Monday, March 28, 2022

Brendon Marotta's "The Abuse of Jewish Fragility": a Case Study in How to Undermine the Cause of Genital Autonomy through Jewish Scapegoating and the Use of Classic Antisemitic Tropes

by David Balashinsky

I got involved in intactivism (the name by which the cause of eradicating male genital mutilation is informally known) approximately nine years ago.  Like many, my introduction to the movement and my initial involvement with it as an advocate were both through social media.  Within the first few hours of my involvement, I came up against the strand of antisemitism that, unfortunately, runs through this movement in its social-media incarnation.  I'm referring to unambiguously antisemitic jokes and comments and classic Jewish scapegoating.  This antisemitism was by no means a majority of what I found among intactivists on Facebook but it was, nevertheless, conspicuous and ever-present.  Needless to say, it was disappointing.  Equally disappointing was the tolerance for it among some Facebook intactivist-group page administrators who, when I brought examples of antisemitism to their attention, not only remained silent about them but refused to remove them from their groups' pages.  I spent many fruitless hours combating the antisemitism coming from some of my fellow intactivists who supposedly were on the same side of the barricades as I was (and still am) in the war against male genital mutilation and many fruitless hours combating the acquiescence and complicity of those administrators who tolerated the antisemitism in our midst.

This is part of the context in which Brendon Marotta's latest blog post must be understood.  His post, entitled "The Abuse of Jewish Fragility," contains one antisemitic slur after the other and should not go unchallenged.  I actually have no choice but to challenge it.  After all, just a moment ago I criticized those Facebook intactivist page administrators for their complicity in antisemitism through their silence about it.  If I say nothing about Marotta's unabashed antisemitism in the present case, what, then, am I, if not equally complicit?

There are several other specific, important and even urgent reasons to speak out against Marotta's Jew-baiting.  First, there is a correlation between antisemitic hate speech and antisemitic violence.  The one always precedes the other.  To the extent that antisemitic hate speech increases, we can expect acts of antisemitic violence to increase also.  That is why countering hate speech is an essential part of defending against antisemitic violence. 

Then, of course, there is the simple and even more basic reason that a libel against a person, a race, a nationality, an ethnic group, a religion, a sex, a gender or a sexual orientation is wrong, unethical and injurious on its face and should not, as a matter of justice but also just on principle, go undisputed.

Still another reason why all who oppose antisemitism - and not just antisemitism but any sort of hate speech - cannot remain silent when they encounter it is that acquiescence - silence - contributes indirectly to a culture of normalization of hate speech.  If one doesn't meet it head on, the only inference that others not already intellectually armed against it are left to make is that the hate speech is essentially valid or, at the very least, is no big deal.  

But still another reason - and this is as important to me as an intactivist as the others are to me as a Jew - is that the antisemitic rhetoric now coming from someone as notable in our movement as Brendon Marotta is precisely the sort of thing that threatens to undermine the legitimacy and credibility of our movement.  It is no secret that there have been proponents of male genital mutilation - including both Jews and non-Jews - who would like to throw the baby out with the bathwater because they view the genital autonomy movement as being intrinsically antisemitic.  Marotta's antisemitic post does nothing but provide these genital-mutilation proponents with more fodder.  Antisemitism coming from intactivists validates their view and plays perfectly into their hands.  They have only to point to Marotta's latest blog post and say, "You see?  We told you so."  This threatens to undermine the cause of genital autonomy itself.

With that, I turn to Marotta's post, in which he portrays "Jewish people" and "Jewish organizations" as "abusers" and intactivists as "victims."  In fact, Marotta couches his entire argument in the language of psychology and relationship violence:

When someone is in an abusive relationship, they often have to construct a mental model of their abuser in order to survive.  They use the mental model to understand what will set off the abuse.  If I do this, will they attack me? . . .

. . . In an abusive relationship, this keeps the victim in a state of hyper-vigilance, because if at any point they fail to do this labor, they risk being harmed.

Unfortunately, this abusive relationship dynamic is the current dynamic between activists against genital cutting and Jewish fragility.  If at any point those against circumcision express their thoughts or feelings in a way that triggers Jewish fragility, they risk abuse.

This is so patently absurd and so manifestly antisemitic that it barely warrants any explication of how it is these things.  And yet, I have an obligation to follow through and be specific.  So - 

The very act of framing the relationship between Jews and intactivists as one of "abusers" (Jews) and "victims" (intactivists) as Marotta does throughout his post is yet another iteration of the classic antisemitic myth of insuperable Jewish power.  This trope goes back centuries but perhaps reached its zenith with the publication, in 1903, of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a fabricated pamphlet that purports to detail a Jewish plot for world domination.  To this day, antisemites ascribe tremendous power and influence to Jews, even to the point of controlling the space lazers that supposedly were responsible for causing the 2018 California wildfires"The Jews" are habitually represented by antisemites as being the hidden puppet masters behind the powerful forces that we do see (the government and corporations) that control the lives and limit the freedoms of the virtuous non-Jewish masses.  We supposedly own all the banks, all the media and everything else that matters and woe betide anyone who dares oppose our agenda.  Marotta sounds every one of these themes:  "Jewish organizations also have systemic power with the ability to deplatform people from social media, put them on law-enforcement watch lists, or remove them from banking and payment processors."  Marotta's calumnies against Jews could not be more blunt or unambiguous: "The only people responsible for the abusive Jewish reaction to activists against circumcision are Jewish abusers."  The point is further illustrated by a picture at the head of the post depicting a man's hand clenched into a fist, presumably representing Jewish might crushing the spirits of intactivists.

