Commentary Magazine


Euro Bris-Banner’s Dishonest Argument

American Jews received an odd Christmas message from one of the country’s most prestigious newspapers yesterday. The Washington Post published an article by Swiss parliamentarian Liliane Maury Pasquier titled “Is circumcision a right?” The piece was a disingenuous defense of the resolution passed by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development, which she chairs, to endorse children’s right to physical integrity. The purpose of the vote was to give a crucial boost to efforts to ban circumcision throughout Europe, a heretofore-marginal cause that has recently gained ground in Germany and Scandinavia.

Pasquier claims the uproar over the vote is based on misunderstandings. Calling herself a “pioneer” who only wants to promote debate, she says those who charge her group with promoting hate are dishonest or ignorant and mocks the notion that their action can be connected with hatred or violence against religious minorities. But she then goes on to state that her ill-founded beliefs about “integrity” fueled by misleading arguments about harm to children trump the rights of Jews and Muslims while failing to note the context of her efforts at a time of rising anti-Semitism and the dubious origins of the anti-circumcision cause rooted in hate.

But perhaps even more troubling than Pasquier’s weak defense of a spurious cause is the curious decision of the Washington Post to promote it on Christmas Day. The paper may claim that it, like Pasquier, is only trying to promote debate, but by giving a platform to an advocate for a cause that is supported only by marginal cranks and hate groups in this country, it has given the virus of European anti-Semitism a beachhead in America that it doesn’t deserve.

Let us dispense with Pasquier’s claim that her committee is acting on the basis of science. There is no evidence that circumcision causes any harm to boys or men and while it is always possible to find outlier cases in which an accident occurred during the ceremony, that is true of any procedure, including those carried out in hospitals. Nor is the notion that infants have a right not to have non-life preserving procedures performed upon them a serious argument when balanced against the right of religious freedom.

Stripped away of the veneer of “children’s rights” or medical concerns, the attack on circumcision is a manifestation of an age-old European malady: religious hatred. While affecting Muslims as well as Jews, at its core the anti-circumcision campaign in Europe stems from a desire to stigmatize Jewish religious rites and to brand them as unwholesome. It takes no leap of imagination to understand the connection between those who promote theories that depict rabbis who perform circumcisions—the bris or rite of circumcision is an integral aspect of Judaism that reaffirms Abraham’s covenant—as harming infants and traditional blood libels. The purpose of such efforts is to slander Judaism and deprive Jews of their rights.

It is no accident that such arguments are coming to the fore now in the midst of what the U.S. State Department rightly termed a “rising tide of anti-Semitism” in Europe. Pasquier’s specious arguments about children’s rights provide a fig leaf of respectability for leftists who might otherwise be ashamed to associate themselves with open religious prejudice. Responsible political leaders like German Chancellor Angela Merkel have tried to spike such efforts, but they continue to gain ground in a Europe in which the post-Holocaust fear of anti-Semitism has given way to the return of such sinister sentiments. Along with attempts to ban kosher slaughter and the demonization of the State of Israel by both the left and the right in Europe, the anti-circumcision movement must be seen as an unfortunate symptom of the return of Jew-hatred to the European public square.

It is a measure of the importance of American exceptionalism to note that such efforts have virtually no support in the United States. Even in a leftist enclave like San Francisco, the anti-circumcision efforts to promote a ban flopped badly in 2011 after an association with open anti-Semitism discredited it.

While those who advocate for this hateful cause have the right to say what they like, we have to wonder why the WaPo would give Pasquier its bully pulpit on Christmas to promote it. Outside of the fever swamps of the far left and far right, there is no debate in the U.S. about circumcision or the right of the state to ban Jewish religious practices. Dishonest claims of “irreversible harm” to children or of the need to overrule religious freedom in the name of a spurious “right” of children do not deserve the credibility of the Post’s pages any more than those who would promote racism against African-Americans. It is sad to see an important American publication falling prey to the efforts of European intellectuals and activists to grant respectability to a campaign that deserves none.

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