As your representative on the Board of Deputies, I am happy to report that this year has seen a marked increase in condemnatory responses to the despicable rise in racist sentiment in this country.
Although this has come against a backdrop of some really nasty acts of violence towards people and property, it is good to know that the Board is concerned not only with Jews and what could be considered narrow Jewishcentric issues.
For instance, the Board was among the first organisations to condemn the violent attack on the Somalian Islamic Bravanese Welfare Centre, in Muswell Hill, in June.
Vivian Wineman, Board President, said: “On behalf of the Jewish community it wishes to express our solidarity with the Muslim community at this time. Attacks of this nature are an affront not only to the Muslim community, not only to all minority groups, but to all decent people in this country.”
A similarly strong approach was taken when the Aisha Mosque in Walsall and the Wolverhampton Central Mosque were subjected in June to bomb attacks. The appallingly sharp rise in Islamophobic attacks since the brutal murder of Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich was “an affront to British society and strike against the values of tolerance, respect and decency. As a fellow minority group we are particularly sensitive to hate crimes and we extend our full support and solidarity with the British Muslim community.
“The perpetrators of these attacks seek to cause divisions and mistrust between different groups in our society and we are certain that they will not succeed in their endeavours,” the Board said.
Unfortunately, the Roma from Central and Eastern Europe are now being subjected to attacks which display a depressingly familiar resonance to us. 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. So the Board has taken a particularly strong line 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,” said Board treasurer Judge Lawrence Brass.
Muslims and the Roma have far more to fear from the indigenous population than vice–versa. They were gassed by the Nazis, forcibly sterilised by the Swedes, and even recently expelled by the French. They have long been persecuted, with two Irish Roma families being accused of stealing children because they didn’t sufficiently look like them.
Fortunately, after their children were forcibly removed, they were returned after DNA testing. But the damage had already been done.
As Judge Brass noted: “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 demonization 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.”
This is why I am proud to be part of a community that cares not only for its own but also for those who face a similar predicament to that which we faced in large parts of the 20th century.