Swedish anti-hate tsar leads fight against brit

By Anna Ekstrom, January 26, 2012
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Westerberg

Westerberg

For almost two months, prominent members of Swedish society have been campaigning for a ban on traditional male circumcision.

The most vocal advocate of anti-circumcision legislation is Bengt Westerberg, former leader of the liberal People's Party. However, Mr Westerberg also chairs a government committee set up to combat antisemitism and other forms of racism.

Mr Westerberg, together with a group of well-known figures including doctors, a philosopher and a church representative, recently penned a controversial article on circumcision for Sweden's biggest daily. In the op-ed, they "quoted" from an imaginary religious text in which a god orders parents to cut off their children's earlobes. They argued that the circumcision of under-age boys constitutes a violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Members of the Jewish community strongly objected to the article, including journalist Goran Rosenberg, who described it as an attack on Jewish life in Sweden.

What's a kippah walk? It's a 'demo', wrote a local reporter. No, it's not. It's a tiny group of Malmö Jews who go for walks wearing kippot and stars of David. There are only 20 of them: fear keeps the number down. Rabbi Shneur Kesselman, who looks Jewish every day, is used to hate. There's a large file on anti-Kesselman crimes at the police station. Meanwhile, Ilmar Reepalu, Malmö mayor, fears the Wiesenthal Centre is trying to 'silence' him after he told them last spring that some people steal land because God told them to. 'It's important to toughen up,' kippah walker Ms Posner told the reporter. But, as the group split up, she put her star away. 'It's too ostentatious.'

When a bill regulating circumcision was passed in 2001, some MPs expressed the hope "that the debate will be kept lively… so that there will be a shift in attitudes… and that circumcision will disappear."

In September 2011, two prohibition bills were proposed to Parliament: one by the xenophobic Sweden Democrat party and the other by an MP for Moderaterna, the Prime Minister's party.

Should the government ban circumcision it would be the first to do so since antiquity, the most famous precursor being King Antiochus IV of Syria.

During a debate broadcast on Radio Sweden, Mr Westerberg took the campaign a step further. He objected to the import of kosher meat, which non-vegetarian Jews have depended on since shechitah was banned in 1937. Mr Westerberg compared brit mila to female genital mutilation, claiming that "for thousands of years" circumcision has been a form of "child abuse".

He admitted, however, that research does not prove male circumcision to be harmful. Sounding upset, he added that he did not believe in God's promise to Abraham any more. Blogs and comment threats in the wake of Mr Westerberg's campaign have been marked by antisemitism and Islamophobia.

The centre-right government has not queried Mr Westerberg's position as chairman of the "intolerance committee" - at least not in public.

Last updated: 1:00pm, January 26 2012