Council of Europe chief Thorbjoern Jagland has distanced himself from a controversial resolution of the pan-European human rights body that calls for regulation of circumcision practices, after Israel blasted it as "racist."
In a furious reaction to the resolution adopted early October by the council's Parliamentary Assembly (PACE), Israel argued that "claims that circumcision harms young boys' health and body are false, and do not rest on any scientific evidence."
It also took particular exception to the fact that the resolution dealt with both female genital mutilation and the circumcision of young boys on religious grounds.
In a letter addressed to Israeli President Shimon Peres, Jagland assured that "nothing in the body of our legally binding standards would lead us to put on equal footing the issue of female genital mutilation and the circumcision of young boys for religious reasons."
While female genital mutilation is specifically banned, no similar legal provisions exist against circumcision, he wrote in the letter dated Tuesday.
Jagland also said that PACE was but a consultative body and "does not represent the position of the Council of Europe as a whole."
The resolution urged the council's 47 member states to ensure the latest medical and sanitary conditions are met during ritual circumcisions, which are often performed on boys at an early age in Judaism and Islam.
It called for "dialogue between... medical doctors and religious representatives, so as to overcome some of the prevailing traditional methods, which do not take into consideration the best interest of the child and the latest state of medical art."
Ritual circumcisions in Judaism, Israel's dominant religion, are usually carried out by a religious official specialised in the practice.
The Israeli foreign ministry said the resolution "casts a moral stain on the Council of Europe, and fosters hate and racist trends in Europe."
On Monday, Peres had sent a message to Jagland asking him to get the resolution modified.