Friday, June 10, 2011

The "Anti-Semite" Card No Longer Washes

As predicted, the current bid to ban circumcision in San Francisco is causing commotion. And, as predicted, religious groups, particularly Jewish organizations, are working hard to condemn the measure as anti-Semitic. It seems circumcision advocates have found the perfect scapegoat, however, and they're milking it for everything it's worth.

The scapegoat in question is the latest issue of "Foreskin Man," a comic book that portrays a hero who saves defenseless babies from crazed maniacs intent on circumcising them. The villain in the latest issue happens to be a mohel, and the author's portrayal of him isn't exactly kosher. The imagery of the villain, or "Monster Mohel" as he is called, are very disturbing, because to some, it recalls Nazi German anti-Semitist propaganda.

Perhaps the creation of this comic wouldn't have garnered so much attention, if it weren't for the fact that the creator, Matthew Hess, also happens to be the president of MGM Bill, which is an organization working to enact legislation that would ban the circumcision of minors unless it is medically necessary. The comic book has become a lightning rod for criticism of not only the proposed ballot measure in San Francisco, but also for the entire intactivist movement as a whole. Opponents to the measure are waving it around as "proof" that intactivists are all anti-Semites, and now, instead of the issues, intactivists are fending off accusations of anti-Semitism.

Is "Monster Mohel" Really the Problem?
It's easy to see why the comic book is causing outrage. In the past, grotesque imagery was used to mischaracterize Jews, and to justify the horrific actions inflicted upon them during the Holocaust. It's easy to see why the imagery used in the latest edition of "Foreskin Man" can be insulting and offensive. I wonder, however, if "Monster Mohel" is really the problem?

The fact of the matter is that circumcision is a very important part of Jewish culture, one that is controversial, ethically problematic, and that they've historically fought to preserve. The San Francisco circumcision ban proposal is a direct challenge to this old and heavily defended tradition. Would there have been a better way to portray a villain mohel in a way that was not going to piss Jewish groups off?

It is inescapeable; "Monster Mohel" is most definitely depicted as evil and sinister. However, the same is also true of "Dr. Mutilator," the gentile, non-Jewish doctor in the issue before. But arent' all villains in comic books portrayed this way?

To the left is "Monster Mohel." To the right is "Dr. Mutilator," who wasn't drawn any less grotesque.

These characters are from the "Batman" universe.
On the left is "The Scarecrow," on the right is "Clayface."

Is it really the portrayal of "Monster Mohel" that's the problem? Or is it the fact that a very old, historically contentious tradition is being challenged, and Jewish groups were going to find some other way to paint backers of the bill as Nazis anyway?

A Red Herring
I'm not going to lie; Hess' decision to publish his latest edition of the "Foreskin Man" comic book was a dumb move. It's distracting from the main issues. Instead of talking about the reasons why intactivists believe circumcision should be banned, we're busy trying to divorce ourselves from "Foreskin Man" and fending off accusations of anti-Semitism. "Foreskin Man" shoots our movement in the foot and it is gumming up our efforts to educate the public; Hess should have NEVER published that comic book.

Here's the fact of the matter though; comic or no comic, Jewish groups will call anybody "anti-Semite" for challenging circumcision. Even without the comic book, advocates of circumcision would have tried to find other ways to distract from the issues that we as intactivists are trying to bring attention to. The comic has provided the perfect scapegoat to distract from the issues, but the accusations of "anti-Semitism" would have been made, even without it, directing attention away from the crux of the argument.

Which brings us to the namesake of this blog post. Does pulling out the "anti-Semite" card even work anymore? The depiction of "Monster Mohel" certainly smacks of older anti-Semite propaganda, and Hess' motives for publishing the latest edition of his comic book are certainly questionable. But can "anti-Semite" apply to the intactivist movement as a whole?

The "Anti-Semite" Trump Card in the Past
In the past, one of the greatest obstacles in questioning circumcision was the fact that it also happens to be a religious ritual practiced by a very vocal minority. When circumcision was openly challenged, one mention of the word "anti-Semite," and all of a sudden, people challenging circumcision were worse than Hitler. Nothing was more effective at silencing any discourse on a cosmetic, non-medical surgery that is mostly practiced on gentile, non-Jewish children in hospitals in our country, than by insinuating that people against circumcision were equivalent to, or worse than Nazi Germans. But can circumcision advocates still expect their opponents to feel guilty because they're challenging a tradition practiced by survivors of the Holocaust?

The answer is, not anymore.

Of course, being compared to Hitler wasn't the only reason people feared the "anti-Semite" card. America has Judeo-Christian roots, and we grow up learning about how the Jews are "god's chosen people." We're also told "Don't challenge what's in the Bible." So being called "anti-Semite" also carried that extra weight. Additionally, we were led to believe that circumcision was exclusive to Jews, and that it was universally practiced among them. To date, some people are oblivious to the fact that Muslims also circumcise their children. If I recall correctly, didn't Ann Coulter believe Muslim terrorists could hide bombs in their foreskins?

