, a trend that is hard to reverse.

The big picture: A State Department report on religious freedom, released 2 weeks ago, mentioned concerns raised by U.S. Jews over religious freedom in Israel.

  • The report mentioned the fact the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate has exclusive control over marriage, divorce, and burials for Jews and does not recognize the Reform and Conservative denominations.
  • Another example in the report was the suspension by Netanyahu's government of an agreement to make prayer at the Western Wall more inclusive.

What's next: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will hold a ministerial meeting on religious freedom next week in Washington with foreign ministers from around the world.

  • Israel Katz, Israel's new foreign minister, is going to attend the meeting. This will be Katz's first official visit to Washington, and he is likely to have a bilateral meeting with Pompeo. 

Go deeper

45 million Americans under winter storm watches near New England

Computer model projection showing the winds moving around the powerful East Coast storm on Saturday Jan. 29, 2022. Image: https://earth.nullschool.net

Nearly 45 million Americans are under winter weather alerts and warnings from North Carolina to northeastern Maine, as a major winter storm threatens the region.

Why it matters: It is predicted to be the biggest blizzard since 2018 to strike the Northeast with more than 2 feet of snow possible in parts of eastern Massachusetts, according to the National Weather Service.

2 hours ago - World

Australian PM pledges $700M for climate change-threatened Great Barrier reef

A green sea turtle is flourishing among the corals at Lady Elliot island in Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Photo: Jonas Gratzer/LightRocket via Getty Images

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced Friday a AU$1 billion ($703 million) investment plan for the Great Barrier Reef.

Why it matters: The nine-year plan for projects including water quality improvement, reef conservation and supporting some 64,000 tourism jobs comes months ahead of this year's federal election. It has been criticized by scientists and environmental groups for failing to tackle climate change.

Judge nixes Gulf of Mexico oil leases in climate-focused ruling

Tug boats prepare to tow the semi-submersible drilling platform Noble Danny Adkins through the Port Aransas Channel into the Gulf of Mexico on December 12, 2020 in Port Aransas, Texas. Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images

A federal judge on Thursday canceled the Biden administration's late 2021 sale of new oil-and-gas drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico.

Why it matters: The ruling that the greenhouse gas emissions analysis by the Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) was insufficient is a win for green groups that challenged the decision, as they seek to curb fossil fuel production.