Council of Europe cancels anti-circumcision measure after joint Jewish-Muslim effort

Jewish and Muslim MKs united over past two years to advocate for reversal of Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe resolution calling to ban ritual circumcision of children.

A rabbi holds an eight-day-old baby during a circumcision ceremony in Brussels, August 20, 2009. (photo credit: REUTERS)
A rabbi holds an eight-day-old baby during a circumcision ceremony in Brussels, August 20, 2009.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Two years of efforts by the Knesset to combat a resolution by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe recommending that countries ban ritual circumcision bore fruit Thursday, when it was reversed via a resolution on religious freedoms.
Passed with 73 in favor and six opposed, the resolution recommends that PACE member states “seek reasonable accommodations with a view to guaranteeing equality that is effective, and not merely formal, in the right to freedom of religion.”
It gives general guidelines to promote coexistence and fight hate speech, allowing religious communities to practice their faith, manage welfare institutions and express their opinions.
The resolution refers specifically to Islamophobia, but not to anti-Semitism.
The council recommended that states require circumcisions to be performed by people trained to do so, in appropriate medical and health conditions, and that parents be informed of any medical risk to their child.
The resolution also addresses ritual slaughter, stating that PACE is not convinced it should be banned, and recommends following the French or German model of protecting animals from unnecessary suffering while respecting religious freedom.
MK Esawi Frej (Meretz), who represented the Knesset at the vote, called the decision a victory for common sense.
“The argument about whether to circumcise is legitimate, but opponents of the ancient ritual should fight through education and public relations and not try to force their opinions through legislation,” Frej said.
In October 2013, PACE’s Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development Committee approved a resolution by German rapporteur Marlene Rupperecht stating that ritual circumcision, in addition to piercings, tattoos, plastic surgery, medical intervention in cases of possibly transgender children and female genital mutilation, violates children’s right to protect their physical integrity.
It also recommended that laws be passed “to ensure that certain operations and practices will not be carried out before a child is old enough to be consulted.” Jews perform ritual circumcision on boys when they are eight days old, and Muslims do so at the age of 13.
PACE resolutions are non-binding, but are taken seriously by member states.
Since the resolution passed, the Knesset, under Speaker Yuli Edelstein’s leadership and the guidance of Knesset Diplomatic Advisor Oded Ben-Hur, has sent delegations of MKs, Jewish and Muslim, to PACE and to countries from Azerbaijan in the East to Paris in the West, to enlist their European colleagues from other countries in the battle against the decision and other initiatives to ban ritual circumcision.
MKs advocated for ritual circumcision to be dealt with as a matter of religious freedom, as opposed to children’s rights, moving it to PACE’s Culture, Science Education and Media Committee, which discusses religious issues, among others.
Edelstein said on Thursday he is glad the Knesset’s efforts were successful.
“From the first, it was clear that PACE’s recommendation was outrageous, unreasonable and clearly harms many people’s freedom of religion,” he stated. “I hope that we will not have to fight for basic rights like brit mila in the future.”
The Conference of European Rabbis worked with rapporteur Rafael Huseynov of Azerbaijan, who composed the report on which the new resolution was based, over the course of 18 months to make sure the interests of European Jewish communities were taken into consideration.
CER President Rabbi Pinhas Goldschmidt called the resolution “a step forward in our battle to ensure that religious customs can be upheld freely and publicly.”
“After months of discourse and presentations... it is now clear that the committee did important work and took our needs into consideration,” he added. “We are grateful for Mr. Huseynov’s work to ensure that the report adopted properly represents religious communities.”
Goldschmidt also said the resolution’s adoption sends a message to all European states, governments and MPs to stand up for the rights of Jewish people across the continent.
The Anti-Defamation League said: “The original proposal and resolution to place unreasonable restrictions on religious ritual circumcision was an unconscionable assault on a foundational religious principle of Judaism. The report itself was offensive and insulting to Jews and Judaism. In October 2013, the Anti-Defamation League publicly called on PACE to reverse this decision. With this resolution, PACE has acted to right a serious wrong.”
Sam Sokol contributed to this report.