January 20, 2014
Knesset producing film to fight anti-circumcision lawsby Lahav Harkov & Sam Sokol (with Herb Keinon)
The Knesset is producing a short pro-circumcision documentary, to be filmed this week and shown in a committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe next week.
On Monday, MK Nachman Shai (Labor) will represent Israel in the PACE Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development, where he plans to screen the film.
German ex-MP Marlene Rupprecht, who pushed through a motion limiting ritual circumcision last year, invited four doctors to the committee. She also invited filmmaker Victor Schonfeld to present It’s a Boy, an anti-circumcision documentary he had produced.
“It’s a Boy is very bad for the Jewish tradition. Victor Schonfeld is a known anti-Zionist,” Shai said. [And the relevance of that is...] “We demand equal time for our views.”
Shai received approval from Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein on Monday to hire a production company that will interview experts on the topic of circumcision.
The seven- to eight-minute short will also feature Israeli doctors who traveled to Africa to circumcise men in an effort to fight AIDS.
“Maybe we’ll call our film ‘It’s a Circumcised Boy,’” Shai quipped.
The Knesset plans to reuse the film to explain the importance of not outlawing ritual circumcision during lawmakers’ visits to Europe and other places around the world.
Meanwhile, Thorbjørn Jagland, secretary-general of the Council of Europe, during a meeting with Muslim and Jewish clerics on Monday slammed the 2013 resolution by his organization’s legislative arm expressing opposition to ritual circumcision.
The council is a pan-European intergovernmental organization of 47 member states that is not affiliated with the European Union, and which cannot pass binding laws.
Speaking with a delegation of rabbis and imams that the New York based Foundation For Ethnic Understanding organized, Jagland asserted that “starting to limit the rights of minorities is a very dangerous avenue to pursue.
“Whenever we have limited their rights, it has always led to catastrophe,” he told the delegation, that included Said Aalla, the former imam of Strasbourg, where COE is headquartered, as well as René Gutman, the city’s chief rabbi.
FFEU president Rabbi Marc Schneier praised Jagland, and said he believed that the battle for ritual circumcision was “not an issue which affects only Jews or only Muslims, but truly hurts the traditions of a large percentage of the peoples of faith both here in Europe and around the world.”
“What the secretary-general basically said is that this is a moot discussion because they can discuss and debate and deliberate all that they want but there is no way that the Council of Europe is ever going to accept such a resolution or proclamation.
It is just not going to happen,” Schneier told the Post. “If we were to ban circumcision then Muslims and Jews would no longer be able to continue living in Europe.”
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe passed a resolution in October calling male ritual circumcision a “violation of the physical integrity of children” and urging the organization’s 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.”
Jewish organizations reacted harshly, with the leaders of some European communities deeming the measure to be deeply anti-Semitic. Israel and Turkey, both COE member states, issued denunciations. Israel has prepared a text for a counter-resolution, which it hopes to pass through PACE.
This is not the first time that the COE secretary-general has denounced the PACE resolution. In November, Jagland told a gathering of European rabbis in Berlin that “in no way does the Council of Europe want to ban the practice of male circumcision.”
“Female genital mutilation violates human rights. Male circumcision does not. That is my position. That is the position of the Council of Europe,” he said.
While the PACE resolution has no legal standing, such resolutions exert a powerful moral influence in Europe, and the secretary-general’s statements asserting the body’s opposition to the concepts embodied in the resolution can be seen as an effort to change the prevailing discourse surrounding circumcision.
European Jewish activists believe that Jagland’s statements are part of a battle to set the moral agenda in Europe on issues of religious freedom, and that the resolution, non-binding as it is, was the opening salvo of an effort to turn local initiatives against circumcision into a continent-wide moral crusade against the practice.
Speaking with The Jerusalem Post on Monday, Conference of European Rabbis chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt expressed his concern that PACE “has not yet rescinded its position against circumcision,” but expressed hope that during next week’s debate “the members of PACE will reflect on their infringement of religious freedom, which is a fundamental value of the Council.”
Maren Lambrecht, a COE official, confirmed to the Post that it is procedurally impossible to cancel a previously passed resolution, but indicated that a special panel will examine the topic next week and that several medical experts and religious leaders will attend and present their views on the matter. While there will not be a formal decision taken at the end of this meeting, she said, the discussion is necessary due to the “harsh international debate” engendered by the 2013 resolution, among other reasons.
“What it could lead to is that some of the people who might be interested in preparing a new text would listen to some of the debates next week, and maybe this could influence what they are going to write in a new report,” Lambrecht said.
Despite news reports, she said, “there will not be a discussion at this meeting on the [Israeli] counterproposal” during the session.