Exclusive: Maccabee MKs fighting anti-circumcision laws

More than a dozen lawmakers are working to gather signatures from MPs around Europe on draft motion to reverse PACE ban of brit mila.

Rabbi holds boy for circumcision (photo credit: REUTERS)
Rabbi holds boy for circumcision
(photo credit: REUTERS)
With Hanukka only one week away, the Knesset is following in the footsteps of the Maccabees who fought against Greek king Antiochus IV and his policy of outlawing Jewish traditions – including brit mila, or male ritual circumcision.
From Azerbaijan in the east to Paris in the west, MKs are traveling throughout Europe to enlist their colleagues from other countries in the battle against initiatives to ban ritual circumcision.
“This is an important mission. The Knesset took it upon itself, but this is for the good of the whole Jewish people, since it’s fighting a law in other countries,” MK Elazar Stern (Hatnua) said Wednesday. “This isn’t only about solidarity [with Diaspora Jewry]. This is an expression of the fact that we’re the Jewish State, the national home of the Jewish people.”
In a letter obtained exclusively by The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday, Knesset Diplomatic Adviser Oded Ben-Hur outlined the legislature’s strategy to fight an anti-circumcision resolution adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in October.
MKs joining the efforts must collect 80 signatures or more from MPs from at least five countries on a draft motion that will effectively reverse the earlier one.
The Knesset, under Speaker Yuli Edelstein’s leadership, is making a concerted effort to reverse the PACE decree.
If all goes according to plan the new initiative will be authorized in an April 2014 vote in the PACE plenum in Strasbourg, Ben-Hur wrote.
More than a dozen lawmakers have already joined the efforts to fight what MK Yoni Chetboun (Bayit Yehudi) called “a modern inquisition.”
Yesh Atid MKs Ronen Hoffman and Yoel Razbozov, Labor MK Nachman Shai as well as Shas MKs Avraham Michaeli, Amnon Cohen and Yitzhak Vaknin plus lawmakers from Likud Beytenu and Hatnua are all involved in the effort.
“No one is putting Jews in jail, but they’re trying to stop us from observing our religion through modern, pluralistic- sounding laws,” the Bayit Yehudi MK said.
Stern is heading to Prague Thursday and Chetboun and MK Omer Bar-Lev (Labor) will fly to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in Rome on Sunday to collect signatures on a draft resolution meant to effectively reverse the anti-circumcision vote by PACE last month.
In the last two weeks, lawmakers already traveled to Brussels, Lisbon, Geneva and Athens and met in Israel with MPs from Georgia and Azerbaijan, collecting more than 20 signatures, and delegations are planned for the coming weeks to Lithuania, Latvia and France.
The PACE resolution, proposed by German MP Marlene Ruprecht, protects children’s rights to their bodies, which calls to ban ritual male circumcision for children, together with female circumcision, tattoos and body piercing for those under 18.
The initiative is non-binding, but PACE votes are taken seriously by member states.
Ben-Hur wrote that the PACE vote in October was “hijacked,” since only 100 out of 570 PACE members voted on the initiative, which passed on October 1.
Despite the sparse numbers, the decision cannot be reversed or amended.
However, a new resolution with opposing legislation can be passed.
The Knesset’s draft resolution reads: “The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, in full respect of ages-old faiths and the basic right of freedom of religion, and reiterating its longstanding advocacy of religious tolerance declares hereby that the circumcision of male children, in contrast to female genital mutilation, is a religious rite, performed for thousands of years. The Parliamentary Assembly recognizes that male circumcision is a basic and vital tenet of Judaism and Islam, and an important tradition in a number of Christian denominations.
“The Parliamentary Assembly notes that claims that circumcision harms the health and body of young boys do not rest on scientific evidence.
As demonstrated in an official paper published by the American Academy of Pediatrics in August 2012, there are health benefits of newborn male circumcision.
Therefore, the Parliamentary Assembly declares that male circumcision does not present a risk to the physical and mental health of male children and concurs with their right to be protected against the violation of their physical and mental integrity,” the resolution concludes.
“Our new proposal is based on the need to protect freedom of religion and worship as part of human rights, a guiding principle for Europe and the basis for countless decisions made by its institutions,” Ben-Hur wrote to MKs.
Chetboun, who is traveling to Rome to take part in a conference of the Middle East Group of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, has appointments with Italian MPs, who he plans to ask to not only sign the Israeli resolution, but adopt it as their own and help push it through PACE.
“Italy has a tradition of cooperating with Israel, unlike other countries,” Chetboun said. “This motion will only pass if someone in Europe takes it upon himself to promote it. If not, it’ll be hard to make changes.”
The Bayit Yehudi lawmaker said he plans to tell Italian MPs that “the EU stands for equality and freedom of religion and when it comes to a Jewish ritual that is thousands of years old, it cannot deny that right.”
MKs took particular issue with the PACE resolution grouping male ritual circumcision with female circumcision, piercings and tattoos.
“I don’t think [European MPs] understand the issue,” Stern said. “It’s very dangerous to group this with female circumcision and other awful things like that. This is an ancient religious rite.
“People who want to ban circumcision say we’re not asking the baby, but I don’t know anyone who regrets having been circumcised,” he continued. “American research says its healthier.
Plus, when you circumcise a newborn, there’s less discomfort, they heal quickly and they don’t have to go to the hospital.”
Ritual circumcision is one of the rare issues that unites most of the Knesset.
Chetboun and Stern are both Orthodox, but the former pointed out that he is traveling with Bar-Lev, a secular MK, who plans to join the efforts out of a recognition of its importance in Jewish tradition and peoplehood.
Arab lawmakers, like Ahmed Tibi (UAL-Ta’al) have also expressed interest in helping in the fight due to circumcision’s importance in Muslim tradition.