Foreskin man: Bird? Plane? Or libel?

Campaign uses graphic antisemitic cartoons for circumcision vote

By Jennifer Lipman, June 10, 2011
Buying into stereotypes: Matthew Hess’s gang of circumcisers in his graphic comic book series, Foreskin Man

Buying into stereotypes: Matthew Hess’s gang of circumcisers in his graphic comic book series, Foreskin Man

Campaigners seeking a San Francisco-wide ban on the circumcision of males under the age of 18 have employed the services of a new superhero - Foreskin Man.

Matthew Hess, president of the Male Genital Mutilation Bill group, which wants to make circumcision punishable by imprisonment, has produced two issues of the 'comic book'.

Mr Hess is one of the leaders of the group backing the anti-circumcision proposal in San Francisco, which has now achieved enough signatures to appear on a ballot for a public vote in November.

A similar plan is underway in San Diego.

The measure would make it a "misdemeanour to circumcise, excise, cut or mutilate the foreskin, testicle or penis of another person who has not attained the age of 18."

The campaigners have compiled testimony from doctors, patients and event rabbis in their crusade, but the comic books take a different tactic.

The stories include characters with names like Monster Mohel and Dr Mutilator, and show graphic scenes of terrified babies and brutal doctors covered in blood.

The pro-circumcision characters, who are described as monsters by Foreskin Man, are depicted with peyot (sidelocks), black hats and a tallit. In contrast, Foreskin Man is shown as the classic American hero, with blond hair and a square jaw.

In one scene, Mr Hess wrote of Monster Mohel: "Nothing excites [him]more than cutting into the penile flesh of an eight-day-old infant boy." In another, a woman is shown saying she wishes she could do more "to protect these innocent boys". Then, later, a "peaceful and content" baby is shown rescued from the clutches of a grotesque doctor.

The strength of the "pro-circumcision lobby" of "well-connected doctors and lawyers" is also discussed.

But Mr Hess insisted that his comic book was not antisemitic.

"It takes an unflinching look at the practice of circumcising children, as well as those who perform it," he said. "The characters are drawn accordingly, to convey that message."

"The Foreskin Man comic book series is designed to shine a spotlight on the practice of circumcision by using storytelling and popular art," he added. "It is an attempt to expose forced circumcision for what it really is: an assault on children."

He said the website featuring the comic books had attracted hundreds of thousands of views in recent weeks. The books are also on sale as print copies and e-versions through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

But the Anti-Defamation League criticised the "grotesque antisemitic imagery and themes".

Nancy Appel, ADL associate regional director, said: "This is an advocacy campaign taken to a new low.

"It is one thing to debate it, is another thing to degrade it. This is disrespectful and deeply offensive."

She added: "Some of the imagery calls to mind age-old antisemitic canards such as the blood libel, the accusation that Jews ritually murder Christian children.

"We would have hoped those backing the anti-circumcision effort in San Francisco would know better than to use this type antisemitic imagery to advance their cause."

Mr Hess is currently working on a third issue in the series.

Last updated: 3:37pm, June 10 2011