Opposition to Circumcision and Anti-Semitism

Ken at Popehat has a post today on the proposal in San Francisco to prohibit non-therapeutic male child circumcision. Specifically, he addresses propaganda materials created by individuals associated with MGM Bill, including its founder, Matthew Hess. The charge is that these materials, including a comic book series and trading cards, are anti-Semitic. I’d like to challenge what Ken wrote about it. I can’t, though, because I agree that the materials are anti-Semitic and despicable.

I, and others, have worked behind the scenes to counter this sort of nonsense whenever it’s popped up, including the original release of these materials from Mr. Hess. This will unavoidably appear, since infant circumcision involves religion and not everyone involved in a movement will have the sense to reject the wrong, unethical approach. As I’ve read in a few smart places recently, any movement like this will have its anti-religion fringe, but that should not tar the entire movement. There is a principled approach against circumcision that is easily stated and powerful in a way that anti-Semitism can never be. The words of the proposal are straight-forward. As Ken wrote, “there are many arguments to be made against circumcision that do not depend on denigration of religion.” We should make them, and only them. Those who do shouldn’t be tainted by those who don’t.

So, yes, I’ve encountered anti-Semitism. I do not stand for it when I encounter it, although the only evidence is what I’ve written here. Being a loosely organized movement, at best, chastisement is the only way to counter disagreement on the means of achieving the necessary goal. I prefer to challenge it behind the scenes where possible to educate rather than embarrass. Unfortunately, this example won’t go away, despite behind-the-scenes efforts. And now it threatens to undo any progress principled activists have made. I am furious and powerless, a frustrating combination.

My only hope is that people will not heed this one sentence from Ken, my only objection to his post. He writes: “I hope that it comes to represent the anti-circumcision campaign in San Francisco.” It may. It probably will. But it shouldn’t. There is already too little thinking involved in most decisions to circumcise. We shouldn’t encourage less.

2 thoughts on “Opposition to Circumcision and Anti-Semitism”

  1. I would encourage calling on Matthew Hess to make clear his intentions with Foreskin Man, which I do not believe to be anti-Semitic. He is deeply hurt by circumcision as many of us are. Under the circumstances, a few lapses in judgment should be expected, and also should be forgiven. I say this, having met him. This may not go away, but neither will Matthew. I have called on him to speak more forthrightly on the issue. I hope he does.

  2. I don’t believe his intention was to be anti-Semitic. I think his intention was to provoke. He tried (and is trying) to be Christopher Hitchens, but he doesn’t have the skill to do so in the deft way Mr. Hitchens can say “offensive” things and get away with it. That’s not a slight against Matthew, since few of us have that skill. But most of us recognize that and don’t mix it with the important issue of protecting children. Playing with stereotypes is dangerous, as we’re now seeing.
    I think lapses should be expected, as you state. We’re all human and many of us are harmed by circumcision. Most lapses should be forgiven, but not this one. I’m angry because this is all so predictable and some of us tried to convince him that issue #2 was awful and shouldn’t be used. We said it would be used against us. He’s actively undermining us all, however unintentionally. (And I do believe he didn’t mean it to be malicious against Jews.)

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