Last week, Germany’s parliament acted expeditiously to squelch the attempt of a Cologne judge to ban circumcision. A cross-party motion promoted by Chancellor Angela Merkel passed by the lower house urged the government to present a bill in the fall that would specifically protect the right of circumcision. This both reassured the Jewish and Muslim communities as well as prevented Germany from being seen as, in Merkel’s words, a “laughingstock” for seeking to render illegal a key Jewish religious ritual only a generation after the Holocaust.
But Germany’s efforts may not be enough to halt the momentum of those seeking to infringe upon religious liberty. As Haaretz reports, two Swiss hospitals have just announced they will stop performing circumcisions. This illustrates that the movement to ban circumcision, fueled as it is by the rising tide of European anti-Semitism, is still gaining ground.
Even if Merkel follows up on her pledge to ensure that circumcision is protected in Germany, the problem is that the Cologne ruling granted a veneer of respectability to its opponents. Whereas in the past those railing against Jewish practices were largely marginal, the court victory legitimized their campaign to drive one of the key principles of Judaism — the Abrahamic covenant that circumcision symbolizes —underground. As with other expressions of Jew-hatred in the current atmosphere in which Israel and its supporters are demonized, it is now possible to be more open with contempt for Judaism and to advocate measures that might have been unthinkable not that long ago.
Moreover, the court placed a doubt in the minds of doctors and others in the medical profession that they would be exposed to penalties for performing the procedure. After the Cologne ruling, the German Medical Association advised doctors to stop their participation in circumcision.
It bears remembering that, as COMMENTARY contributor Ruth Wisse once wrote, anti-Semitism is the most successful ideology of the 20th century. It helped inform Fascism, Nazism and Communism and today is a useful tool for Islamists and their European leftist allies. The campaign against circumcision, like the even more successful European efforts to ban kosher slaughter, is driven in no small measure by a desire to drive Jews out of the continent. That it is harming Muslims as much as Jews is an irony that ought not to prevent joint efforts by the two communities to combat this noxious proposal.
But taken in the context of a noticeable increase in violence against Jews in the aftermath of the shootings in Toulouse this past spring, the circumcision bans are an indication that the future of European Jewry is by no means assured.