Fundamentally Freund: Iceland's declaration of war on Judaism

Iceland’s authorities might as well hang a large sign in the arrivals terminal at Reykjavik airport saying, “No Jews or Muslims allowed.”

A general view of Reykjavik, Iceland (photo credit: REUTERS/MICHAELA REHLE)
A general view of Reykjavik, Iceland
In an unprecedented move, Iceland’s parliamentarians are reportedly considering a bill that amounts to nothing less than a direct assault on the Jewish faith.
Incredibly, the proposed law would not only ban the circumcision of male infants, but would criminalize the act and make it punishable by up to six years in prison.
Iceland’s authorities might as well hang a large sign in the arrivals terminal at Reykjavik airport saying, “No Jews or Muslims allowed.”
Indeed, the very idea of a European country, which ostensibly identifies with the Judeo-Christian heritage of the West, aiming to outlaw a foundational Jewish religious rite that has been performed for millennia is both hair-raising and heartbreaking and cannot be allowed to stand.
If you are wondering why a seemingly domestic Icelandic issue is worthy of making a big fuss, consider the possible ramifications beyond the tiny island’s borders.
As Moscow Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, the president of the Conference of European Rabbis, correctly pointed out in a statement, “While the Jewish population in Iceland is small, we cannot ignore the dangerous precedent this sets within Europe and the implications it has on Jews’ ability to carry out our religion in an open and free manner.”
Simply put, should the bill become law, it will inevitably lead to similar measures in other European countries, which would deal a devastating blow to the right of every individual to serve his Creator as he or she sees fit.
Proponents of the measure claim that circumcising an infant violates the rights of the child, and that circumcision should only be performed once the boy is old enough to “understand what is involved in such an action.”
The hypocrisy of this stance is as transparent as the some of the glaciers and ice caps that cover more than 10% of Iceland’s entire land area.
After all, if the issue truly relates to the rights of the child, then why hasn’t Iceland also taken steps to ban ear-piercing of youngsters by their parents? Cutting a hole in the ear can be painful, there is a chance of infection and it is increasingly being carried out by parents on children, including newborns, who are hardly in a position to consent.
In that respect, it is no different from circumcision.
Even if one wants to argue that ear-piercing is not comparable since it can be reversed, that is little more than a fallacy, because medical practitioners can also restore a foreskin and reverse a circumcision.
Hence, the fact that some of Iceland’s representatives have decided to single out circumcision rather than banning all forms of cosmetic procedures on children belies their assertion that it is intended purely to protect the young.
In addition, it is difficult not to view this episode as yet another example of mounting European antisemitism, albeit in the guise of defending children’s rights.
Furthermore, given Iceland’s treatment of Jews over the past 150 years, one would expect the country to tread a little more carefully.
In 1853, Iceland’s parliament turned down a request by the king of Denmark to allow Jews to reside in the country. While this was reversed two years later, that was only because Iceland wanted to entice Jewish merchants to immigrate in order to boost the economy.
Nearly a century later, in 1938, when Austrian Jews were trying to flee in the wake of the rise of Nazism, Iceland refused to allow them entry, callously leaving them to their fate.
And as Dr. Vilhalmur Vilhalmsson noted in a comprehensive 2004 paper entitled, “Iceland, the Jews and anti-Semitism” published in Jewish Political Studies Review, “With regard to the Holocaust, Iceland is not a blank page.” There were Icelanders in the Waffen SS who fought for Germany, while others served in concentration camps; the son of Iceland’s first president was a member of the SS who escaped prosecution after the war. In his paper, Vilhalmsson also discloses that in the late 1930s, Icelandic officials went so far as to offer to pay the cost for the expulsion of Jews from its territory to Germany.
With such a dubious national record, Iceland should be ashamed of itself for even considering a ban on circumcision, which it must have known would arouse indignation among Jews and Muslims alike.
If the proposed bill should pass, it would mark a further indelible stain on Iceland and its reputation, and it behooves Israel and world Jewry to take steps to underline the repercussions that would follow.
A boycott of travel to Iceland by itinerant Jewish tourists, as well as downgrading bilateral relations between Iceland and Israel, would be a good place to start.
There is no excuse for a modern, Western democracy to attack religion in such a flagrant manner, and there can be no justification for remaining silent in the face of this antisemitic act. Iceland must learn, perhaps the hard way, that by erecting restrictions on the practice of Judaism, it marching backwards, to a very dark and dangerous place.