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When Anti-Circumcision Turns Anti-Semitic

Comic strip by ballot initiative author draws a ‘Monster Mohel’

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Monster Mohel.(Foreskin Man)

Presciently reporting in March on the anti-circumcision movement, Tablet Magazine columnist Michelle Goldberg found much sense (while not endorsing a side) in outlawing the practice for minors. “It is evidence of a sexual double standard,” she observed. “It’s a painful and bloody rite whose purpose doesn’t lie in any immediate medical need. It marks a boy as a member of a group in a way that precedes his own decision-making.” Yet she also pointed out that “intactivists”—who succeeded in placing the initiative on San Francisco’s ballot this year, and are working on those of Santa Monica, California, and elsewhere for 2012—frequently shoot themselves in the foot. “They have a point,” she wrote, “but their self-righteous intensity does little for the credibility of their cause.”

Matthew Hess is the San Diego-based intactivist who wrote the San Francisco initiative. But he is also the author of a comics series—the first issue of which came out a year ago—that, to the Anti-Defamation League’s reading (and to my own), trades in anti-Semitic tropes to make its anti-circumcision case. It is bad enough that the hero, “Foreskin Man,” is a strong, blond Aryan-type. The villain is “Monster Mohel,” and as you can see from the illustration, he is straight out of a 19th-century pamphlet (note the nose, devious expression, hat, and even fingernails). “Nothing excites Monster Mohel more than cutting into the penile flesh of an eight-day-old boy,” the comic says.

And after the glorified brit milah is complete, the delicious metzitzah b’peh provides the icing on the cake. Intactivists have been pressuring Monster Mohel to retire, but that will never happen. They will have to pry the scissors from his cold, dead hand.

For his part, Hess told the San Francisco Chronicle’s Lisa Saunders, “A lot of people have said that, but we’re not trying to be anti-Semitic. We’re trying to be pro-human rights.”

Well … I dunno. If the only solution is to kill the mohels—there is no other way to read “that will never happen. They will have to pry the scissors from his cold, dead hand”—then why bother with ballot initiatives? If your beef is with circumcision, then why bring the metzitzah b’peh—a far less commonly practiced ritual, in which the mohel sucks blood from the wound—into it? Why imply that the mohel sucks the blood and cuts the foreskin for his own sensual pleasure (“nothing excites,” “delicious … icing on the cake”)? Also, those fingernails? Really?

New Voices dives deeper into the strip (it is available online, though when I have tried to access it, it has been prohibitively slow) and finds more, including Monster Mohel, backed by a gun-wielding, payos-wearing ultra-Orthodox thug, demanding, “Where is the child?”

There are two debates here. One involves legitimate claims about a specific practice and about the balancing of religious freedom and communal norms. In this debate, questions like medical efficacy (which both sides say argues for its side) and sexual pleasure (ditto) come up. Jewish and Muslim groups are among the ban’s staunchest opponents. But it’s a real debate, and it is going to be voted on in San Francisco. The other debate is about a sick, anti-Semitic piece of propaganda, one which the ADL was correct to condemn and about which the author is lying or maliciously ignorant when he denies anti-Semitic intent.

This is the part of the blog post where I normally say that it is important not to let the undeniable evil of one hysterical advocate obscure the actual debate. But Hess is not just one hysterical advocate—he is the author of the bill. His centrality to the movement is enough to question the movement.

Efforts to Ban Circumcision Gain Traction in California [NYT]
Circumcision Ballot Measure and Anti-Semitism [San Francisco Chronicle]
Anti-Defamation League Says Anti-Circumcision Comic Book Offends With ‘Grotesque’ Anti-Semitic Imagery [ADL]
Blood Libel for the 21st Century? [New Voices]
Related: Foreplay

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Thanks for sharing; that Hess authored the bill AND the comic strip is outrageous.

rlgordonma says:

Andrew Sullivan, who favors outlawing male circumcision with a religious exemption, states that the anti-Semitism of this campaign has pushed him into opposing the bill:

“One day, a rational, calm and tolerant campaign to prevent the routine mutilation of male infants will emerge. But not this one. It’s despicable.”