It goes without saying that when Marotta refers to "Jewish organizations," "Jewish people" or "Jewish fragility," as he does throughout his piece, he means the Jews, collectively, as though we are all part of one hegemonic and monolithic entity: a worldwide cabal of evildoers.  Nowhere in his post - not once - does Marotta specify that he is reserving his criticism for Jewish proponents of male genital mutilation.  Neither, for that matter, does he ever once acknowledge the existence of antisemitism within intactivism, nor acknowledge the presence within intactivism of so many Jews.  The word Jewish appears fifteen times in Marotta's post and, literally, every time it appears it is used in such a way as to equate Jewishness with support for genital mutilation and with suppression - "abuse" - of intactivists.

Moreover, every time the word Jewish appears, Marotta uses it to equate Jewishness with an unflattering, a dysfunctional or a positively malevolent characteristic.  This, too, is classic antisemitism: attributing specific discreditable traits to Jews as though these loathsome characteristics are quintessentially Jewish and inextricable from Jewishness and from Jews.  Thus, the phrase "Jewish fragility" (or a close variant) appears nine times.

I have learned, since publishing this essay in March,* that the phrase "Jewish fragility" appears to be the concoction of the well-known Christian nationalist and antisemite, Fritz Berggren.  Berggren defines "Jewish fragility" as
feelings of discomfort a Jewish person experiences when they witness discussions around race and theology.  This may trigger anger, fear, guilt, and violence. . . . 
Manifestations of Jewish fragility commonly include accusing others of what they do themselves. . . .   
One manifestation of Jewish fragility was the reaction to Jesus Christ, who verbally chastised them for hypocrisy.  As a result, the Jews used their power and influence (Jewish privilege) to have him executed.
By linking Jewish and fragility into a single entity - Jewish fragility - Berggren reifies "fragility" as a quintessentially Jewish trait, although, to be fair, he does the same for progressives and liberals

Progressive fragility refers to feelings of discomfort a Progressive experiences when they witness discussions around race and theology.  This may trigger anger, fear, guilt, silence, and threats of violence.

Progressives may find it difficult to speak to unapologetic Whites. The Progressive person may become defensive, and the White person may feel obligated to comfort the Progressive because we live in a Progressive-dominated environment.

The essential points that Berggren is making
in both of these constructs is that the worldview of those whom he labels as "fragile" - whether Jews or progressives - is fundamentally wrong and self-serving and that both groups occupy positions of overwhelming (and undeserved) power.

Apparently following Berggern's lead, Marotta extends the concept of "Jewish fragility" to the genital-autonomy movement.  What Marotta seems to be claiming, therefore, is that Jewish criticism of intactivism could not possibly have any merit: that it is attributable exclusively to an inability on the part of Jews to tolerate any criticism of circumcision.  This represents Jews - and, again, Marotta is not speaking only of those Jews who oppose our movement but of all Jews, since he uses "Jewish fragility" to refer to a Jewish trait - as not only being congenitally thin-skinned but entitled: as though Jews regard themselves as being special and beyond reproach, which is, of course, another classic antisemitic stereotype.  This is not just unfair to Jews but perversely so.  Among the most vociferous critics of anything that can be claimed, with a modicum of historical and epistemological accuracy to be "Jewish" (when such criticism is not simply antisemitism pretending to be more than it is) are Jews themselves.  We're notorious for infighting and disagreeing with Jewish religious and political orthodoxy.  That, indeed, is one of the reasons why there is such a schism among Jews now regarding the extent to which we should or should not refrain from criticizing what many of us believe to be the Israeli government's mistreatment of the Palestinians.  And it is one of the reasons why there is such division among Jews on the topic and the practice of infant circumcision.  None of these distinctions matters to Marotta: it's all the Jews this or the Jews that.  Or, to be more precise, it's Jews are the abusers and intactivists are their victims.

Other than the antisemitic myth of vast Jewish power, the predominant theme of Marotta's post is that of Jewish malevolence.  This, too, is a classic antisemitic canard that Marotta not only recycles but reinforces by the repetition of the word abuse (or some variation of it) throughout his piece.  That word - abuse - appears no less than thirty-three times, and every one of those times Marotta uses it to characterize what Jews allegedly do to intactivists (and without an iota of supporting evidence, incidentally).  On the other hand, the word victim appears nine times and, every time, Marotta uses it exclusively to refer to intactivists.

