Groups blast anti-circumcision comic book as anti-Semitic

Garish cartoon images of bearded, evil-eyed Jews, fangs bared, knives in hand, ready to slice and dice innocent babies.

They are not from the notorious Nazi propaganda sheet Der Stürmer. They’re from an anti-circumcision comic book and trading cards produced last year by activists seeking to ban circumcision in San Francisco.

Bay Area Jewish community leaders reacted with outrage after seeing images from “Foreskin Man,” a comic book written by Matthew Hess, founder of, a San Diego group that supports the local anti-circumcision campaign.

A trading card created by anti-circumcision activist Matthew Hess.

“The imagery in these cartoons is offensive and anti-Semitic,” said Abby Michelson Porth, associate director of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council. “To imagine that the person who produced this is a principle organizer of the measure to criminalize and ban circumcision in San Francisco is alarming.”

Characters from “Foreskin Man” include a trio of apparently Orthodox Jews wearing kippahs, black coats and long black beards. One of those characters, Monster Mohel, is featured on a trading card with a description that reads in part, “Nothing excites Monster Mohel more than cutting into the penile flesh of an 8-day-old infant boy.”

Foreskin Man himself is a blond muscle-bound superhero, complete with a cape.

“This is an advocacy campaign taken to a new low,” said Nancy Appel, associate regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, in a statement. “This is a sensitive, serious issue where good people can disagree and which the Jewish community feels is an assault on its values and traditions going back thousands of years and centered in the Hebrew Bible.”

Appel said the comic portrays mohels “as rapacious, bloodthirsty and bent on harming children” and that some of the imagery calls to mind age-old anti-Semitic canards such as blood libel, the accusation that Jews ritually murder Christian children.

“Another comic in the series also calls up more subtle anti-Jewish themes, such as when a character complains that the ‘pro-circumcision lobby’ has ‘all of the well-connected doctors and lawyers,’ ” Appel said.

Marilyn Milos, founder of the San Anselmo–based anti-circumcision organization NOCIRC, called the comic books “just stupid” and “in poor taste,” and asserted she and fellow activists have distanced themselves from Hess’ work.

“Anything that denigrates anybody is not helpful to us,” said Milos. “I know the pictures were offensive, not unlike caricatures that were around during the Holocaust. [The comic book] has allowed people to divert away from the real issue, which is circumcision itself and whether children have a right to their own body. So people have called us an anti-Semitic movement.”

In a June 9 tweet from his Twitter page, Hess said, “Foreskin Man is neither anti-Semitic nor anti-physician. But those who cut innocent children will be drawn like the villains that they are.”

The legal language of the San Francisco initiative that will appear on the November ballot is based on text first published on Hess’ website.

The story told in the second issue of “Foreskin Man,” which is for sale on the website, centers on the story of Sarah and Jethro Glick and their newborn son. Sarah thinks she and her husband had agreed not to circumcise their son, but Jethro has other plans. He secretly invites Monster Mohel to circumcise “little Glick.”

Hess said that he and his supporters are, first and foremost, human rights activists.

“We do what we do because we strongly believe that no one has the right to cut off part of another person’s body without their consent,” Hess wrote in an email. “We believe that amputating part of a boy’s penis is no different in principle than amputating part of a girl’s vulva. If you ask any activist in Africa why she is trying to stop the practice of female genital mutilation, I suspect that her answers would be very similar to ours.”

Writing to the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles on May 31, before the San Francisco Chronicle reported on the comic book’s existence, Hess addressed those who accuse him of being motivated by anti-Semitism.

“As far as the anti-Semitism charge, I might understand such an accusation if our proposed legislation applied to everyone except Jews. That would be like saying we care about all boys except the Jewish ones,” Hess wrote.

The amped-up debate may have impacted the anti-circumcision movement in Southern California. This week, activists withdrew a proposed circumcision ban in Santa Monica, citing religious concerns.

“It shouldn’t have been about religion in the first place,” anti-circumcision activist Jena Troutman told the Jewish Journal. “Ninety-five percent of people aren’t doing it for religious reasons, and with everyone from the New York Times to Glenn Beck focusing on the religious issue, it’s closing Americans down to the conversation.”

The JCRC is leading the fight against the San Francisco initiative, and has assembled a coalition of HIV researchers, medical authorities, civic leaders and clergy from the Muslim, Jewish and Christian communities to support their efforts.

Added Porth, “[The comic book] heightens our concerns about the effect this measure would have if it passes in interfering in Muslim and Jewish religious practice in America.”

Jonah Lowenfeld
of the Los Angeles Jewish Journal and JTA contributed to this story.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.