Who Stands with the Roma?

France is currently deporting hundreds of Roma because their presence in France is “illegal”. The question of the legality of the deportation is actually quite interesting, because of the way the law in its current state privileges non-nomadic life, but that is not the issue I wish to address here. Rather, I want to discuss which groups are coming out in support of the Roma, or in support of Sarkozy’s deportations – and the rational behind this support.

The prominent figures in the Catholic Church have come out against the deportations:

In the document the Bishops say they deplore the way the Roma and Gitane people are being scapegoated by society. New legislation being introduced by Sarkozy is stirring up prejudice, they said.

Questions about whether the support for the Roma come from figures in the Church or from the Church itself were settled when the Pope made this announcement on August 22nd:

The Pope urged French pilgrims to welcome people of all origins, saying that the scriptures were “an invitation to know how to accept legitimate differences among humans, just like Jesus came to pull men together from every nation, speaking every language.”

The Vatican repeated its opposition on August 27th. They have, however, been in no way the only voice come out in opposition of these deportations which single out the Roma. A UN human rights body, various rights groups, trade unions, and even George Sorros have come out against the deportations.

A group conspicuously absent from voices of support for the Roma in France is CRIF, an umbrella organization which represents many Jewish organizations in France. In fact, while technically the CRIF have remained neutral, a statement made by their president Richard Prasquier closely reminds me of the way American Republicans speak about illegal Mexican immigrants in southern American states:

CRIF President Richard Prasquier said he supports the idea of expelling illegal Roma from the country and that the idea of denaturalizing certain foreign-born criminals is “understandable” if they are guilty of attacking officers.

Implying that the deportations concern primarily immigrants who are guilty of some offences is not neutral. In fact, it conceals the reality of the situation, and repeats xenophobic stereotypes of the Roma as a criminal people. It is extremely worrying to hear this neutrality from France’s Jewish community – logically one would expect European Jews to feel solidarity with the oppressed Roma; they were after all both subjects of the Nazi genocide:

It is not known precisely how many Roma were killed in theHolocaust. While exact figures or percentages cannot be ascertained, historians estimate that the Germans and their allies killed around 25 percent of all European Roma. Of slightly less than one million Roma believed to have been living in Europe before the war, the Germans and their Axis partners killed up to 220,000.

To the extent that anti-semitism persists in Europe, I sincerely doubt it to be more prominent than anti-Roma sentiment. While I have never personally met someone openly anti-Semitic, the vast majority of Eastern Europeans I have casually encountered (none of which became my friends) have openly expressed hatred for Gypsies. Therefore I take seriously accusations that this racist policy is an attempt to garner votes support from National Front supporters in an upcoming election.

Not all French Jews, of course, support the CRIF problematic neutrality. Patrick Klugman, a member of CRIF director’s committee is upset at CRIF’s position, stating: “I think it’s the role of the Jewish community to be heard”. Klugman is a dedicated anti-racist, and the founder of JCALL, the European Jewish Call for Reason (worth a look). I doubt that it is random that Klugman both opposes the Occupation of the occupied territories, and the silence of CRIF on the racist deportation of the Roma – both immoral realities ignored in the name of a group’s self-preservation. We can see this logic of careful respect for violent oppresion in statements made by France’s chief Rabbi, Gilles Bernheim:

“This affair is not easy,” he said last week. “It requires both moderation and firmness.”

While Bernheim said he hoped decisions on security “are made case by case, and that we never stigmatize a community,” he also voiced support for Sarkozy’s tough-cop proposals.

“I haven’t forgotten that there’s a real war that has been established against the police, against the forces of order, and when I see the violence that is exercised against the representatives of public order, I tell myself that we also need firmness to react to that,” he said.

The reality, of course, is that stigmatizing a community due to a few alleged incidents is exactly what is happening. Hundreds of Roma have already been deported with no alleged charges.

The failure of France’s Jewish community to come out en masse against the deportations reminds me of what Chomsky has been saying since the 70s about those who claim to “support Israel”: “supporters of Israel are in reality supporters of its moral degeneration.” One wonders how far this moral degeneration has spread.


15 thoughts on “Who Stands with the Roma?

  1. Are these gypsies legal residence of France? If not, boot them the hell out. If they’ve committed crimes, punish them and then boot them the hell out.

    It’s that simple. It doesn’t require tacit antisemitism, or strange allusions to “non-nomadic life” as the normative was somehow wrong.

