The Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers on March 19 repudiated an anti-circumcision resolution adopted last October by the body’s Parliamentary Committee (PACE), eliciting praise from European Jews on Thursday night, when they were informed of the decision.
The PACE resolution termed circumcision a “violation of the physical integrity of children” and suggested that member states ban the practice until children are “old enough to be consulted.” PACE further urged member states to “initiate a public debate, including intercultural and interreligious dialogue, aimed at reaching a large consensus on the rights of children to protection against violations of their physical integrity according to human rights standards.”
The resolution angered European Muslim and Jewish communities, as well as Israel and Turkey, all of which complained of religious coercion and intolerance.
Language in the PACE document that seemed to compare circumcision to female genital mutilation particularly angered Jewish groups, with the president of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece calling it “a sign of anti-Semitism.”
The Committee of Ministers response panned the comparison between female genital mutilation and circumcision, calling the practices “by no means comparable.”
Female genital mutilation, the committee stated, “can in no way be put on an equal footing with practices such as the circumcision of young boys for religious reasons.”
The committee further stated that “for the present, further standard-setting work is not required” on issues relating to circumcision.
“Protection for children against the risks of non-medically justified operations and interventions is provided by existing international instruments, which address, inter alia, the participation of children in decisions concerning their welfare, and the role of their parents,” it explained.
In response, the Conference of European Rabbis, an Orthodox body that has lobbied for circumcision, issued a statement welcoming “assurances from the Council of Europe that it will not undertake further work to outlaw the religious circumcision of boys.”
“This motion is particularly pleasing in light of a worrying trend across Europe where liberal extremes have taken precedence over the basic human right of religious practice,” Conference of European Rabbis president Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt said. “We will continue to work to ensure that the Jewish community of Europe has the right to carry out religious circumcision, just as we have done without impediment, safely and proudly, for centuries.
This is a significant step in achieving that goal and we welcome this decision by the Committee of Ministers.”