The Danish Parliament is set to once again debate the legality of male circumcision today, with the Red-Green Alliance and the Liberal Alliance teaming up to push for a ban on the practice. The other parliamentary parties are in internal disagreement on the matter.
A survey of 1,000 Danes polled in the last few days found that the Danish people overwhelmingly support a ban, with nearly three in four backing either a full or partial ban, whilst only ten percent supported the rights of parents to circumcise their sons. The debate will once again raise fears that anti-Semitism is gripping the region.
The issue has been subject to much discussion both in Denmark and in surrounding countries. Sweden and Norway are currently considering banning the practice, whilst in Germany the courts have been testing the legalities around circumcision since 2006. In 2012 a regional court in Cologne ruled that religious circumcision of boys amounted to bodily injury, a ruling that was slammed by Jewish and Muslim religious groups as “fatal to the freedom of religion.” Such was the outcry that the German parliament was forced to pass a law explicitly permitting circumcision under certain circumstances.
Denmark itself has been debating the issue since at least 2012, with widespread media discussion of the topic. Last year, the Danish Health and Medicines Authority carried out a study into potential risks and benefits to health from circumcision, and concluded that the findings neither established enough of a risk to justify banning the practice, nor found enough of a benefit to recommend it more broadly, according to The Local.
Currently between 1,000 and 2,000 boys, mostly Jewish and Muslim, are circumcised each year in Denmark. But the politicians are adamant that a ban of some sort will take place in the foreseeable future. “We will handle this topic politically within a few years. As I see it, it goes against the [UN’s] Convention on the Rights of the Child to circumcise children. I’m leaning toward a ban until the person is of legal age,” Venstre MP Hans Christian Schmidt, a former health minister, told Metroxpress.
The proposed ban has the backing of the European Union institutions. Last year the Council of Europe passed a resolution calling on European Union member states to “initiate a public debate, including intercultural and inter-religious 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.”
The resolution also proposed that governments should “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.”
Circumcision of boys at eight days of age is recognised in the Jewish faith as the most significant religious ritual, as it is believed to be the sign of a covenant with God: “My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people,” God told the Israelites.
Consequently, the resolution prompted the then President of Israel, Shimon Peres to write to the President of the Council to say “The Jewish communities across Europe would be greatly afflicted to see their cultural and religious freedom impeded upon by the Council of Europe, an institution devoted to the protection of these very rights.”
It also moved the President of the Jewish Congress, Moshe Kantor to comment that any suggestion to ban circumcision “sends out a terrible message to European Jews that our practices, and therefore our very presence on this continent, is treated with disdain.”
Tanya Gold, writing for the Guardian’s Comment is Free Section asked “Is this an attempt to achieve with paper what other methods could not – the removal of Jews from Europe? Will Jews leave if a ban comes in? Some will, certainly; some Jews are always packed in their minds.”
This summer has seen a marked rise in anti-Semitic attacks and abuse. Eight French synagogues were attacked within just one week, one of which was firebombed by a mob of 400 people. In Germany, Molotov cocktails were lobbed into a synagogue that had once been destroyed on Kristallnacht, whilst a number of Jewish people including an elderly man were brutally beaten. And in the UK, kosher food was swept off the shelves of one London supermarket, whilst anti-Semitic slurs such as “Hitler was right” were heard during rallies.
The wave of hatred was such that Dieter Gruamann, president of Germany’s Central Council of Jews told the Guardian “These are the worst times since the Nazi era.
“And it’s not just a German phenomenon. It’s an outbreak of hatred against Jews so intense that it’s very clear indeed.”