It was news to me that Jews ever encouraged violence against intactivists, and yet Marotta actually makes this claim:

If at any point those against circumcision express their thoughts or feelings in a way that triggers Jewish fragility, they risk abuse.  This abuse can take the form of anything from slurs and insults to actual incitements of violence.  When Jewish people call activists and survivors "Nazis" or "antisemites," they are inciting violence since violence against people in those categories is socially permissible.

Just for some perspective here, in 2018, eleven Jews were murdered and six other people - four of them police officers - were injured in an act of antisemitic violence at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.  The very next year, 2019, the ADL recorded the highest number of antisemitic incidents annually since it had begun tracking them 40 years previouslyFive of these incidents resulted in fatalities and over 90 of them were violent assaultsIn 2020, Jews were the targets of 58% of all religiously-motivated hate crimes despite representing only about 2% of the population in the United States, according to FBI statistics.  In 2021, antisemitic incidents, including vandalism, harassment and assaults, again reached a record high, that is, to that date, "the highest number on record since [the] ADL began tracking antisemitic incidents in 1979."  Just this past January, four attendees at a synagogue in Texas were taken hostage at gunpoint by a man who believed that Jews have so much power over the government that he (the hostage-taker) could extort one (a rabbi in New York) into making the government release a convicted terrorist from prison.  This is the other part of the context in which Marotta's latest blog post must be understood.  With thousands of antisemitic incidents occurring annually in the United States alone, with Jews being assaulted and murdered for being Jews, Marotta has taken it upon himself to denounce the scourge of  Jewish "abusers" and taken up the cudgels on behalf of their "victims."  How many intactivitsts have been assaulted or murdered this year, last year, or any year for speaking out against male genital mutilation?

Besides accusing Jews of "abusing" and "inciting violence" against intactivitsts, Marotta accuses Jews of imposing "social sanctions" on intactivists and "deplatforming" them.  Yet the only evidence he offers in support of this allegation is a link to an ADL article in which it announces a partnership with Big Tech to devise strategies to effectively combat online hate speech.  But Big Tech and even the ADL do not treat intactivism, per se, as "hate speech."  And the last time I checked, there were scores and probably hundreds of Facebook groups and pages dedicated to eradicating male genital mutilation.  They're all still up and running and just as busy as ever.  I, myself, am an administrator of five of them.  I post anti-genital-mutilation comments, articles and videos almost every day and have done so for the last nine years and have never been censored or even warned by any social media platform that my intactivism constitutes a form of hate speech or risks running afoul of the platform's "community standards."  On the contrary, it has been my experience that, when I have reported antisemitic or other types of hate speech to Facebook or another platform, it is almost impossible to get the platform to remove it.  I haven't maintained a careful record of the statistics but I suspect that my experience is much like that of others who have tried, and failed, to get hate speech removed from social media platforms (or, conversely, had their own perfectly innocent posts taken down erroneously).  In general, I would say that I succeed in getting Facebook to remove explicitly antisemitic hate speech less than half the time.

It's hard to divine what Marotta's goal is in posting this attack on Jews.  With his recent obsession with "systemic pedophilia," the logical inference is that he is trying to curry favor with the Q-Anon crowd.  But it's hard to see how that constituency might be induced to oppose genital cutting.  Overwhelmingly, Q-Anon supporters tend to be precisely the sort of reactionary, aggressively patriarchal and easily-duped conformists who are most likely to endorse and perpetuate the deeply ingrained American custom - not the Jewish custom but the American custom - of nontherapeutic infant circumcision.  Does Marotta think he can win them over by appealing to their antisemitism?  Possibly.  But that seems like a long shot, particularly if the goal is to eradicate MGM throughout our society: Q-Anon remains a cult with a minority following.  And if Marotta is trying to appeal to the alt right more broadly, he will likely run up against the same devotion to circumcision that was so eloquently articulated several years ago by one of that movement's leading lights, Milo Yiannopoulos.

It's a shame to see an ally and an intactivist go over to the dark side, promote antisemitic stereotypes, risk alienating both Jewish and non-Jewish potential converts to our cause and undermine the credibility and legitimacy of the genital-autonomy movement.  But, whatever his aims, this is what Marotta is now doing.  Marotta's time and efforts would be far better spent doing what the vast majority of intactivists actually are doing: working to change a culture in which male genital mutilation has been medicalized and normalized, and doing so not by scapegoating Jews but by changing hearts and minds and by winning over those who do not yet share our convictions by appealing to them on the basis of our shared humanity, common decency and respect for fundamental human rights. 

*This post was revised on 15 May 2022.  Berggren's coinage of the phrase "Jewish fragility" was brought to my attention by Rebecca Wald,  for which I here offer my acknowledgement and gratitude.

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David Balashinsky is originally from New York City and now lives near the Finger Lakes region of New York. He is a licensed physical therapist and writes about bodily autonomy and human rights, gender, culture, and politics.  He currently serves on the board of directors for the Genital Autonomy Legal Defense & Education Fund, (GALDEF), the board of directors and advisors for Doctors Opposing Circumcision and the leadership team for Bruchim.



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