Enlightened Times
At any rate, thanks to the internet, we've been able to educate ourselves. We now know that not only are there Jews questioning circumcision, there are many Jews viewing it for the barbaric custom that it is. This day and age, many Jews are opting for a bloodless naming ceremony called "Bris Shalom." There are Jews in Europe who have been leaving their children intact for years. There are groups of Jews in ISRAEL of all places, who are challenging tradition and leaving their children intact. Some of the most outspoken voices in our movement happen to be Jewish; Leonard Glick, Ron Goldman, Dr. Dean Edell, Howard Stern and Elijah Ungar-Sargon, just to name a few. Some of the most prominent supporters of a ban on circumcision happen to be Jewish, and there are Jewish men who actually LIKE the recent issue of "Foreskin Man," because this is how they view the mohels who circumcised them. In light of these facts, dismissing the intactivist movement as "anti-Semite" is a gross blanket statement.

Here is at least one young man who has written an open letter to the mohel who circumcised him. Shea Levy is to be commended for the courage to challenge tradition, and to challenge the very man who cut off part of his penis.

The following are links to Jewish groups against circumcision:

These link to websites in Hebrew, run by intactivist groups in Israel:

The following are resources on "Brit Shalom":

The following are links to books challenging circumcision from a Jewish perspective:

And finally, an excellent blog, and perhaps the most ultimate resource for Jews against circumcision:

"Monster Mohel" May Not Be So Farfetched
Another myth that we are lead to believe is that, since mohels are the "jacks of their trade," they can do no wrong. People say over and over that there are never any complications when a mohel performs circumcision, as opposed to a doctor at a hospital. Here too, the internet has proved informative.

A boy in New York lost his glans during a bris to a Mohel who tried to circumcise him using a Mogen clamp.

In the UK, Amitai Moshe, goes into cardiac arrest immediately after his bris. The verdict of his inquest a few years later? Amitai Moshe died of "natural causes," and the fact that he started having breathing problems and started bleeding through his nose and mouth had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that he was ritually circumcised just minutes before. Read the shameless story here:

NY Mohel Infects 3 Babies With Herpes via Metzitzah B'peh (sucking of blood from wounded penis with one's mouth): One of Them Dies, Nothing Happens

"Rabbi ordered to pay NIS 1.18 million for botched circumcision"

"Unlicensed mohel suspected of injuring infants"
(What licensed mohel or Dr, ISN'T injuring an infant???)

Baby recovers from 'brit mila' amputation

Perhaps Hess' depiction of "Monster Mohel" may not be so outlandish after all?

The "anti-Semite" label may have held water, IF the intactivist movement targeted only Jewish circumcision. Let's not forget that in this country, of all circumcision, only 3% comprises of Jewish brisim. The rest of the 97% are secular circumcisions that happen at hospitals. And, as I have shown, circumcision is not universal among Jews. Some of the most outspoken members of the intactivist movement also happen to be Jewish. Intactivists believe that circumcision, when practiced on healhty, non-consenting minors, is a violation of basic human rights, regardless of religion, race, age, or sex.

Is Foreskin Man "anti-Semitic?" That's debatable. The comic, is not focusing on hating Jews, it focuses on the disdain the creator has for the circumcision of infants. In context, "Monster Mohel" is just another villain in a comic book. Was Hess' idea to publish the comic book ill-conceived? Yes. He should have thought twice about publishing something that could potentially be hurtful to his own cause. Will efforts to pass the ban in San Francisco fail? Yes. The ban is going to be labeled "anti-Semitic" and an infringement on "religious freedoms" and "parental rights." To be sure, it is going to crash and burn.

But intactivists were going to be labeled "anti-Semitic," and the ban was going to crash and burn anyway, in spite of the comic book. Intactivists were fooling themselves if they thought this ban even had a ghost of a chance. The whole point of proposing the ban was to bring attention to an issue that is usually extremely taboo and off-limits. It's real easy to call circumcision a "non-issue" until somebody proposes a ban on it. Now, people can no longer ignore this "non-issue," and have no choice but to openly talk about it. Circumcision advocates are horribly mistaken if they think it's the last they'll hear of intactivists once this ban gets voted down. Whether they like it or not, the intactivist movement is here to stay.

Intactivists have solid challenges that accusations of "anti-Semitism" can no longer silence. Once the political theatre is over, the questions of legality, ethics and human rights remain, and circumcision advocates, religious and/or secular, must address them.

The Issues
To what extent are "parental rights" and even "religious freedoms" protected? How far are parents allowed do what they want with their children before we call Child Protective Services?

As an example of the law stepping in between parents and children, very recently, a mother lost custody of her daughter for injecting Botox into her.

As if that weren't enough, the state of New Jersey has just passed a law prohibiting the use of Botox on children 18 and below, unless it is medically necessary. (Surprise, surprise! This is just what people who are against circumcision want!)

In Fresno, a man is jailed for tattooing his son.

In Oregon, a law was just passed that prohibits parents from denying their children medical care, much to the chagrin of the "Followers of Christ" church, who believes that god alone should cure disease.

