Council of Europe to revisit anti-circumcision stance

Decision comes after Israeli parliamentary group travels to Paris to plead for Jews to retain ability to perform ritual

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Illustrative photo of a ritual circumcision.(Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of a ritual circumcision.(Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Council of Europe said it would hold a meeting to reconsider a previous resolution that ruled that the ritual circumcision of young boys is against their basic human rights.

The announcement came after an Israeli delegation led by MK Reuven Rivlin met with members of the council in Paris to argue the case against banning religious circumcision, Israel Radio reported on Tuesday. The matter is scheduled to be debated at a full council meeting next month.

Rivlin said he believed that Europe would change its position regarding circumcision and religious freedom.

On October 1, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe passed a resolution that called male ritual circumcision a “violation of the physical integrity of children” by a vote of 78 to 13, with 15 abstentions.

The council, a pan-European intergovernmental organization, debated and passed the resolution based on a report by the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development led by German rapporteur Marlene Rupprecht.

The resolution called on states to “clearly define the medical, sanitary and other conditions to be ensured for practices such as the non-medically justified circumcision of young boys.”

In addition, the resolution urged member states to “initiate a public debate, including intercultural and inter-religious dialogue, aimed at reaching a large consensus on the rights of children to protection against violations of their physical integrity according to human rights standards” and to “adopt specific legal provisions to ensure that certain operations and practices will not be carried out before a child is old enough to be consulted.”

Practices covered by the resolution included female genital mutilation, the circumcision of young boys for religious reasons, early childhood medical interventions in the case of intersexual children, corporal punishment, and the submission to or coercion of children into piercings, tattoos or plastic surgery.

Large majorities of the council members rejected five amendments that sought to remove or alter references to the circumcision of boys. An amendment that removed a reference to the “religious rights of parents and families” was supported by a large majority of members.

The ritual circumcision of boys younger than 18 has come under attack increasingly in Scandinavia and other European countries both by left-wing secularists and right-wingers who fear the influence of immigration from Muslim countries.

Following the resolution government advisers on child welfare from Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Iceland issued a joint resolution in favor of banning the ritual circumcision of minors. All the advisers have adopted the position individually in recent years, but had never before cooperated to promote it regionally.

Taken together, the resolutions stoked fears that individual countries would feel empowered to enact legislation outlawing circumcision.

In November Israel’s Deputy Minister of Religious Services Eli Ben Dahan (Jewish Home party) met with the secretary general of the Council of Europe to urge protection of religious freedoms, and prevent restrictions on ritual circumcision and animal slaughter.

Slaughter without prior stunning was made illegal in Poland as of January, following a ruling in November by the constitutional court on a petition by animal rights activists. In July, lawmakers voted down a draft amendment to the law on animal protection that would have allowed for the slaughter of animals without prior stunning, as required by Jewish and Muslim law, if carried out so as to follow religious customs.

JTA contributed to this report.

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