Views from the Board
Supporting the Community

The litmus test of the Roma

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 groups were 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 that 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 last few weeks, two Roma families in Ireland, accused of stealing children because they didn’t sufficiently look like them, had their children forcibly removed only to have them returned after DNA testing. These tales have disturbing echoes of the treatment of Jews in mediaeval times 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. From musicians and dancers in Spain, to human rights lawyers in Budapest, to dedicated educators in Macedonia, the Roma people continue to shape Europe's future. Yet, the Roma are one of the most marginalized groups in Europe, facing challenges to overcome systematic discrimination. Numbering between 10 and 12 million people, the Roma are one of Europe’s largest and most disadvantaged minorities.

 I have been very 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 and create a representative body fashioned along similar lines to the Board of Deputies. If our commitment to interfaith ideals means anything then the Jewish community must be in the vanguard of the opposition to the growing anti-Gypsy hysteria enveloping this country.

Last year I was appointed as the Jewish representative to serve on the Council of the Wyndham Place Charlemagne Trust, an organisation 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 which has become so topical of late. On Tuesday December 3rd we are hosting the so-called “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 will be entitled: “The Unwelcome ‘Other’: The Litmus Test of the Roma” and I have agreed with the Trust that a small number of complimentary seats will be allocated to readers of Jewish News at the event. Anyone interested in attending should contact in advance the Trust Secretary Win Burton whose email is 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 that 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.