WASHINGTON — The leading Republican and Democrat on the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee have joined forces to urge Iceland to stand down from a proposed bill to ban circumcision.
“While Jewish and Muslim populations in Iceland may be small, your country’s ban could be exploited by those who stoke xenophobia and anti-Semitism in countries with more diverse populations,” said a letter sent April 5 to the embassy of Iceland in Washington, DC by Congressmen Ed Royce, the Republican chairman of the committee, and Eliot Engel, its top Democrat.
“As a partner nation, we urge your government to stop this intolerant bill from advancing any further,” said the letter, which was released to the public on Thursday by the Orthodox Union, a group that has spoken out against the proposed ban.
“While Iceland’s Jewish community may be one of the smallest in the world, the legislation to ban male circumcision looms as a large assault upon Jewish – and Muslim – religious freedom and practice,” Nathan Diament, the OU’s Washington director, said in a statement.
Under the proposed law, the circumcision of boys — removing the foreskin of the penis, usually when the child is a newborn — would be viewed as equal to female genital mutilation and punishable by up to six years in prison. Circumcision for medical reasons would still be allowed.
The legislation calls circumcision a violation of human rights “since boys are not able to give an informed consent of an irreversible physical intervention.”
If the law passes, Iceland will become the first European country to ban the practice.
Circumcision is not common in Iceland, a small Atlantic Ocean island nation of 340,000 people that is overwhelmingly Lutheran or atheist, with an estimated 100 to 200 Jews and about 1,100 practicing Muslims.
Since 2006, only 21 boys under the age of 18 have been circumcised at Icelandic hospitals or private clinics, according to Iceland’s Directorate of Health. The agency could not say how many were for religious reasons.