You Didn't Have To Be A Dick About It
You've probably heard that San Francisco voters will consider a ballot measure to ban circumcision in the city. It's a controversial topic; there are hotly contested medical, social, and individual rights arguments on both sides. I'm not going to try to resolve them: I was circumcised, my son isn't, I see arguments on both sides.
Some Jewish leaders view the initiative as an anti-Semitic attack. It need not be one, necessarily — the circumcision rate in the United States hovers around 50%, while Jews make up only about 2% of the U.S. population (and observant Jews less than that). Moreover, there are many arguments to be made against circumcision that do not depend on denigration of religion.
It would take a heroic effort to frame this dispute as primarily one of anti-Semitism in time for the vote.
His website, mgmbill.org — which pushes "a bill to end male genital mutilation in the United States" –also pushes his literature and merchandise starring "Foreskin Man," shown here at right.
Just how anti-Semitic is Foreskin Man? Well, he's a blonde Aryan superhero. And he fights a circumcising villain named Monster Mohel, who cackles as he attempts to circumcise a child against its mother's will: "Nothing excites Monster Mohel more than cutting into the infantile penile flesh of an eight day old boy." Foreskin Man saves the day, rescues the baby, and takes it away to be raised by Aryan progressives in beach sandals.
The art is straight out of Goebbel's wet dreams:
The comic wallows in classic anti-Semitic tropes. I'm only surprised they didn't work blood libel in there. Matthew Hess — together with artists Gledson Barreto (a boy from Brazil) and Ian Sokoliwski, have framed the San Francisco circumcision debate as an anti-Jew issue with a level of explicitness and clarity that's rare in politics.
Hess claims it's about "human rights":
Saunders asked Hess if his comic is anti-Semitic. His answer: "A lot of people have said that, but we're not trying to be anti-Semitic. We're trying to be pro-human rights."
If so, Mr. Hess, in a country where Jews make up only 2% of the population, but 50% of boys get circumcised, why is your villain a Mohel? Why not make the villain Soccer Mom, or Unreflective Dad?
Like I said, I'm not going to take a shot at arguing the circumcision issue one way or the other. But this is flatly despicable. I hope that it comes to represent the anti-circumcision campaign in San Francisco. That's my hope not because of how I feel about circumcision, but how I feel about attempts to harness anti-Semitism for political ends. I want to believe that we have clawed and struggled far enough out of the pit that it doesn't work any more.
Edited 6/4 to add:
A couple of additional points:
1. I'm actually beginning to think, based on the comic site's links to criticism, that this is a deliberate troll — a purposeful employment of anti-Semitic tropes to draw attention to the movement. That's vile in a subtly different way than believing in one's bigotry.
2. I recommend Tony's posts at Rolling Doughnut here and here on this subject for a thoughtful reaction from someone who is anti-circumcision but appalled by this propaganda — and not just because he links me.
3. As I said on Tony's site, I perceive another guilt-by-association problem for circumcision opponents here. One of the most trenchant criticisms of anti-circumcision laws is that they represent nanny-state interference in parental decision-making. Anti-circumcision advocates have a quite arguable response to this: they seek to preserve the autonomy of the individual child rather than take away the autonomy of the parents. But by choosing to pursue anti-circumcision laws in San Francisco and Santa Monica, anti-circumcision advocates tend to associate anti-circumcision laws with the petty totalitarianism and nanny-statism of those locales — they help their opponents put anti-circumcision in the nanny-state box rather than the autonomy box. (Anti-circumcision advocates would probably say that San Francisco and Santa Monica are cities most likely to be receptive to an anti-circumcision law. As much as I love San Francisco as a beautiful city — and as much as I like many San Franciscans individually — I have to ask whether that receptiveness actually represents a pro-autonomy mentality or a pro-nanny-state mentality.)
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