Israel Wades Into Europe Circumcision Debate — and Reaction Is Mixed

Jews Worry About Lack of Local Sensitivity


By Cnaan Liphshiz

Published January 02, 2014.
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(JTA) — The Israeli government is wading into the burgeoning European debate over circumcision and receiving a mixed reception from the continent’s Jews.

On Dec. 11, Israel initiated a motion in defense of circumcision at the Council of Europe, an intergovernmental organization devoted to enhancing cooperation among its 47 member states. Intended to offset a nonbinding October resolution approved by the council’s Parliamentary Assembly that condemned non-medical circumcision of boys, the Israeli initiative will be reviewed in January and possibly put to a vote by the assembly.

The earlier resolution shocked both Jewish and Muslim groups and threatened to internationalize an anti-circumcision campaign that, until now, has been waged mostly by local activists working in individual European countries.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs got involved following the passing of this resolution because claims that milah [Jewish circumcision] hurts boys go against the essence of the State of Israel and its responsibility for the fate of Jews everywhere,” said Nimrod Barkan, Israel’s ambassador to UNESCO, who spearheaded the motion.

The growing campaign to limit ritual circumcision of boys has generated considerable concern in Israel. The chairman of the Knesset committee on the Jewish Diaspora, Yoel Razbozov, said in October that if bans are enacted, circumcisions should be performed at Israeli embassies in such countries. But Israel’s incipient role as defender of European Jewry is dividing local activists, with some warning that Israeli involvement could complicate the lives of Jews in Europe.

“Jewish communities don’t want to mistakenly be regarded as an extension of the political State of Israel,” said Rabbi Lody van de Kamp, a well-known Dutch Orthodox figure. “Any involvement from the state in religious issues in the Diaspora communities’ work in that way [is] counterproductive.”

Representatives of Jewish groups active on the circumcision issue in Europe say that as an observer state at the Council of Europe, Israel has every right to lobby on issues of concern. But in off-the-record talks, some Jewish activists expressed worry that Israel is getting involved in an issue that does not directly concern it and with which it has limited experience.


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