Anti-Circumcision Comic Hero Called Anti-Semitic

June 18, 2011 - 2:41 PM

SAN DIEGO (AP) — His fists clenched and muscles rippling beneath a tight blue suit, the yellow-caped character appears poised to take on evil-doers.

But as his name suggests, "Foreskin Man" is not a typical comic-book superhero, and neither is his choice of adversaries: doctors who practice circumcision and Orthodox Jews who support the religious ritual.

San Diego activist Matthew Hess says he conceived the Internet comic series last year as a way to boost his budding national effort to outlaw circumcision, an effort that has led to a measure on San Francisco's ballot in November that would make it illegal to perform a circumcision on a boy under 18.

Recently, though, the series has drawn criticism from those who deride Hess' imagery as anti-Semitic and liken Foreskin Man's confrontation with a sinister-looking Monster Mohel to 1930's Nazi propaganda.

In the comic's second issue, the mohel (a specialist in Jewish ritual circumcision) barges into a San Diego home, snatches a baby boy from his mother, and proceeds to circumcise the infant on a pool table before being stopped by Foreskin Man.

"The (Monster) mohel has a dark complexion, hook nose and is practically drooling at the thought of apparently doing harm to a child," said Nancy Appel, associate director of the Anti-Defamation League. "He even has claws on his fingertips. He is blood thirsty just like the grotesque Jewish stereotypes that appeared in Nazi propaganda. It's absolutely a direct parallel."

Hess is the founder of MGMbill, a national organization pushing to outlaw circumcision on boys under the age of 18. MGM stands for Male Genital Mutilation, and the bill refers to proposed legislation drafted and submitted to state and federal lawmakers to consider passing.

The organization succeeded in getting the measure on San Francisco's ballot that would make it a misdemeanor to circumcise males younger than 18 without "medical need." Hess had hoped to get a similar measure on Santa Monica's ballot but the campaign's leader dropped those plans because of the backlash.

Hess said he launched his campaign in 2003 but had been getting a "lot of glazed eyes" until he created Foreskin Man. He unveiled the comic last year at San Diego's annual Comics Convention, Comic-Con. The first issue, in which Foreskin Man confronts Dr. Mutilator, was viewed as kind of "weird," he said, but the second issue has sent Internet traffic soaring.

"This is generating a lot of attention that is pushing people to look into this a little bit more," Hess told The Associated Press. "The more you look into it, the worse it gets. It is a serious human rights violation. Now a lot of people are going to learn about circumcision and be thinking about it before the November ballot."

Critics agree that it is drawing attention — but, they say, not support. In a June 8 editorial, the San Francisco Chronicle said the comic's "classic anti-Semitic imagery is inexcusable" and shows an "ugly undercurrent to the campaign."

"'Foreskin Man' provides yet another reason to vote against the circumcision ban," the newspaper stated.

Hess said the character's blond, Germanic features reflect his own heritage and that the comic is not anti-Semitic because the superhero saves a Jewish baby from genital mutilation.

"I'm not a Nazi," he said.

The medical benefits of circumcision have lately become a heated topic of discussion among parents. Circumcision opponents dismiss the argument that clipping the foreskin serves the cause of hygiene, and say that it amounts to male genital mutilation akin to widely condemned female circumcision rites in Africa.

Last week, actor Russell Crowe lashed out at the practice on Twitter, declaring a newborn baby to be perfect on delivery. The comments vanished from his account within hours, and he later apologized in a tweet, saying: "I realize that some will interpret this debate as me mocking the rituals and traditions of others. I am very sorry."

The measure's opponents say a ban would be a flagrant violation of constitutional rights. For Jews, circumcision is part of a religious covenant, an opportunity for every male to bring a sacrifice to God. The ceremony, held eight days after a son's birth, is generally performed either in a synagogue or at home, and a doctor's scalpel or a knife reserved exclusively for circumcision is used to cut the foreskin, over which a shield is usually placed to ensure the skin above is not cut.

Hess does not want to ban the practice outright but rather allow boys to make the choice for themselves as adults. He said his sexual sensation declined as a result of his circumcision as a baby.

In the next issue, Foreskin Man will take on another battle against circumcision. There will be no Jewish characters in the story, Hess said, though he declined to give details.

Appel fears who will be painted next as a villain. Foreskin Man "has injected something very ugly and toxic into this whole issue and public discussion .... I think it's being rejected widely and I think it's turning people off, and I really hope he doesn't continue down this path. I don't want to see another group of people hurt by this sort of activity."