The Northern Inquisition

Many Jews around the world might have breathed a sigh of relief to learn that Germany had come to its senses earlier this month when the government backed proposed legislation to protect the practice of ritual circumcision.

Unfortunately, a closer reading of news reports showed that "protection" of Judaism''s founding ritual was palliative at best, as the proposal was just that -- not a law, but a proposal.

 As the director of the AJC''s Berlin office, Deidre Berger, noted: “We are extremely concerned as to whether the German Parliament will adopt the proposed law. Public opinion seems to be against circumcision, and many parliamentary delegates from all parties are ambivalent."


In other words, all things equal, the crusade against circumcision in Germany will charge forward, and probably with an even greater vehemence than before. But to single Germany out would be unfair: similar crusades -- and I use that word not lightly -- are under way in Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark. Even mild-mannered Holland joined the fray with its 2011 push to ban shechita, the ritual slaughter that makes meat kosher, by requiring animals be stunned before slaughter. (The ban has been overturned by the Dutch senate -- for now.)


Some might say all of this is blowback against Muslim populations that have migrated to the region and are changing the fabric of society there, in part with Islamic practices of male circumcision and ritual slaughter. But the very people -- generally solidly leftist parties and activists -- advancing these bans are also the champions of Muslim immigration.


Moreover, if Islamist encroachment were genuinely the cause for concern in the land of Thule, wouldn''t north Europeans turn to more pressing matters, like, say, honor killings? Last year, there were 2,823 victims of Islamic "honor violence" in the UK alone. A study released this year found that in Europe, 71% of honor killing victims -- of whom half died "in agony" (stoning, beheading, burning, stabbing) -- were killed for the crime of being "too Western."


Rather than clamp down on honor killing, which would be the reasonable thing to do if Islam were the issue, these countries are going after essential Jewish practices like shechita and circumcision -- the latter of which is, by the way, the only practice known to reduce risk of HIV contraction in men by half.


This is about Jews. Take Holland: 2011 was not the first time in recent history that the Nederlanders banned shechita. An earlier ban came in the form of a decree entitled, "Restrictions on Kosher Ritual Slaughter in Holland for Reasons of Preventing Cruelty to Animals." Its date: July 31, 1940. Its promulgator: the Reickskommisar for the Occupied Dutch Territories of the Nazi Third Reich.


First clause of the decree? "When warm-blooded animals are slaughtered, they have to be anaesthetized before blood-letting begins." In other words, the 2011 ban was identical to the ban of 1940.


Looking at the crusade against circumcision is even more disturbing. Danish journalist Kjeld Koplev described the practice of Jewish circumcision for his readers in the following way:


“Around the baby stand ten black-clad men – a must in every Jewish circumcision. As usual in Judaism, women aren’t allowed to be present. An untrained rabbi mutilates the baby, who cries and bleeds profusely as the men pray.”


Leaving aside the fact that Koplev''s readership was pliant enough to accept this description as anything other than an outrageous slander, and that his editors were willing to print Medieval-style incitement in a modern Western newspaper, we have to contend with another fact: that Koplev is -- or was -- Jewish.


But Koplev, more than just a journalist but a "radio legend" in Denmark, converted to Christianity in 2008 and, thus, he made his comments about the "mutilation" of circumcision as a Christian. In Inquisition parlance, Koplev plays the role of converso, a Jew who felt enough pressure to cause him to renounce his Judaism, and, fearing he might still be identified as a Jew, often loudly condemned his former faith.


Benzion Netanyahu (the late father of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu) argued in his seminal work on the Inquisition that the "wild monster" of Europe was not driven by religious fears that Jews were infiltrating the Church, but by a combination of outright racial hatred and a desire to consolidate power in the existing social system.


Unlike the Spanish Inquisition, the Northern Inquisition is not outwardly concerned with Jesus Christ or the Catholic Church. But like the old Inquisition, the new one is concerned with power and society -- and Jews. As with the Spanish Inquisition, which "represented the wishes of a large part of the Spanish people," (according to Netanyahu), the Northern Inquisition of today very much represents the wishes of a large part of its people.


Some might be encouraged by "Kippa Walks" taking place recently in Sweden, where a few hundred members of the Jewish and non-Jewish communities walk around town wearing yarmulkes to make a general point about tolerance. But that is the point: the Jews of Sweden can''t actually wear a kippa on their walks about town.


Today in Sweden, you have to be in a crowd of three hundred supporters of tolerance to wear a kippa in public (as in France, as in parts of Germany, and across much of Scandinavia) not just because you might be attacked by a "North African" but because a North European won''t do anything to help you.


The term for that is Marrano -- a Jew who during the Spanish Inquisition outwardly adopted the practices and style of a Christian but only squirreled away at home and in secrecy dared do something so bold as put on a kippa.


High courts and the upper houses of parliaments might be scurrying to overturn new anti-Jewish laws, but the laws themselves have emerged from the representative lower houses, motivated by the howl of an anti-Jewish media and girded by popular attitudes.


There''s a new Inquisition emerging in Europe. Five hundred years later, a few hundred miles to the north, and with a different ideology fueling it -- but there it is, coming.