A bill that would have banned bris milah and other forms of religious circumcision in Iceland will not be voted on by its parliament following a negative recommendation by a key committee as its legislative term comes to an end.
The proposal had met with international outcry from Jewish and Muslim groups. Despite the fact that the tiny island nation has very few practitioners of either faith, activists from religious communities waged a concerted fight against the bill fearing its passage could set off a trend in the region.
Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, president of the Conference of European Rabbis, told Hamodia that while he was relatively confident that Iceland’s legislators had decided to drop the matter for the foreseeable future, Jewish communities had to remain vigilant against future attacks on the practice.
“This battle is over, but not the war,” he said. “I think that the international pressure has made them back off, but the fight for milah, and shechitah as well, is going to continue around Europe.”
The legislation was introduced in Iceland’s parliament by Silja Dögg Gunnarsdóttir this past February. It would have imposed prison sentences of up to six years on anyone performing circumcision on a child that is not for medical reasons. The proposal was a result of a lobbying effort of a Denmark-based “child’s rights” group.
The same week the bill was introduced in Iceland, a grassroots effort, championed by the same organization, began to introduce a similar measure in Denmark.
Last month a meeting was held between representatives of Agudath Israel of America, the Orthodox Union (OU), UJA-Federation, the World Jewish Congress, the National Coalition Supporting Eurasian Jewry and Iceland’s ambassador to the United States to discuss the matter. At that time, the ambassador, Geir Haarde, expressed that the government had not officially backed the measure, but was non-committal as to its future.
Shortly afterwards, the OU organized a letter from Representatives Ed Royce (R-Calif.), chair of the House of Representatives’ Foreign Relations Committee, and Rep. Elliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the committee’s ranking member to Ambassador Haarde, saying that the legislation would “create insurmountable challenges for Jews and Muslims living in Iceland.”
Last week, Iceland’s parliamentary Judicial Affairs and Education Committee issued an official recommendation to dismiss the bill, and as the nation’s parliament has now broken for its summer recess, it seems assured not to be brought for a vote this year.
Rabbi Goldschmidt said that when the measure was originally introduced, parliamentary supporters had not understood the obligatory nature of religious circumcision for Jews or Muslims, nor did they expect the broad opposition it garnered. Regarding the proposal in Denmark, he added that despite winning significant popular support, the country’s major political parties had pledged to oppose any effort to criminalize milah, averting the immediate threats faced.
OU Executive Vice President Allen Fagin, who participated in the meeting with Ambassador Haarde, welcomed the Icelandic government’s decision to shelve the matter.
“We are extremely gratified that members of the Icelandic government heard our concerns, understood the importance of this issue and responded accordingly,” he said.