If the purpose is to educate people that circumcision is unnecessary, why not just mount an educational campaign using the medical evidence for and against? The use of these anti-Jewish canards, makes me suspect that education is in fact not the goal, and the fact that Jews and Muslims are the only two groups for whom circumcision is a religious requirement only serves to punctuate my suspicion.

Beth says:

To say that Michelle Goldberg ” found much sense (while not endorsing a side) in outlawing the practice for minors”, is not an even-handed view, but clearly outside the mainstream of Jewish belief. Brit mila as been an essential tenet of Jewish practice for thousands of years. To discuss it as optional, is so beyond the range of Jewish practice that one is forced to question her identity as a Jew and her commitment to Judaism

I disagree. It merely highlights her willingness to question.

Steve Stein says:

Wow. I can’t think of a better way to totally discredit the anti-circumcision movement. That Hess did this himself is mind-boggling.

One point that hasn’t been made is that, given the percentages, the vast number of circumcisions in this country are not performed on Jewish children. Focussing this kind of hatred on one group, albeit the one most closely associated with the procedure for reasons of religious tradition, is a fairly obvious indicator of prejudice.

    Other circumcising characters in the Foreskin Man series include Dr Mutilator, Githinji and Ghinjo. The Monster Mohel character was created by one man, does not represent the views of mainstream intactivists (many of whom are Jewish), and doesn’t change the ethics of whether or not cutting parts off the genitals of small boys is acceptable or not.

J. A. says:

Anti-semites have always targeted circumsicion as a way of diminishing Jewishness.

fw – good point.

Hershel (Heshy) Ginsburg says:

The detailed level of knowledge incorporated into the text of the comic story strongly suggests that a major self-hating Jew is involved in this movement. Could it be Hess himself?

Hershel Ginsburg

Jerusalem / Efrata

David Mozes says:

There is no doubt, in this readers mind, that if Mr Hess and the leadership of this initative are questioned about Israel we will discover,”what a suprise” they are firm believers in the Arab/Palestinian narrative, that Irael is a racist state and the Zionist enity should be brought down.

As with the anti-Shchita movement in northern Europe just “coincidentally” behind all the righteous and self righteousness of the pure individuals involved there is hatred of the Jews and an explanation as to why they and their practices are offensive.

Sadly the Summer of Love is long gone. The hatred of Jews remains.

I agree.

The bill didn’t have to be anti-Semitic. I was willing to have a discussion about the bill and debate it on my blog. But when I saw this, it just showed that there is a blatant anti-Semitism among some (the leaders?) of the movement. You can’t debate with bigots.

Yisrael says:

Marc: “His centrality to the movement is enough to question the movement.”

Considering the antisemitism inherent in the Palestinian political narrative since the founding of the State of Israel, if not before, of which characterizations such as Hess’s continue to play a major part, I wonder why Marc’s above statement not only doesn’t apply, but is one he would likely deem completely beyond the pale when it comes to the debate about a Palestinian state.

For once I find myself in agreement with almost all comments to a post. My values are “progressive” but when it comes to circumcision ancestral/tribal DNA asserts its claims on my soul. Even before I learned of Hess’ anti-Semitic cartoon, I felt deeply uncomfortable with the bill. To my own surprise, I discovered my inner-libertarian who resents the idea of government intrusion into, er, private(s) matters. Of course I staunchly oppose female circumcision. I claim no rationality or consistency in my political views. Nor am I ashamed to admit that my politics are informed by metaphor and emotion.

I think it can be said with a good deal of certainty that any anti-circumcision crusade will smack of antisemitism. Hess, huh? Guess what nationality THAT name is!

For once, I agree with everything Corey says — and that emphatically. ;-) (I love the phrase “[n]or am I ashamed to admit that my politics are informed by metaphor and emotion.” My own grumpy take:

And thanks to Tablet (and others) for providing a place where such disparate Jews & views can come together, even to blow off collective steam. It helps to know you’re “not the only one.”

