SMF Chair debates circumcision with Jonathan Arkush

30 Jul 2013

PRESS RELEASE – 30 July 2013 (No embargo)

At a debate organised by the UCLU Atheist, Secular and Humanist Society on 28 February 2013, the chair of the Secular Medical Forum, Dr Antony Lempert, debated the topic of circumcision with Jonathan Arkush, Vice-President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

It is a Jewish tradition to cut off the foreskin of baby boys when they are eight days old.  This operation was described by the Royal Dutch Medical Association as ‘a violation of children’s rights to autonomy and physical integrity’ and it was recently declared unlawful by a district court in Cologne. While discussing the case which led to the Cologne court’s decision, Mr Arkush said:

“incidentally two world rulers in modern times who sought to ban circumcision were Hitler and Stalin, so that’s the company you are in if you seek to ban it”

The Secular Medical Forum found this an unhelpful comment. Many individuals working in the field of child protection – though not world rulers – are also seeking a ban on this medically unnecessary operation on non-consenting babies, and they would be offended by any potential association with Hitler or Stalin. Dr Lempert, who is also the GP representative member of a Local Safeguarding Children’s Board, responded by saying that he abhors anti-semitism and explained that anti-semitism is happening when well-meaning people fail to protect children of Jewish parents from the harm caused by ritual circumcision.

The full debate is available here.

In March 2013 the SMF posted the original text of this press release, including the statement that Mr Arkush “compared all people who oppose ritual circumcision, including those working in child protection, to Hitler.” The SMF now retracts this statement and has apologised to Mr Arkush for the allegation that he compared all people who oppose ritual circumcision, including those working in child protection, to Hitler. In fact, we may only conclude from Mr Arkush’s quote that he was associating those who sought to ban circumcision, rather than those who oppose circumcision, with Hitler and Stalin. As mentioned above, the SMF nevertheless finds this an unhelpful contribution to the debate. Those who allege that campaigners against ritual childhood circumcision are being anti-semitic (or invoke the spectre of Nazi Germany) are directed to members and groups of the very same religions who themselves want to see an end to the practice. The SMF is aware of Jewish groups who are against the practice of circumcision. There are several practising Jewish parents who do not circumcise their boys and have explained in detail why. Peaceful alternatives to the naming ceremony are also in use by several rabbis.

The SMF works to protect all people from the imposition of other people’s beliefs in medicine.  The SMF supports freedom of religion, alongside freedom from religion, especially for children. The SMF campaigns against all forms of ritual genital cutting and campaigns for a safer world where children can grow up with an intact body and can make their own decisions later in life.  The SMF is a non-profit campaign organisation run by volunteers for the protection of patients.

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