Foreskin Man: Peeling Back the Mystery

Product of a real, live anti-Semite
A vigilant reader has informed me that I was entirely wrong in supposing that Foreskin Man, the comic put out by San Francisco circumcision opponents, was someone’s bad idea of meta-humor. The artist, Matthew Hess, is a real person of real German ancestry — not, as I had hoped, a Jewish prankster who named himself after a Nazi for a lark.

Debra Saunders of the San Francisco Chronicle interviewed Hess. The interview is brief, but still revealing:

UPDATE:I spoke with Matthew Hess of this morning. I asked him if the comic is anti-Semitic. He answered, “A lot of people have said that, but we’re not trying to be anti-Semitic. We’re trying to be pro-human rights.”

The “next issue will deal with a different kind of circumcision.”

And he gave me permission to post material from the site.

Not anit-Semitic, but pro-human rights, huh? Well, now we know anti-circumcision activists can be just as mealy-mouthed as any other activists. I also have to wonder just what other kind of circumcision Foreskin Man is going to tackle in the next issue. Having taken down Monster Mohel, will he go after the Malevolent Mullah?

My reader made a point which I think valid. He said I had dismissed evidence that failed to jibe with the picture of the world I’d formed already. I had figured that anti-Semitism — at least of the overt, Nazi-like kind that Hess is plugging — was confined to the margins of America’s political dialogue. Sure, some far-leftists’ support for Palestine might evolve into a hatred of the so-called Israel lobby, but they’d have little to gain by banning circumcision. Sure, Jesse Jackson and Cornel West might pop off at the Jews every once in a while, but they would not expect any Aryan to avenge them; they’ve got serious Aryan issues of their own.

When I read that Hess and his friends call themselves “inactivists,” my heart broke a little. That’s clever, damn it. Urbanites who are clever enough to come up with a name like that and geeky enough to draw passable comics have no business disliking Jews. If anything, they should BE Jews. But now I realize I’m stuck in the New York of my childhood. It’s whole ugly new ball game out there.

My reader also warns of a new breed of anti-Semite I couldn’t have dreamed up in a million years:

In this instance, I think it’s yet a third kind of acceptable anti-Semitism, a little-known one yet one that is persistent especially in California: Gay activist anti-Semitism. A certain subset of gays are strong “uncut” proponents and want all penises to have foreskins because they prefer them that way, and so try to force the world to comply; when they get the biggest pushback from Jewish groups, their frustration turns to hatred.

I have no idea if he’s right. (I certainly don’t pretend to know anything about Matthew Hess’s sexual orientation.) But if he is — wow. Isn’t anti-Semitism supple? Isn’t it versatile? It slices, it dices, it makes Julienne fries! Historically, it’s proven able to provide a solution and an explanation for anything, even mediocre sex. Speaking from the Jewish side of my family, I quote the Scots: Whae’s like us? Damn few, an’ they’re a’ deid.

UPDATE: It’s occurred to me that some readers may not understand what’s so anti-Semitic about Hess’s portrayal of Monster Mohel and his band of no-goodniks. In a way, that’s a good thing — it suggests ancient slanders and stereotypes have fallen so far out of common use as to look new. Well, sorry to break it to everyone, but there’s nothing new under the sun — especially not the act of depicting Jews as ugly, hook-nosed ruthless monsters who harm children.

Here’s a poster from Der Ewiger Jude, or the Eternal Jew, a 1940 Nazi propaganda film:

Here’s one from Jud Suss, or Suss the Jew, which came out the same year:

I wish I could say these stereotyped images began with the Nazis, but they didn’t; they’re much older. Here’s a fresco from St. Paul’s church in Sandomierz, Poland:

The Nazis weren't that original.

No, they’re not circumcising the kid; they’re about to kill him and pour his blood into their Passover matzoh. Will Hess be able to top that in his next issue? We’ll just have to wait and see.

UPDATE: For an object lesson in how propagandists use distorted images to demonize their enemies, here’s an engraving of Joseph Suss Oppenheimer, the man whose life formed the basis of the movie Jud Suss:

Doesn’t look very foreign or very threatening, does he?

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