Dave says:

Finally Eli Valley’s gotten a real job.

Jim says:

Shouldn’t Foreskin Man should be wearing a turtleneck?

FTW says:

I have seen firsthand the psychological damage caused by the extreme rhetoric that has emanated from the anti-circumcision camp over the last dozen years…parents have the right and the obligation to make decisions about their newborn children regarding health and circumcision is analagous to vaccination(another procedure in infancy which could be said to “violate bodily integrity)…the virulent Jew-Hatred referenced in this article is the heretofore unacknowledged basis of much,if not all,of this “movement”…Andrew Sullivan(whose writing I usually enjoy)has even admitted that his circumcision was done out of medical neccessity and he’s still angry about it which indicates that even intelligent people are sometimes irrational about circumcision even if Jew-Hatred is not the basis for their position…

Gabe says:

It’s simply racist. Humanitarian claims these days are wearing the mask (or foreskin, if you will) of a brood of bigots, secret and vocal proponets of racism. Comic is unapologetically targeting a people and their practice from the public podium of hatred. May the insidious Mohel visit the man in his dreams and reclaim the noteriety of “Mrs. Bobbit.” And may the Jewish orthothic physician be the one to replace his stem with a wonderfully Jewish-inspired circumcised version of what he once lovingly stroked.

Thanks to Tablet for covering this story.

This seems like a story the larger news outlets should be covering now.

Gabriel says:

read a good bok about this .
the Foreskin lament!

Gabriel says:

read the forsekin lament. pretty good book

larry l says:

This should not even be allowed on any ballot measure as it will be deemed illegal as it interferes with seperation of church and state. it will never see a vote. I am very liberal and this is just a ballot hatred. Tis is not what san francisoc is about. It’s disgusting!

Neil says:

This piece is excellent, and that coming from a man who un-ambiguously supports the Bill. I disagree however that the Bill’s association with this clearly horrid comic should bring the entire movement into question. As you say, there are two things at work here. One is the anti-Semitism of the comic, which is never acceptable. The other is the legitimate debate over whether circumcision should be permitted. Please let’s not have the two confused, even if some do do so.

The prior comic in the series and the next one (not out yet) treat people who circumcise very harshly. It is unfortunate that this personal feeling of the author has become a distraction from the centrality of the issue, i.e. whether circumcision is wise, humane or necessary for non-Jews and non-observant Jews. It is regrettable.

Harrietb98 says:

To me, the anti-circumcision movement is closely related to the anti-Kosher slaughtering movement, which is also closly related to the anti-Israel movement.

Yaakov Hillel says:

This is about the worst article tablet has printed. Any child born to a Jewish family who is not circumsized disengages himself from the Jewish faith,both father and son, as the bible mentions they shall be cut off from their nation. We are not talking about flesh we are not talking about much blood. This quarter inch of foreskin which has been the cause of various ailments and carrier of many venereal diseases.It is a fact that this is a greater carrier of AIDS by 80% than circumsized men. Today the Mohel uses a syringe to draw out blood that in the folding back of the foreskin should not become organic matter that will become infecting material. For centuries the Royal British family has this proceedure done by a Jewish Mohel, simply because they are taught to do it properly. The picture presented with its captions is pure Nazi antisemitic propaganda, to induce Jewish hatred. Asking any women what she would prefer a man going to bed with her man sticking his uncircumsized Penis covered by a foreskin full of all the ailments of all the women he has screwed,besides his own infected problems in a place which is almost impossible for him to clean and may be carrying, cancer carrying cells which will eventually kill her by sticking it into a moist warm sensitive female organ, because of an antisemitic gesture. This is the lowest of the low antisemitic articles tablet has shown. Most western born children are circumsized Jewish or not. This is one of the brilliant laws in Judaism that protect women from many male carried venereal and other infections. The Baby at 8 days old has the highest amount of clotting material that he will have at any other time in his life. Apparently the nervous system does not carry the pain carriers in neurons that carry pain. An Adult being circumsized goes through 4 days of hell. where as the baby after the initial cut and rolling back the excess fore-skin afterwards feels nothing. Today the modern Mohels use a tiny smear of pain killer.

