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.