Shalom Life | February 10, 2014

European Council Votes to Ban Circumcision

An assembly of Pan-European intergovernmental members have passed a resolution which calls male circumcision "a violation of the physical integrity of children', prompting Jewish leaders to reply: war against circumcision is a new form of anti-Semitism

By: Kobi Nachshoni

Published: October 3rd, 2013 in News » World

Are Europe's Jews about to launch a new struggle for the observance of the circumcision ritual across the continent? The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which represents most of the continent's states, has passed a resolution calling male ritual circumcision a "violation of the physical integrity of children according to human rights standards."

At the end of a debate in Strasbourg, the Parliamentary Assembly ruled overwhelmingly that male circumcision and female genital mutilation are forbidden, unless the child is over the age of 15 and has given his or her consent to the practice.

The council passed the resolution based on a report by the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development, by a vote of 78 in favor and 13 against, with 15 abstentions.

It calls on the council's member states to "clearly define the medical, sanitary and other conditions to be ensured for practices such as the non-medically justified circumcision of young boys," the JTA reported Wednesday.

Fear of wave of legislation

The council further called on 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" and to "adopt specific legal provisions to ensure that certain operations and practices will not be carried out before a child is old enough to be consulted."

According to the JTA, large majorities rejected five amendments that sought to remove or alter references to the circumcision of boys. For example, many of the members supported an amendment that removed a reference to the "religious rights of parents and families."

The Council of Europe is a pan-European intergovernmental organization whose resolutions have no legal force and do not bind its member states, but European organizations fear that this declarative move will be perceived as a professional recommendation by the most important body in the continent on democracy and human rights issues, which may lead to a wave of legislation banning circumcision across Europe.

The Jewish groups are mainly protesting the failure to distinguish between male circumcision, which is seen as legitimate not just among Jews, and female genital mutilation, which is considered in nearly every culture as a violation of a woman's body and dignity and is strongly opposed by human rights organizations.

'Violation of freedom of religion'

Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, president of the Conference of European Rabbis, told Ynet that in the short time since the resolution was passed, he and his associates had managed to appeal to many of the council members on the issue, and that these members plan to demand a new debate which will consider allowing male circumcision.

"The war against circumcision and ritual slaughter conceals the new anti-Semitism, which is a violation of the freedom of religion all EU countries have signed," said Rabbi Goldschmidt. "Although this is not a binding resolution, it encourages the dark forces which seek to see Europe clean of Jews."

The struggle for the right to practice circumcision has been held in several countries, and in the past year Jewish and Muslim organization scored a significant victory in Germany, where circumcision was permitted after five months of uncertainty since a court in Cologne defined the ritual as "a serious and irreversible interference in the integrity of the human body."

The German parliament passed a law protecting the right to circumcise infant boys and granting parents the right to circumcise their sons using a certified circumciser. Meanwhile, in Scandinavian countries there have been increased calls to ban the ritual.

This story is reprinted with permission from Ynet News

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