Hersh Adlerstein says:

Sometimes I wonder if hatred of Jews is endemic in the US today. And what a wonderful weapon this issue gives to hatemongers who, in one fell swoop, desire to marginalize two religious faiths with one stroke. Well, maybe three, Judaism, Islam and the British Royal family. Does Mr Hess – could he be a relative of the late Rudolf? – really care about the infants or of their penile surgery, or is this like the shechita controversy one way to hate Jews without adopting public antisemitism? Of course the comic-book Jew-hater doesn’t really expect this vote will ban circumcision, he simply sees a chance to attack Jews and Muslims.

It’s curious, isn’t it, how this debate has focused exclusively on Jewish religious practice. Hess’ anti-Semitic screed focuses on bloodthirsty Jews who prey on the blood of babies (hmmmm, where have we seen that before???) BUT NEVER MENTIONS MUSLIMS. But male circumcision is also a Muslim religious practice — and the fact that Hess disregarded this is the most compelling evidence of his anti-Semitism. There was (is?) a THRIVING NEO-NAZI COMMUNITY in San Diego and while I believe anti-Semitism exists in most places, it can be no coincidence that Hess is located in San Diego. In looking for a silver lining, one can only hope that this effort to criminalize male circumcision will unite Jews and Muslims.

    Naji Wench says:

    Actually, the first comic focused on American doctors and the third focused on Islamic genital mutilators, but way to assume things without learning!

Wow, and “In Living Color” said, white folk were the only group you could legitimately make fun of…

If this level of hatred were displayed to Estonians (let alone Palestinians), there would be universal outrage. I am reminded of the “they killed our savior” quote on House.

Looking into emigration information….

Bill Pearlman says:

Forget Hess, whats really sad here is that a writer named Goldberg is so caught up in progressive thought that she can’t take a side.

Ellen Marksonne says:

A birdie whispers in my ears, Marc, that Hess is gay and antisemitic as well: see below

Some readers now warn of a new breed of anti-Semite that we couldn’t have dreamed up in a million years: In this instance, I think it’s yet a third kind of acceptable anti-Semitism, a little-known one yet one that is persistent especially in California: Gay activist anti-Semitism. Who knew?

A certain subset of gays are strong “uncut” proponents and want all penises to have foreskins because they prefer them that way, and so try to force the world to comply; when they get the biggest pushback from Jewish groups, their frustration turns to hatred.

I have no idea if he’s right. (I certainly don’t pretend to know anything about Matthew Hess’s sexual orientation.) But if he is — wow.

Isn’t anti-Semitism supple? Isn’t it versatile? It slices, it dices, it makes Julienne fries! Historically, it’s proven able to provide a solution and an explanation for anything, even mediocre sex. Speaking from the Jewish side of my family, I quote the Scots: Whae’s like us? Damn few, an’ they’re a’ deid. Wow indeed. Curiosier and curiosier…

An interesting response from Matthew Hess to a direct question about his perceived anti-Semitism:

“A lot of people have said that, but we’re not trying to be anti-Semitic.”

Does “not trying” mean that he already is anti-Semitic enough or that he is, indeed, truly unaware of the anti-Semitic flavor of his creation?

    Naji Wench says:

    Ellen, you seem to be doing a lot of talking out of your arse. I know Mr. Hess personally and I have never met a kinder, gentler, more loving soul. There is not an anti-Semitic bone in his body. He is against nothing more or less than the wholesale mutilation of children, no matter what disguise or facade is put up to protect it. He supports the rights of Jewish men to choose for themselves to have their own foreskins removed in the name of their religion, what he does not support is the “right” of any person to force any other person to undergo that trauma.