  2. If anyone didn’t believe how quick and open the hatred of Gypsies can be, note that Jonolan’s comment was posted only a few minutes after this post went live.

  3. That was more a case of WordPress’ Tag Surfer and the fact that I’m currently reading Fonseca’s Bury Me Standing.

    Frankly, I don’t care one way or another about the gypsies per se – aside from the fact that they’re an interesting people from a cultural anthropology standpoint. I care, however, about illegal immigration though and the various attended problems and blights that go along with it.

  4. Jonolan,

    Do you know anything about how immigration works between EU states?

    Also, are you conspicuously unaware of the myriad ways capital relies on “illegal immigrant” labour to simply produce normal day to day life? What would happen to American food production if “illegal immigrants” stopped working in Mexico? Are you blissfully ignorant of the predicted and, from a US perspective, desirable consequences of NAFTA such a rise in illegal immigration (due to the destruction of the Mexican agricultural industry) which aids in depressing US agricultural wages?

  5. I’m neither completely ignorant of EU immigration laws nor fully versed in their details. Everything I’ve read, however, agrees that a lot of the gypsies are in violation of them.

    As for the economic impact of enforcing our laws in the US – yes, I’m aware of much of what will happen – there will be surprises though – and am perfectly OK with the consequences. It’s past time for the tired old excuse “needing” cheap labor.

    The South needed cheap labor for the cotton industry but we decided that was wrong. We can do the same again.

  6. Alright, well, at least fundamentalists believe in something.

    Still, current EU immigration laws are not systematically enforced – and this specific enforcement is racist for reasons pointed out by various human rights bodies, even the Catholic Church.

  7. Crying racism is pathetic when dealing with immigration issues. By their very nature it easy to twist it into a racial or ethnic issue just because the people being deported aren’t indigenous to the nation booting them out.

    A bigger question just might be why these gypsies left Romania and Bulgaria in the 1st place, not why France is sending them back.

  8. Do you not think there is significant racism against the Roma in France? Do you not think that national front support for racist policies are a motivation in Sarkozy’s decision?

    They likely left Romania and Bulgaria for the same reasons many Eastern Europeans move to Western Europe – the economy is better there. Wouldn’t you do the same? I think I probably would.

  9. Honestly – the situation is: there is a perceived war against the police by the Roma, because of a few incidents. The French response is to deport the Roma en masse. If France were deporting only those Roma who had been convicted of criminal offences, I doubt the Vatican (quite a conservative, racist institution in its own right) would be coming out in opposition.

    How is this not a racist characterization of a group as criminals in-common?

  10. Most Jews all over the world are liberals. However in France they are conservatives. Jews have a close relationship with Sarkozy. Jews were polling 40% vs. 26% for the general population. Chirac was very hostile to Israel. And had it not been for Mitterrand Jews would be even more uniformly conservative. CRIF itself has held the line against Le Pen. But the Jewish community is flirting with throwing its moral weight behind Le Pen because she is even more friendly to Israeli / Jewish interests.

    And when you go further left to the human rights groups in France, Jews rightly perceive that they are hostile to Israel and thus Jews. I’d say that Jewish groups that are not strongly anti-zionists and thus don’t represent the Jewish population are expelled from continental European alliances with the left. So a group like CRIF is simply not part of the left human rights anymore. They were quite openly backing Sarkozy at the time. The Roma expulsion was a Sarkozy policy. Were the Jews part of a broader human rights coalition in France one could expect them to take broader human rights stands in defense of Jewish interests. But there are consequences for the left in acting against Israel and one of them is that international Jewry will then switch to the right. So you have groups like CRIF, using their moral legitimacy to argue that Roma expulsions aren’t a violation of human rights and thus legitimizing right wing conceptions of human rights.

    In terms of the general question. Roma aren’t Jews. Their treatment by Europeans is terrible and they have had it worse than Jews, but that doesn’t change the fact that CRIF has nothing to do with this issue. CRIF’s job is to support Jewish causes, not Roma causes and they are doing that. French Jews should logically feel solidarity with French conservatives who have their back not French liberals who stuck a knife in it in ’95.

    Finally, having France engage in ethnic cleansing of a population that refuses to conform to French law in 2010 helps to establish a precedent which is useful for advancing Jewish interests for reasons that are obvious. As an American I would fully support unlimited refuge status visas for the Roma people. And at the same time I think CRIF is doing the right thing.


    Now my question for you is why do you care about CRIF on a non Israel issue? That seems a little too focused on Jewish issues rather than Israeli issues.