In 1996, a federal ban on female circumcision was passed. There are actually many kinds of female genital cutting, some of which dwarf in comparison to male infant circumcision. But in America, parents cannot even draw a few drops of blood for "symbolic" purposes.

In May, last year, the AAP tried to approve a "ritual nick" for girls. The procedure wouldn't remove anything, and the AAP admitted that it was much less severe than male circumcision. The logic behind this was that if they offered a "ritual nick" here in the States, then parents wouldn't take their daughters abroad to have more drastic procedures done. There was a world outcry, and the month of May did not end before the AAP was forced to retract their endorsement. The message was clear; under no circumstances were medical professionals to come near a girl's vulva with a knife, not even for a "ritual nick.",8599,1988434,00.html

In America, one parent's "freedom" is another parent's crime. While parents who have their boy circumcised "celebrate," parents who have their girl circumcised go to jail.

A girl loses her clitoris, heads roll. A boy loses his life, it's "Oops, it won't happen again."

So why this double-standard?

Why this two-track system that treats boys and girls differently?

These are serious questions that simply can no longer be dismissed by pointing at a comic book and screaming "anti-Semite" all day long.

What I've expressed in this blog does not necessarily reflect the view of all intactivists. At this very moment, the Foreskin Man comic is causing great debate and consternation, even among the intactivist movement. While some of us see the depiction of "Monster Mohel" as just another comic book villain, and simply the depiction of another child circumciser, others are deeply disturbed by it and see it as hurtful to the intactivist movement. I think we all agree, however, that Hess' move was ill-conceived and that he should have never published this comic.


  1. Excellent job. You break this situation down perfectly. At this point though, I can't say I agree with the last statement. I'm only sorry #3 isn't out yet to show more of a continuity. This is a big fight and it will continue to be. We've been called anti-semitic since long before Foreskin Man saved a Jewish baby, and it will likely still be used as a distraction in the future.

  2. I love this! You did a great job spelling it out! I don't necessarily agree that Matt should not have published. I feel that it is very important for us to respect a victim's choice to express himself artistically. If it were a victim of FGM and she portrayed a Muslim cutting ceremony as "evil" no one would bat an eyelash. We must be reminded that men are victims and men should not be silenced in their expressions of the harm that circumcision has caused them. That said, I totally understand how it has been used to tarnish our reputation and for that I'm saddened since it is so very far from the truth. Our movement is so deeply concerned with the rights of ALL children regardless of their parent's faith. I hope that people will read this post and wake up! Past crimes against humanity don't excuse current ones.

  3. Thanks Joseph, for a very comprehensive discussion about this comic book and the issues it has raised. This will likely be the definitive discussion about Foreskin Man. I agree with Latinalonestar in support of a victim's choice to express himself about forced genital cutting.

    Lately we are seeing victims of childhood genital mutilation posting photos of their abusers, outing the circumcisers. I strongly support this tactic of pointing the finger and shining light on the abusers.

    As this blog grows it documents a very thoughtful and reasoned voice raised against forced genital mutilation. Keep up the great work.

  4. Excellent work! The fact that a significant minority of circumcision opposers ARE Jews kind of ruins the whole 'anti-circ = anti-Semite' argument... But as we've discovered, circumcision supporters don't seem to be able to appreciate the obvious. Gosh, I get so mad sometimes... Keep on keeping on!

  5. Thanks Joseph! I'm linking to this whereever I can.

    Further evidence that the Intactivist movement is NOT antisemitic is the view of the REAL antisemites, the KKK and the American Nazi Party. The ANP doesn't mention circumcision, the KKK only in a biblical quote used metaphorically. The Nazis led me to Henry Ford's notorious "The International Jew". He wasn't against it either. Ending circumcision just doesn't appear to figure on the anti-semitic radar. They probably think infant circumcision - like theirs - is the "white American" thing to do.

    "a very old, historically conteptuous tradition" I think you mean contentious (subject to argument), not about contempt.

  6. Thanks for the tip, Hugh! I've made the correction.

  7. What an excellent post -- this is the most definitive article yet written on the Forsekin Man controversy. (Though I suspect this story has only just begun). Best

  8. I appreciate the post though I don't think Foreskin Man is hurting the cause. I think Jews are shooting themselves in the feet by saying it's anti-Semitic. Lots of little boys crying wolf these days, with some of them. Most people will see that he depicts the doctor equally as heinous as the mohel. Does he hate doctors? Is he anti-medicine? I highly doubt it.

    It'd be anti-Semitic if us intactivists didn't care just as much about Jewish babies' rights to their whole bodies just as much as we care about every other baby.

    Also, I do have hope for the ban. I cringe to see someone say outright it has no chance whatsoever. Anyway, I do agree about it not going away no matter the verdict.

  9. Spectacular.

    Please let's have the video version of this treatise soon.

  10. Although I, like whatUneverknew, disagree with your last statement, I think your posting is effective and a well-timed contribution to this discussion about the Foreskin Man comic. I look forward to reading future blogs of yours--and forthcoming issues of this comic.