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According to Juliane Wetzel, senior researcher at the Center for Research on Anti-Semitism at Berlin’s Technical University, the Cologne decision accentuated a lack of tolerance for minorities in a society that views Jews and Muslims as outsiders. “Islam is seen as an archaic religion, and now Judaism is seen the same way,” she said during an interview at the university.
TNS Emnid, a German polling organization, found in a July survey that 56% of Germans agree with the Cologne ruling.
“The basic sentiment here is anti-religious,” said Sylke Tempel, editor-in-chief of Internationale Politik, an authoritative foreign policy journal published by the German Council of Foreign Affairs. In her view, the Cologne ruling was not a deliberate attack on Islam or Judaism, but showed a total misunderstanding in Germany’s highly secular society of how important circumcision is to both religions.
According to Berger, the Cologne ruling can be traced to a body of medical literature that has accumulated over the past decade.
This school of thought, based on little scientific evidence, holds that circumcision does irreversible physical damage and causes emotional trauma. The German Academy for Pediatric Medicine (BVKJ) subscribes to this view and has called for a two-year moratorium on circumcisions.
This is in sharp contrast to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization, both of which endorse circumcision for its medical benefits, particularly in fighting the spread of HIV in Africa.
But for the Jewish and Muslim communities, this is not about medical issues — it’s about religious freedom.
At a September 9 rally held in Bebelplatz, the same square in Berlin where the Nazis burned more than 20,000 books they considered “un-German” — most by Jewish authors — Jewish and Muslim leaders denounced the Cologne ruling and asserted the right to freely practice their religion.
Many of the Jews wore T-shirts with various exclamations of Jewish pride.
“Do you still want us Jews?” asked 79-year old Holocaust survivor Charlotte Knobloch, former head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany. “For 60 years I have defended Germany as a survivor of the Shoah. Now I ask myself if that was right.”
Despite the concerns of Berger and others for its fate, the new proposal did seem to have strong support from some Bundestag members. Dietmar Nietan, a Social Democratic member of the Bundestag, told the Forward that the law must provide a balance between the right to freedom of religion and the rights of children. But the 48-year-old legislator from an area near Cologne said he would like to see the legislation pass with a large majority. In his view, that would validate Jewish life in Germany.
Philipp Missfelder, a Bundestag member who belongs to the Christian Democratic Union, said in an email that the draft legislation “is a good approach to resolve the current juridical dilemma regarding circumcision,” adding that “it ensures both practice of Jewish religious life in our country and the children’s welfare.” Missfelder said he expected the bill to pass the Bundestag “without substantial alterations.”
A 33-year-old rising star in German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party, Missfelder said during an earlier interview that his Jewish constituents ask how they can live in a Germany that does not permit a 4,000-year-old religious ritual.
Merkel herself has denounced the Cologne decision and has called for speedy enactment of a law that would be acceptable to Jews and Muslims.
Bundestag member Stefan Ruppert, who belongs to the small, pro-business Free Democratic Party, was confident during an interview prior to the proposal’s release that legislation satisfactory to the nation’s Jews would be enacted.
Acknowledging that some members of his party support the ban on circumcision, Ruppert said that it was likely that the more acceptable the legislation was to the Jewish community, the less likely it would be to pass.
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