    What slices and dices are the tools of destruction held by those who find excuse after excuse to hold infants down and dismember their genitals.

    As far as your accusations as to his sexuality, he and his wife both agree that he is straight, though it really is none of your business nor the business of anyone else and has absolutely no bearing on the human rights violation that is forced infant genital mutilation.

Dave Shire says:

Mr. Hess/those who follow his herald: Jews always HAVE BEEN & ALWAYS WILL BE at the vanguard of Science, Medicine, Philanthropy & Charity, Literature & The Arts. “TRUE STEROETYPE” STATISTICS:
Chemistry (31 prize winners, 20% of world total, 27% of US total)
Economics (28 prize winners, 42% of world total, 55% of US total)
Literature (13 prize winners, 12% of world total, 27% of US total)
Peace (9 prize winners, 9% of world total, 10% of US total)
Physics (47 prize winners, 25% of world total, 36% of US total)
Physiology or Medicine (53 prize winners, 27% of world total, 40% of US total)
CIRCUMCISION, like many kosher laws, was an initiative, which came to pass for SURVIVAL/HEALTH. With advances in science many kosher laws have become anachronistic: Trichonosis rarely results from eating pork, & uncircumcised males, who practice proper hygiene, do not often pass on bacterial & viral infections. CHOICE, in circumcision- it’s many benefits, it’s few liabilities- might be left to the young-adult, rather than to parents. In the same manner, the choice betwen Child Birth, @ home, with a midwife, vs. a hospital, with an OBGYN, must be left to the parent. A young adult might take strong objection to having been born at home, where complications might NOT have been treated with the same expediency & manner possible, at a local hospital.
Survival laws, practiced for several thousand years often pass into the realm of Custom & Ceremony, enfolded into practiced religion. Mr. Hess, are your BEST QUALITIES exampled by “cheap shots,” hyperbole & hate mongering? You’ve made an error, Sir: you owe an apology to many, Mr. HESS. You’ve engaged in SHAMEFUL behavior, INDEED.
P.S. Thousands of people from India have come to US, & will, in the future. They are “people of color,” they place great emphasis on higher education, often coming here with multiple, college degrees, and “look, talk & dress funny,” Surely they offer a NEW target for Mr. Hess!

A group of 8 prominent Jewish intactivists including Mark Reiss, M.D., Paul Fleiss, M.D., and Leonard B. Glick, M.D., Ph.D. have responded to the Foreskin Man controversy.

A Message to Jewish Americans on Circumcision

Jewish Circumcision Opponents Grow More Vocal

“The more I talk to Jews, the more I learn how divisive this is within the Jewish community. The Jewish community is as diverse as any. I get emails from Jews, even Orthodox Jews, who are against circumcision. And I have gotten some support from Muslim men.”
– Lloyd Schofield

RayPrice says:

Imagine if they included the part where the Rabbi sucks the blood from the mutilated p3nis.

Rose Bush says:

I am shocked at how a disagreement over a practice can be labelled antisemitic.

If we were talking about banning the Muslim face-veil, I bet that many people, including Jews, would agree with banning it. It is odd how we get defensive whenever anyone says anything untoward about our own culture but are happy to condemn other people’s cultures.

Rose Bush says:

It is odd how Jews get het-up when anyone condemns circumcision but are quick to condemn other people’s cultures as barbaric or medieval.

If the Muslim hijab were condemned, I bet that Jews, amongst others, would be among the first to condemn it.

Rose Bush says:

Sorry for the second post. I must had a note on my computer, saying that the first note had not gone through.

Rose Bush says:

I am also beginning to wonder whether freedom of speech or the lack of it is beginning g to manifest itself in some of the posts on this forum. It is a sad day if we cannot express a difference of opinion without bring labelled racist or antisemitic.

There is a world of difference between condemning a people and condemning a practice.


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When Anti-Circumcision Turns Anti-Semitic

Comic strip by ballot initiative author draws a ‘Monster Mohel’

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