"It's reminiscent of Nazi-era propaganda," she says. "It's as offensive and outrageous as the measure itself."
So the folks behind San Francisco’s proposed circumcision ban also circulate propaganda repeating some of history’s most famous visual anti-Semitic stereotypes. Big deal. The only surprising bit of news here is that it is news. The proposed circumcision ban represents anti-Semitism in its most basic, primal, and historical form. It deserves condemnation from across the political spectrum, and repudiation by all decent people of good will.
For those requiring a bit of explanation, the anti-Semitic nature of this proposition has deep historical roots. Around the world, and for many centuries, those attacking the Jews have begun by outlawing Jewish practices. Their justifications shift over time—preventing blasphemy no longer works while protecting children sounds fine to the contemporary ear—but the effect is the same. Describe a Jewish practice in particularly gruesome and grisly terms, then move to ban it in the name of some higher ideal to which all civilized people subscribe. This process simultaneously complicates Jewish practice and marks he Jews as barbarians for persisting in their abhorrent practice.
A bris—Jewish ritual circumcision—is a bit of elective cosmetic surgery that started as a form of tribal marking. Other tribes have—and do—use tattoos, piercings, or other marks, frequently applied at either a fixed age or at the point of full membership. Circumcision, ritual or otherwise, has no effect on sexual desire, performance, or enjoyment. And contrary to propagandists using terms like “genital mutilation,” circumcision bears no relationship to a clitorectomy—a procedure designed specifically to eliminate female sexual pleasure—which is more closely akin to the removal of an organ, or an amputation.
As with any bit of elective surgery, circumcision can have secondary health effects. According to numerous public health studies, circumcision is an effective aid in slowing the spread of STDs, including HIV. It is, of course, no substitute for a full-blown regimen of careful safe-sex practices, but it is helpful. In this respect, it is certainly more beneficial than other popular forms of elective cosmetic surgery, such as breast enhancements, liposuction, or face-lifts. At the same time, it is also surgery, meaning that there are occasional—and rare—problems of the sort that arise with any form of surgery.
In the age of the Internet, it is not hard to collect anecdotes of tragic surgical experiences. Some of those surgical horror stories relate to circumcisions, and some of them are true. Such surgical tragedies, however, must be addressed as individual cases, rather than as an indictment of our entire medical system. Furthermore, many of the Internet’s allegedly tragic tales of circumcision are more correctly categorized as tragic tales of men who happen to be circumcised. We live in a victim culture, in which people are taught to address their own problems by asking “Who did this to me?” It is unfortunate but true that many people have fundamentally unsatisfying sex lives. Entire portions of contemporary psychotherapy push people—men and women—to trace this lack of satisfaction to childhood memories, often suppressed memories. What traumatic incident did this to you? It is hardly surprising that some circumcised men with deep sexual problems have chosen to blame their circumcision for their problems. And while it is possible to find someone with a medical degree who will support almost any theory of medical correlation (including the sexual trauma of circumcision), the overwhelming weight of medical evidence suggests that the causal relationship these men would like to infer is nonsense.
The favorable balance of health-related effects explains why many medical professionals recommend circumcision even in the absence of any tribal affiliation or ritual need. It also explains why circumcision of children—like most aspects of child rearing—remains a matter of parental choice. Perhaps the bedrock belief of our society is that parents have broad latitude in the ways that they raise their children. While we authorize the state to draw broad lines making some behavior unacceptable, we typically take care to leave those lines quite broad indeed. Individual parents are well within their rights to choose not to circumcise their children. And, like those who oppose contraception or late-term abortions, they are well within their rights to try to persuade others that their choice is the right one. They step beyond the bounds of a decent, free society when they attempt to legislate their preference to prevent other parents from making their own choices.
Yet many of those who oppose contraception, late-term abortion, or other forms of sexual and/or reproductive behavior seem savvy enough to see this proposition for what it is: a bald attack on the free exercise of religious practice; many of them have already entered the vocal opposition. It is those who claim to champion “choice” from whom the silence has been deafening. Where are the folks who rallied in support of gay marriage in California, in support of the Ground Zero Mosque in New York, and in opposition to Arizona’s immigration laws? Where are the folks quick to find affronts in the face of one of the clearest anti-Jewish attacks in recent American history? So far, they seem to be sitting on the sidelines. Again, I wish I could say that I am surprised, but I am not.
So yes, taken together, San Francisco’s proposed circumcision ban is offensive on many grounds. It is anti-libertarian, anti-family, and antithetical to public health. At its core, however, it remains what circumcision bans have always been and will always be—an attack on the longest standing and most widely practiced ritual of Judaism. Anyone who would even consider voting for it is standing with anti-Semites in the furtherance of their cause.
A vote for this proposition is anti-Semitic in effect, regardless of the intent of the individual voter.