Why we must not fail this test to support the Roma

Why we must not fail this test to support the Roma

By Judge Laurence BRASS, Treasurer, Board of Deputies of British Jews.

Laurence Brass
Laurence Brass

For the Jewish community, there is a depressingly familiar resonance to the growing disparagement of the Roma community being voiced in the UK and throughout Europe.

Gypsies and Jews were among the first victims of the Nazis, both subjected to similar treatment on the spurious ground of preserving racial purity. We thus have a particular responsibility to speak out against the growing attempts to demonise the Roma.

As much as we deplore anti-Semitism, so we equally have a duty to oppose Romaphobia; an equally ancient and potent prejudice. The truth is the Roma have far more to fear from the indigenous population than vice versa. Gassed by the Nazis, forcibly sterilised by the Swedes, recently expelled by the French, they have long been persecuted.

In the past few weeks, two Roma families in Ireland, accused of stealing children because the they didn’t sufficiently look like them had the children forcibly removed, only to have them returned after DNA testing. These tales have disturbing echoes of the treatment of Jews, but we are talking now of 2013. The Romani people, one of the largest minority groups in Europe, have made significant contributions to European culture and societies. They continue to shape Europe’s future. Yet they are one of the most marginalised groups. I have been proud in recent years to speak on behalf of the Jewish community in acts of remembrance on International Roma Day.

I invariably recall the similarity of our treatment in the Holocaust. More recently, I have been working with my friends on the Gypsy Council to try to create a representative body fashioned along similar lines to the Board of Deputies. If our commitment to interfaith ideals means anything, then the Jewish com- munity must be in the vanguard of the opposition to the growing anti-gypsy hysteria enveloping this country.

Last year I was appointed Jewish representative on the Council of the Wyndham Place Charlemagne Trust, which brings together people of different cultural, political and religious backgrounds to address European and world issues, not just from a political and economic perspective but from the point of view of values and belief. Its supporters include politicians, academics, former ambassadors and leaders of faith communities.

As a council member, I was able to persuade my colleagues to organise a specific event to focus on the plight of the Roma in Europe. It is will take place on 3 December, when we are hosting the Corbishley Lecture in the Grand Committee Room of the House of Commons at 6.30pm. The principal speaker will be Dr Michael Privot, director of the European Network against Racism and other speakers will include Sarah Teather MP and my friend Joseph Jones, chairman of the Gypsy Council.

The lecture’s title is The Unwelcome ‘Other’: The Litmus Test of the Roma and I have agreed with the trust that a small number of complimentary seats at the event will be allocated to readers of Jewish News. To attend the event, please email Win Burton at wpctrust@gmail.com.

If the lessons of history teach us anything, it is that the Jewish community has an obligation to stand up and be counted when other minorities are being oppressed. We cannot pay lip service to interfaith action and turn our backs when even allegedly-enlightened politicians are warning of impending problems.

To be against demonisation is not to be in denial. I accept there will be challenges ahead, especially in working-class communities, to integrate the newcomers. However, if we are serious about wanting to achieve an integrated society both in Europe and in the UK, we must not fail the litmus test of the Roma.

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