Key Iceland parliament committee favors scrapping bill to ban circumcision

Judicial council’s recommendation all but seals fate of legislation, say Jewish groups, but lawmaker behind it says she hopes to re-raise issue

Illustrative: Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky seen at a circumcision ceremony in Israel on May 02, 2016. (Yaakov Cohen/Flash90)
Illustrative: Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky seen at a circumcision ceremony in Israel on May 02, 2016. (Yaakov Cohen/Flash90)

A judicial committee of Iceland’s parliament has recommended scrapping a bill that would ban the non-medical circumcision of boys.

Lawmakers from four parties submitted the measure for a vote in March pending a review by the Judicial Affairs and Educational Committee, the local news site Visir reported Thursday.

With parliament set to recess this week, Jewish groups opposing the measure to ban said it was highly unlikely that it would come to vote, especially after the committee’s recommendation.

However, the lawmaker behind the legislation, Silja Dögg Gunnarsdóttir, has expressed hope her measure would be raised again after the recess.

The bill, which calls the Jewish and Muslim custom cruel and dangerous, would make Iceland the only European country where non-medical circumcision of boys under 18 is illegal. Across Europe, the custom is under attack by liberals who find it a violation of children’s rights and nationalists who argue it is foreign to European culture.

Parliament House, Reykjavik, Iceland. (Education Images/UIG via Getty Images via JTA)

In recent weeks, international Jewish groups have lobbied Icelandic officials and lawmakers intensively to have the bill scrapped. They argue that a circumcision ban would constitute a death sentence for Jewish community life in Iceland, where 200 Jews live, and set a precedent for attempts elsewhere to ban circumcision and thus endanger religious freedoms.

The Chairman of the European Jewish Association Rabbi Menachem Margolin praised the recommendation from the judicial affairs committee this week in a Friday statement.

“I welcome the apparent demise of what was a discriminatory, unnecessary, and fundamentally anti-Jewish bill,” he said, asserting that the legislation “sought to criminalize an entire faith.”

“Whilst we welcome the news, we must remain vigilant. In our experience bills such as this do not come out in isolation but represent an idea that knows no borders,” Margolin added.

The US’s Orthodox Union, which helped lobby against the bill, similarly praised the recent development in Iceland.

“We are extremely gratified that members of the Icelandic government heard our concerns, understood the importance of this issue, and responded accordingly,” the group said.

Last week, officials from Iceland’s Government Agency for Child Protection – an advisory body whose policy is independent from the government — said it will not support the bill if it is brought to a vote.

Separately, in Denmark, a petition favoring a circumcision ban has received 90 percent of its target of 50,000 signatures. Once that number is reached, the petition will go up for a vote on a draft resolution in the parliament. Petition organizers have until August to collect the needed signatures.

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