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October 7, 2013 10:49 am

Israel’s Peres Pleads With Council of Europe Head to Save Circumcision on the Continent

avatar by Joshua Levitt

Instruments used for a Jewish circumcision. Photo: wiki commons.

Israeli President Shimon Peres sent a formal letter on Sunday to Thorbjorn Jagland, Secretary General of the Council of Europe, asking him to intervene on a decision last week by the Council of Europe to ban ritual circumcision, following a stronger protest from Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Friday.

On Monday, the president’s office shared the letter with media. In the letter, Peres wrote:

“The ritual of male circumcision has been practiced by Jewish communities for thousands of years and is a fundamental element of our tradition and obligation as Jews. 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. I therefore urge the members of this distinguished assembly to reconsider this resolution.”

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“Dear Thorbjorn, you have dedicated a large part of your career to defending the civil liberties of citizens across the world, among other things by implementing fair and equal legislation in Norway and in the European Union institutions. I know how much you value the principles of freedom of religion and trust that you will exert your considerable influence in the Council of Europe for the sake of these fundamental rights.”

On Friday, the Foreign Ministry called on the Council of Europe “to rescind immediately the resolution,” and went through a list of claims against the practice, then refuted them one by one. The Foreign Ministry said:

“Circumcision of male children is an ancient religious tradition of two important  religions, Judaism and Islam, and it is also common among some Christian circles. Any comparison of this tradition to the reprehensible and barbaric practice of female genital mutilation is either appalling ignorance, at best, or defamation and anti-religious hatred, at worst.”

“Claims that circumcision harms young boys’ health and body are false, and do not rest on any scientific evidence. Rather the contrary is true. For example, an official paper published by the American Academy of Pediatrics in August 2012 shows the health benefits of newborn male circumcision.”

“The resolution of the PACE constitutes, therefore, an intolerable attack both on the respectable and ancient religious tradition that lies at the base of European culture, and on modern medical science and its findings. This resolution casts a moral stain on the Council of Europe, and fosters hate and racist trends in Europe. We call on the Council of Europe to act without delay in order to annul it.”

Last week, with a majority of 78 in favor, 13 opposed and 15 abstentions, the council—an international organization whose resolutions are non-binding but heavily influence EU countries—deemed circumcision a “violation of the physical integrity of children.”

The council passed a resolution calling for a ban on “certain operations and practices before a child is old enough to be consulted.” The age suggested for allowing circumcision was 15 years old.

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