    Finally, JCall has the same position as Labor and liberal pro-zionists organizations in the USA. No return of refugees, 2 state solution, against settlements. Why is that of special interest?

    1. I ended the post with a remark from Chomsky, who is also pro 2-state, against settlements, against refugees. I don’t agree with that position, but I don’t think such a position is morally degenerative. Not opposing the deportation of the Roma, and implying the Roma are a criminal people, is perhaps past the line into the region of the morally degenerative. It’s especially worrying for CRIF because of the historical similarities and shared sufferings between Jews and the Roma people. Perhaps all this could be explained by your assertion that most Jews in France are conservatives.

      I don’t think there is anything wrong with focussing on the politics of the organizations of a religious community. No one would find it suspicious if I were to write about the politics of pan-Christian organizations, or the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. I think it’s just as valid to criticize the politics of the organized Jewish community in France as it is to criticize, as I have (perhaps not on this blog) criticized Canadian first nations who’ve taken sides with Israel and declared Israelis to be the indigenous people of Palestine.

      1. I think Europe’s treatment of the Roma is atrocious. You’ll get no argument from me on the objective morality of either Sarkozy or CRIF. I just think in terms of relative morality it is unfair to demand of the 300k French Jews that they be more “enlightened” about moral issues than the other 65m French people. I don’t think it is fair to expect anything more from CRIF than you would expect from any other part of the UMP. I think we should expect CRIF to support Jewish interests in the same way the EDF supports the interests of nuclear power.

        That being said if you didn’t know CRIF was part of the moderate-right not the left, it totally changes the assumptions in the post.


        Now I’m curious since you are pro BDS. How do you feel about the fact that the French left made zionists feel unwelcome? In theory that would be what you would (I assume) be aiming for in the USA if BDS started to be successful, a situation where Jewish / Zionists groups no longer associated their human rights groups with liberal human rights groups but rather with groups like NRA, ACLJ, states rights groups…

      2. I think it is not outlandish to hope that people who suffered in the Holocaust would find some solidarity for others who also suffered in that catastrophe.

        I don’t know very much about French politics, so I’m not sure what you are referring to about making the zionists “feel unwelcome”. As far as I’m concerned Zionists don’t have a right to feel “welcome” in anti-racist spaces since their ideology is racist.

  11. I think it is not outlandish to hope that people who suffered in the Holocaust would find some solidarity for others who also suffered in that catastrophe.

    They do find solidarity. Jews are well aware of suffering of the Roma. For example the Jews of Canada area heading up the international solidarity movement to put pressure on Hungary regarding Roma, “our ashes are mixed in the ovens” type slogans. All things being equal Jews are supportive of most human rights causes the world over. Jews have a track record for centuries, and still ongoing that is rather fantastic on the human rights front, on most issues.

    But listen to your own rhetoric, “As far as I’m concerned Zionists don’t have a right to feel ‘welcome’ in anti-racist spaces since their ideology is racist”. I don’t agree with you that Zionism is racism but your position is the mainstream position among the French left. And let’s be clear, world over mainstream Jewish organizations and CRIF in particular are Zionist. An anti-Zionist organization is effectively anti-Jewish even if not structurally anti-Jewish. So when the French left has expelled the Jewish community generally, and CRIF in particular that’s the end of their relationship. Blaming Jews for not having ties to the French left at this point is like throwing someone out of a party and then accusing them of being rude for not attending.

    I don’t know that we are going anywhere productive on the CRIF and Roma. So let me shift this a bit. A similar example to the Roma one is the Iraq war. The USA peace movement on the left is about 1/2 Jewish (there is a right peace movement that is much larger than the left one that is Christian & Christian Atheist). Once Saddam Hussein starting paying for suicide bombings inside Israel peace movement opposition to a policy of regime change (i.e. Iraq Liberation Act of 1998) collapsed. Which shifted the Democratic party to the right and resulted in congressional authorization for the invasion.

    While Jews are a small percentage of the population of the USA they vote religiously. But more importantly they are a huge percentage of the activists in most leftwing NGOs. The enthusiastic left is organized labor (mainly government unions), the black church and social left. The social left gets devastated without Jewish participation. As France and Iraq shows rather clearly taking an anti-Zionist stance will drive the Jews right into the arms of the right.

    Even if one were to assume that everything you believe about Zionism is correct, pragmatically would it make sense to lead a fight against it given the repercussions of substantial weakening the US left.

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