Circumcision Debate Comes to a Head

One of California’s most controversial ballot initiatives — banning circumcision — has taken a turn for the racist, thanks to the mainstream debut of Foreskin Man.”

A ripped-and-caped advocate against the (so-called) defilement of Jewish newborns, the unmistakably Arayan-featured superpower Foreskin Man battles the black-bearded, black-hatted “Monster Mohel,” a sinister snipper who — bloody scissors in hand — sets after helpless male babies in the name of religion.

Depicted in a comic book and online video clips, until late last week, “Foreskin Man’s” shaft-saving efforts had been relatively under-the-radar. On Thursday, however, a San Francisco Chronicle column thrust the comic and its creators into the media spotlight.

“Nothing excites Monster Mohel more than cutting into the penile flesh of an eight-day-old infant boy,” the comic at one point reveals, snipped infants’ tears dripping from its panel. The scene is a bris, the traditional Jewish ceremony in which a newborn boy’s foreskin is removed by a professional snipper (called a mohel) in the presence of several dozen fawning friends and relations. Really, there’s nothing evil about it: The baby cries, the relations cry, pastries are served.

Created by Matthew Hess, president of San Diego-based MGM Bill (Male Genital Mutilation) and a central figure in California’s anti-circumcision campaign, “Foreskin Man” has garnered Facebook fans and Twitter followers — and with all its recent publicity, more on the way. Many of these people don’t seem to be joking.

Of course, there are also detractors. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), for its part, issued a statement Friday calling the comic “an advocacy campaign taken to a new low.”

And Abby Michelson Porth, associate director of the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), said that while the imagery in “Foreskin Man” is offensive, it’s also completely unoriginal, “reminiscent of millenia-old stereotypes that have been used to persecute and oppress Jews.”

Hess, however, disagrees. “We’re not trying to be anti-Semitic,” he explained to the San Francisco Chronicle. “We’re trying to be pro-human rights.”

Though the procedure’s popularity has been on the decline — particularly since the early 2000s — circumcision is still very common in American hospitals; 40 to 50 percent of all male infants born in the U.S. are circumcised, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And hardly a majority of those infants are Jewish: Jews make up only about 2.2 percent of the U.S. population.

Medical groups tend to be neutral on the subject of snipping, saying it’s a choice for new parents to make with their pediatricians. The consensus is that the practice isn’t harmful and only briefly uncomfortable; not enough scientific evidence, though, exists to prove it should be mandatory.

But the measure to criminalize circumcision for males under the age of 18 — already on San Francisco ballots for November — presents circumcision as an intensely painful, barbaric ritual. At best, opponents say, it’s an unnecessary medical procedure. And at worst? It deserves international condemnation.

If voters side with Hess and other bris-banning activists (they prefer to be called “intactivists”) this November, it will be illegal to snip a male minor’s foreskin within San Francisco city limits. Violators — including proud new parents exercising their religious rights — would face misdemeanor charges of up to $1,000 or one year in jail.

But as Foreskin Man will tell you — not in so many words — traditions don’t matter, and that punishment’s not enough. And as Hess told the New York Times, “The end goal for us is making cutting boys’ foreskin a federal crime.”

OK then. But is demonizing an entire, diverse religious community by taking campaign inspiration from classic racist propaganda really the way to reach such a goal? From all sides of the ceremonial scissors, it seems like “Foreskin Man” is an outreach element that really should be snipped in the bud.

[Image via]