PRUDEN: On the cutting edge in San Francisco

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ANALYSIS/OPINION

SAN FRANCISCO — This city has an obsession with the male sex organ, and not just on Gay Pride Day. San Francisco is ever on the scout for new ways to elevate and honor it as the municipal icon.

Gay Pride Day and the parade on Sunday was a big hit, with the usual complement of flags, floats, papier-mache penises held proudly aloft and naked men marching resolutely down the avenue. But now the city’s serious work, as Baghdad by the Bay measures work and defines serious, begins in earnest.

There’s a referendum in November to determine whether circumcision of male infants should be prohibited by law, punishable by thousand-dollar fines and misdemeanor sentences of a year in jail, with no religious exemptions.

Only 7,168 qualified voters are needed on petitions to put a proposal on the November ballot, and organizers quickly presented petitions with 7,700 names.

International health-maintenance organizations have promoted male circumcision to reduce the spread of the AIDS virus, which certainly ought to make the practice popular in San Francisco, where a cool lavender mist rolls in with the fog off the Pacific. The referendum was earlier thought to be too goofy to succeed, even in San Francisco, but now nobody is sure.

Organizers of the campaign decry circumcision as genital mutilation, likening it to female genital mutilation practiced in many Muslim countries. They argue that the practice is unnecessary, painful and dangerous, and shouldn’t be imposed on an infant child.

“Parents are really guardians,” says Lloyd Schofield, who is leading the campaign to ban circumcision. “Guardians have to do what’s in the best interests of the child. It’s his body, his choice.” He argues that the procedure is more medically invasive than many young parents realize.

Not so, says Rabbi Gil Yosef Leeds, speaking for the opposition.

“For a city that’s renowned for being progressive and open-minded, to even have to consider such an intolerant proposition sets a dangerous precedent for all cities and states.” The rabbi is also a certified mohel, who in the Jewish faith performs the bris, or ritual cut, on the eighth day after the boy’s birth. In the Jewish faith, circumcision is a mark of the covenant between God and the Jews.

The proposal has united, on this one unusual issue, Jewish and Muslim clerics. A coalition of five rabbis, three imams, two physicians who perform medical circumcisions and the Jewish Anti-Defamation League have filed a lawsuit to petition the state courts to remove the voter initiative from the ballot, arguing that California law prohibits local governments from restricting medical procedures.

A similar measure in Santa Monica, adjoining Los Angeles, was dropped when a campaign comic book, depicting “Foreskin Man” as a dark and sinister monster mohel advancing on an infant with a large knife, was denounced as “anti-Semitic imagery.”

This being California, there’s the inevitable show-biz element in the controversy.

Russell Crowe, the actor, in a Twitter exchange with Hollywood pals called circumcision “barbaric and stupid,” and accused circumcision advocates of playing God. “Babies,” he said, “are perfect.”

Mr. Crowe, who as an actor is accustomed to reading lines written for him, had apparently never heard of birth defects, often corrected by surgery, and in his retreat from harsh language only made his public-relations gaffe worse.

He wanted everyone to know that some of his best friends are Jewish. “I love my Jewish friends,” he tweeted to the horror-film director Eli Roth in what he imagined was an apology. “I love the apples and the honey and the funny little hats.”

His reference to Jewish diet and the yarmulkes worn by Jewish men won him no accolades, and when the exchange went viral on the Internet he tried an all-inclusive apology, not only to Jews but to Muslims, Hindus, whirling dervishes and everyone his press flacks could think of.

“I have a deep and abiding love for all people of all nationalities,” the semi-chastened actor said. “I realize that some will interpret this debate as me mocking the rituals and traditions of others. I am very sorry.”

Worldwide, only about 30 percent of men are circumcised, and less than that in Africa, where AIDS is endemic. This percentage rises to 80 percent in the United States, so this ought to be a slam-dunk for opposition to a ban.

But slam-dunks are rare in politics, and California voters are notorious for whoring after the new thing.

• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

About the Author
Wesley Pruden

Wesley Pruden

Editor Emeritus — American journalist legend and Vietnam War author James Wesley Pruden, Jr. is Editor Emeritus of The Washington Times. Pruden’s first job in the newspaper business dates back to 1951 as a copyboy at the now defunct Arkansas Gazette where he later became a sportswriter and an assistant state editor. In 1982, he joined The Washington Times, four ...

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