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An anti-circumcision activist’s lawsuit sheds light on concerns over antisemitism in the movement

Filmmaker sues Jewish group Bruchim, whose leaders have criticized him as ‘extremist’

A man who made a film advocating that circumcision be banned has sued the Jewish organization Bruchim, which supports Jews who oppose or opt out of circumcision.

Brendon Marotta, a filmmaker based in Austin, Texas, whom critics accuse of trafficking in antisemitism, filed the lawsuit Aug. 28 in Boise, Idaho, where Bruchim is registered as a nonprofit. The lawsuit contends that members of Bruchim engaged in a campaign to malign Marotta, thereby harming the success of his 2017 film American Circumcision.

Rebecca Wald, Bruchim’s executive director and co-founder, who is named in the lawsuit, said she had no knowledge of it until contacted by the Forward.

“His film came out in 2017 and Bruchim launched in 2021. Bruchim has had nothing to do with him, whatsoever, or his film,” Wald said.

Asked why he waited until 2023 to sue, Marotta said he was not aware of the “harassment campaign” until recently. He added that the criticisms “went far beyond critique” of the film “into false claims” designed “to bully activists and organizations behind the scenes into withdrawing support for the film.”

Circumcision has ancient roots in Judaism, but is increasingly seen as a choice among Jewish families. Though the movement to end circumcision, known among proponents as “intactivism,” includes Jews and Jewish groups, it also includes a number of antisemites who falsely assert that “Jewish pedophiles” and Jewish influence are responsible for the routine acceptance of newborn circumcision in the U.S.

The movement’s antisemite problem, a Jewish anti-circumcision site launched by Wald, has condemned “antisemitic expression within the genital autonomy movement.”

Marotta, who is not Jewish, has several blog posts focusing on Jews and circumcision, including “A Jewish Guide to Talking to Circumcision Survivors and “The Abuse of Jewish Fragility,” in which he singles out “Jewish people” for their “harassment” of those who oppose circumcision.

Bruchim member Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon, one of the lawsuit’s named defendants, said in a blog post called “How to Deradicalize a Movement that Marotta “was once a friend and I both helped him with his film and contributed to his Kickstarter campaign for it” before learning that Marotta “had hidden his extremist views on race from me.” (Editor’s note: Ungar-Sargon’s sister, Batya Ungar-Sargon, is a former Forward opinion editor and current deputy opinion editor at Newsweek.)

In an email exchange with the Forward about his views, Marotta said he is not an antisemite, that he rejects Jewish conspiracy theories in the movement, and that he opposes white supremacy and “any movement based in hate or bigotry.” 

Marotta says in his lawsuit that he was “defamed” by another article from The article quotes David Balashinsky, another Bruchim member and named defendant, stating that Marotta’s “Abuse of Jewish Fragility” post “contains one antisemitic slur after the other.”

Ungar-Sargon and Balashinsky did not respond to requests for comment from the Forward.

Circumcision trends 

Circumcision was once widely performed on newborns in U.S. hospitals regardless of the parents’ religion, but rates of newborn circumcision have declined over the past 45 years, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. The center attributes the decline to changes in medical guidance, citing American Academy of Pediatrics reports from the 1970s calling it medically unnecessary. In 2012, the AAP said routine circumcision for all baby boys should no longer be standard procedure, though they said the health benefits outweighed the risk and should be available to families who want it. The American Medical Association says health benefits — including prevention of urinary tract infections, penile cancer and transmission of some sexually transmitted infections — “outweigh the risks.” Circumcision opponents say the health benefits are statistically minuscule.

There is no reliable data on circumcision rates among Jewish infants.

Circumcision in Judaism

Circumcision as a Jewish ritual originated in Genesis, where God tells Abraham that “every male among you” should be circumcised as a “sign of the covenant” between God and the Jews.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, leader of the Union for Reform Judaism — the largest Jewish movement in North America — said in 2021 that it “will always advocate” for brit milah, as the ritual is called in Hebrew, but will embrace families who decide not to circumcise their sons. 

As circumcision trends downward in general, more Jewish families also appear to be questioning the ritual.

Rabbi Elyse Wechterman, CEO of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association and an adviser to Bruchim, has said that being Jewish does not depend on being circumcised. Traditionally performed on male Jewish infants on the eighth day of life, the ritual, according to Wechterman, is “one of many mitzvot that people might or might not choose to do.” 

She has also wryly pointed out that half the Jewish population has never been circumcised: “They’re called girls.” 

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