Fight­ing for rights of the Roma

The Jewish Chronicle - - Community -

JEWS HAVE a re­spon­si­bil­ity to cam­paign for the rights of gyp­sies and trav­ellers be­cause of a his­tor­i­cal kin­ship, main­tains the di­rec­tor of a Jewish hu­man rights char­ity.

René Cassin’s Si­mone Abel has put trav­ellers’ rights at the fore­front of her or­gan­i­sa­tion’s cam­paign­ing since join­ing the char­ity last year. Ms Abel, who trained as a lawyer, said: “There’s a very clear his­tor­i­cal over­lap of times when Jews and gyp­sies have been tar­gets of prej­u­dice. Our com­mu­ni­ties are sim­i­lar sizes. We have both faced dis­crim­i­na­tion pre-and post-Holo­caust, and been de­nied ba­sic hu­man rights. The ma­jor­ity of gyp­sies in Nazi Europe were ex­ter­mi­nated along­side Jews.”

The is­sue is back on the news agenda be­cause of con­tro­versy over Dale Farm in Es­sex, an Ir­ish trav­eller site which is home to more than 1,000 peo­ple, who the coun­cil have voted to evict by the end of Au­gust. The land is clas­si­fied as green belt and homes have been built there with­out plan­ning per­mis­sion. The coun­cil has promised to re­house those made home­less. René Cassin plans to lobby the coun­cil and the gov­ern­ment on the is­sue, along­side gypsy or­gan­i­sa­tion Friends, Fam­i­lies and Trav­ellers (FFT).

“We are deeply con­cerned about the pro­posed evic­tion, and more broadly, the use of the Lo­cal­ism Bill to bring in leg­is­la­tion that will make it harder for long-term in­hab­i­tants of sites to con­tinue liv­ing there,” Ms Abel said.

“There is an ob­vi­ous risk when lo­cal peo­ple are given the power to de­cide who lives in their area. Dis­crim­i­na­tion against gyp­sies and trav­ellers is wide­spread in our so­ci­ety. The ma­jor­ity is not al­ways right, as Jewish peo­ple know only too well.”

René Cassin is re­cruit­ing lawyers to work pro bono on trav­eller cases and lobby the gov­ern­ment to en­shrine gypsy and trav­eller prop­erty rights into leg­is­la­tion. It is also de­vel­op­ing an ed­u­ca­tional pro­gramme with FFT on the is­sue, which they hope to bring to Jewish schools. It will in­clude a the­atri­cal pro­duc­tion, pre­sen­ta­tions by Holo­caust sur­vivors and an on­line re­source on the lack of hu­man rights pro­tec­tion for trav­ellers. FFT’s Chris Whitwell noted a “shared his­tory of per­se­cu­tion” with the Jewish com­mu­nity. The vast ma­jor­ity of re­search into the Roma geno­cide has been car­ried out by Jewish aca­demics. Ro­many pro­fes­sor Ian Han­cock de­scribed the Jewish com­mu­nity as “prac­ti­cally the only friends we have, and we recog­nise that”.

Trav­eller chil­dren play at Dale Farm, Es­sex. Jewish cam­paign­ers are help­ing lobby against their evic­tion

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