OPINION: Intactivism, Anti-Semitism, and Foreskin Man

Growing up in Texas, the only Jews I knew lived in the Bible. As far as I could understand, circumcised boys were all my fundamentalist and not so fundamentalist Christian friends. Intact boys were foreigners or the kids who spoke Spanish. Rather than competition and prejudice between different religious traditions, the divide in my town was between blacks and whites. We all went to churches made from the same cloth, Baptist, Methodist, Church of Christ, a few others, or generically named congregations, like Sunday Christian Church, or churches with names to that effect.

My acquaintance with anti-Semitism and Jews generally didn’t really get off the ground until quite a few years later when I moved to California. From the start, coinciding with the beginning of my legal career, I was drawn to Jews as both mentors and irreverent co-travelers butting up against the perceived monolithic mainstream or “system.” I’m not sure whether this was related to my own feelings of being an outsider both here and at home, or something else. On the other hand, maybe this was true because most of the Jews I knew were liberal-minded criminal defense attorneys rather than because they were Jews.

Anti-Semitism was something I experienced mostly in movies and on TV. Perhaps it’s because I’m not Jewish, but it seems more likely it’s because the cruder forms of this peculiar prejudice are much rarer today in the shadow of the Holocaust and within the plurality of the United States. So then, with this backdrop, what of Foreskin Man and Monster Mohel?

The first time I saw this comic, I thumbed through it, but didn’t read it. My impression was that this was not going to be helpful. However, my reaction was tempered by my knowledge and familiarity with Matthew Hess. His first comic harshly depicted doctors. The second comic followed this line with mohels. Matthew has made clear each comic will take on some category of circumciser. While I perceived an opening for accusations of anti-Semitism, I thought that the pattern would make clear Matthew is anti-circumcision, not anti-Semitic. Like me.

Anyone who has even a passing familiarity with the intactivist movement knows that anti-Semitism is a particularly sensitive issue for us. The outsized number of Jews involved with this movement feels at times that we skirt too close to the line, and I agree. Still, I have never met someone who has come to intactivism out of an irrational hatred or anger towards Jews. The vast majority are drawn to intactivism because they have a deep and abiding sense of justice, compassion, and fairness that they perceive as being violated by infant circumcision. Bigots and haters are not likely to turn inward in a self-reflective moment and decide they are against circumcision. Rather they deny their powerlessness and lash out at those who they perceive as challenging it, i.e. intactivists, blacks, gays, immigrants, Jews, the Bilderburgers, whomever.

The problem here is that this comic lends some credence to the epithet of anti-Semitism. The startling storyline of an Aryan-looking hero interjecting himself in the affairs of Jews, and kidnapping/rescuing a Jewish baby to be raised by non-Jews is one everyone can rightfully take issue with. Yet, the other victims depicted in the comic book are also Jews. In fact, practically all the characters in this issue are Jews. The debilitating flaw is that the imagery and storyline are just too reminiscent of recent demonization campaigns against Jews in other places and for other (bogus) reasons – which by the way haven’t ended well.

To illustrate the former point, imagine a comic or other popular culture depiction of a white hero swooping into some poor community and rescuing black babies from poor parenting and systemically enforced poverty. Or if you like, think of the history of white government officials stealing the children of Navajos in the early 20th century and putting them in territorial schools to make them more like white people and less like the people they are. Outsiders imposing their will on a community is just bullshit. The change must come from within (joined by others) if it is to come at all. Matthew completely failed to understand this.

Although my sense is that the accusation of anti-Semitism is like the race card – usually not helpful, I feel it is not entirely off base here. Still, I am confident that Monster Mohel comes from Matthew’s deep pain and hurt from the practice of circumcision. At this point and without delay and much haste, he needs to do more to dispel the idea that he and his comic come from a place of prejudice.

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5 Responses to OPINION: Intactivism, Anti-Semitism, and Foreskin Man

  1. James Loewen says:

    Great post David. And very needed following the brouhaha around Foreskin Man comic book #2.
    Many of us who come to this issue from the personal experience of having been cut forcibly as infants or children, or coerced as young adults, grapple with how to be effective in speaking out, in a cultural climate that ridicules and silences us at ever turn, and with limited resources. I feel for Matthew knowing he struggles with this too. He’s put himself out there and must now bear the brunt of a public that is largely uninterested in looking at the issue closely and in fact wants to cover its ears to the damage circumcision causes.
    While the fallout from Foreskin Man is ongoing we’ll learn from this and go forward.

  2. Joe says:

    The thing is though James, I don’t understand what there was to learn here. It’s impossible to look at that magazine, without even reading the content, and not dismiss and criticize the it as has been done. The imagery alone is enough to support the charge especially considering that we are already opened to claims of anti-semitism simply for supporting individual rights. We all know that Matthew didn’t intend it in the way it’s being spun but we can’t assume everyone is going to look at the matter rationally, after all they circumcise boys.

  3. H Navoiseau says:

    The Foreskinman cartoon (http://www.foreskinman.com/) depicts Superman’s own brother rescuing baby Glick from circumcision by religious Jews. Sarah, the mother does not want the procedure, her husband Jethro wants it. Fortunately, the blond and white Anglo-Saxon Protestant Foreskinman comes and saves both the child and Sarah.
    The whole problem is that in spite of the fact that we are in “God’s own country”, there is a strong movement of Jews against circumcision that is totally absent of Mr Matthew Hess’s story. We have to conclude that our friend is affected by unconscious antiJewism. How may he, in his just fight against the primitive barbarity of sexual mutilation, ignore the existence of his Jewish comrades? This is very unfair. We do not challenge the sincerity of his activism for the human rights of the helpless, we cannot but expose his arrogant ignorance of the existence of those who have been fighting against circumcision for millenia, much before American intactivists.
    I also need to tell that this cartoon appeals to violence rather than persuasion.

  4. Hess has in one stupid comic annihilated thirty years of struggle against circumcision. It is a stab in the back of every Intactivist; and it will not help if Mrs. Marilyn Milos, Dr. Frederick Hodges, Mr. Travis Wisdom, or other non-Jewish members of the movement publicly condemn the creator of the comic. From now on, Intactivists participating in Web discussions can be silenced with one phrase: “You are an anti-Semite. Your propaganda proves it.”
    We will probably see a closing of the ranks. Jews who have been playing with the thought of abandoning circumcision may now come to see Intactivism as an attack on their people. The only thing that may help in this situation is to recommend the book “Marked in Your Flesh” by Professor Glick to as many opponents as possible, and to agree wholeheartedly that “Foreskin Man” is just another example of anti-Semitic trash (which it is).

  5. David Wilton says:

    It’s a serious misstep, but I’m going to choose to be optimistic and keep pressing ahead. I know that comic doesn’t represent all of intactivism. And the people who I encounter in my work know I am not anti-Semitic. The most important thing is to have this internal discussion publicly so that the world can see we struggle with the apparent but sometimes false implications of being anti-circumcision (like the anti-Semite tag). We can’t allow ourselves to exist in a bubble where we fail to acknowledge how we look to outsiders AND we can’t allow how the outside world perceives us in our totality stop us from continuing the work, adjusting our message as appropriate.

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