Israel: European stance on circumcision ‘intolerable’

Foreign Ministry urges Council of Europe to rescind statements on religious ritual, comparison to female genital mutilation

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

Israel denounced the Council of Europe for its recent anti-circumcision resolution Friday, calling on it to rescind its statements and warning that the resolution “fosters hate” and racism in Europe.

“Circumcision of male children is an ancient religious tradition of two important religions, Judaism and Islam, and it is also common among some Christian circles,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said in a statement Friday.

The resolution, passed Tuesday by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, called male ritual circumcision a “violation of the physical integrity of children.” Practices covered by the resolution also included female genital mutilation, 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.

The resolution calls 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 his statement Friday, Palmor called on the Council of Europe “to act without delay in order to annul” the resolution. He also railed against statements to the effect that circumcision was deleterious to male infants and said the comparison between ritual circumcision and the “barbaric practice” of female genital mutilation was “either appalling ignorance, at best, or defamation and anti-religious hatred, at worst.”

The European resolution, according to the Israeli statement, is “an intolerable attack both on the respectable and ancient religious tradition that lies at the base of European culture, and on modern medical science and its findings. This resolution casts a moral stain on the Council of Europe, and fosters hate and racist trends in Europe.”

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

In Germany a year ago, the government announced legislation that would legalize ritual circumcisions if they are performed by a medical professional, three months after a local court criminalized the rite and criminal charges were filed against two rabbis. The case elicited comments from a series of Israeli officials, including President Shimon Peres.

At the height of the German circumcision controversy, the leaders of the Jewish community there criticized then-interior minister Eli Yishai and then-Ashkenazi chief rabbi Yona Metzger for their “unhelpful” involvement, saying their comments were a counterproductive interference in the affairs of an independent Jewish Diaspora community.

“The two both unnecessarily strained the debate and contributed to further uncertainty,” the heads of the Central Council of Jews in Germany wrote in a letter to Israel’s ambassador in Berlin, Yakov Hadas-Handelsman, the German-Jewish weekly Juedische Allgemeine reported on Monday.

A report last year by a Jerusalem-based think tank about the spate of recent challenges to the religious rights of European Jews argued that intervention by Israeli officials could be seen as “foreign country interference and… may put local Jewish leadership in an uncomfortable position.”

JTA contributed to this report.

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