Israel Wades Into Europe Circumcision Debate — and Reaction Is Mixed

Jews Worry About Lack of Local Sensitivity


By Cnaan Liphshiz

Published January 02, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

“It’s not always beneficial to have the Israelis wade in,” one European activist said on condition of anonymity, citing a need to maintain good working relations with Israelis. “They do things differently to how we would.”

The activist recalled a vocal disagreement that leaders of Germany’s Jewish community had last year with Eli Yishai, who at the time was Israel’s minister of internal affairs, and Yona Metzger, who was then Israel’s chief Ashkenazi rabbi. (Metzger has since been arrested in Israel on fraud and bribery charges.) Germany’s Central Council of Jews said that the Israelis had done more harm than good in their response to a German court ruling in Cologne that said circumcision amounted to a criminal offense.

“Metzger said there was no reason why we shouldn’t have a doctor present at every milah. That’s not a message we want to spread,” the activist said. “He said unhelpful things and put us in a difficult position.”

The 2012 ruling in Cologne, which was reversed earlier this year, was one of several recent high-profile actions aimed at limiting the custom across Europe. Most of the anti-circumcision activity has been led by secularists who believe the practice violates children’s rights or nationalists seeking to limit Muslim or Jewish influence in their countries.

The Cologne ruling prompted brief bans in Austria and Switzerland and led several Scandinavian politicians and health officials to express support for banning circumcision. Many Jews believe those statements could be a prelude to restrictive legislation in Scandinavia and beyond.

Shimon Cohen, who advises the British Jewish community on resisting measures to limit ritual slaughter and circumcision, said that large European Jewish communities are equipped to handle such threats. But in countries with very small Jewish communities, a ban could get through without anybody noticing and have a precedent-setting effect.

“One of the major advantages to this Israeli involvement is that, no matter what the size of the local Jewish community, there’s likely to be an Israeli embassy present with politically intelligent insight and open channels of communication with senior government officials,” Cohen said.

For Barkan, the Israeli UNESCO ambassador, spearheading the pro-circumcision motion at the Council of Europe has been an opportunity for rare cooperation with Muslim partners — particularly Turkey, but also Albania and Azerbaijan, whose representatives signed on fairly quickly, he said. As for the criticism from Jewish activists, Barkan chalks it up to cultural differences.

“European Jewish communities have very complex considerations to accommodate, and I understand that,” he said. “But I grew up in a place that taught me that if I wanted to achieve something, I better to go ahead and try.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.