University of Haifa,
President of the University of Haifa
Vice President for External Relations and Resource Development
Mr. Amos Gaver
Dear Mr. Shapira and Mr. Gaver:
With Hungary’s neo-Nazi, anti-Roma, anti-Semitic, Holocaust-denying Jobbik Party on the rise, the Roma Community Centre in Toronto, Canada, continues to be concerned about the Canadian government’s stance on Roma refugees in Canada, particularly in light of the honorary doctorate that Jason Kenney, Minister for Citizenship and Immigration, is scheduled to receive from Israel’s University of Haifa.
As we mentioned in an earlier letter, Roma were murdered in the Nazi Holocaust in a proportion similar to the murder of Jews. Today in Hungary, far-right vigilante and paramilitary groups, supported by the Jobbik Party, aim to continue what the Nazis started, and are carrying out pogroms against Roma. Shockingly, Jobbik has 47 members (12.2%) in the current Hungarian Parliament – more parliamentary seats than any other far-right party since the Nazi era (i), as well as three MPs in the European Parliament.
Yet Mr. Kenney has publicly declared that Roma refugee claims from Hungary are “bogus” – despite international law and Canada’s own immigration law requiring refugee claimants to be assessed case by case. In stating that Hungary is a safe place for Roma, Mr. Kenney dismisses the growing far-right organized persecution and violence directed against our people. According to a Feb. 9, 2012, Open Society Foundation report, a recent poll showed “over 60 percent of all Hungarian voters thought that Roma ‘have criminality in the blood.’” (ii)
In Canada, unfortunately, Mr. Kenney’s statements have encouraged expressions of outright racism against Roma. In a recent incendiary broadcast – which Sun Media removed from the Internet after Roma Community Centre and others began complaining to the Canada’s broadcast regulator and the non-government Canadian Broadcast Standards Council – right-wing commentator Ezra Levant, in a diatribe titled “The Jew vs. the Gypsies”, declared that Roma are “a culture synonymous with swindlers. The [terms] Gypsy and cheater have been so interchangeable historically that the word has entered the English language as a verb: ‘He gypped me!’ Well, the Gypsies have gypped us too … No thanks, I’m not interested in calling them ‘Roma’ or ‘Travelers’ or having a human rights commission investigate where we as a society have done them wrong, maybe dispatching social workers [laughs] – the social workers will just have their wallets stolen. I want to dispatch cops and send the bad Gypsies to Hungary on the next plane. Just warn the flight attendants [chuckles] not to wear any jewelry on the flight” (iii).
It is unfortunately no surprise that Mr. Levant is an admirer of Mr. Kenney: on his website, Mr. Levant calls Mr. Kenney “my favourite MP.” (iv) We are also dismayed to see Mr. Levant listed as a member of the Canadian Friends of Haifa University’s Tribute Committee organizing the Nov. 4 ceremony to award Mr. Kenney the University of Haifa degree. (v)
How far apart are diatribes like Mr. Levant’s, the belief of many Hungarians that Roma have “criminality in the blood,” the Nazi belief that Roma (and Jews) were ‘racial inferiors,’ ‘aliens,’ and ‘non-persons’ (vi) and Mr. Kenney’s statement that Roma refugee claims are ‘bogus’ and that they have come to Canada to take advantage of our social services?
Nor has Mr. Kenney spoken out against Jobbik’s developing relationship with Iran. In January, 2011, the Jobbik leadership and an invited Iranian delegation discussed economic, trade and cultural relations in Tiszavasvári, Hungary, which Jobbik leader Gabor Vona calls “the capital of our movement.” After the Jobbik candidate won Tiszavasvári’s mayoral election, “he created a uniformed …. ‘gendarmerie’ to patrol Roma neighborhoods to combat what he called “Gypsy crime.” (vii)
Why does Mr. Kenney minimize the persecution of Roma in Hungary? Why has he remained silent about the neo-Nazi Jobbik Party, which threatens Roma and Jews with its paramilitary organisations and has advocated fraternal relations with Iran?
We of Roma Community Centre sincerely request that University of Haifa reconsider granting an honorary doctorate to Jason Kenney. He insults the memory of the Roma who were murdered along with Jews in the Nazi Holocaust. Honouring Mr. Kenney would deliver the same insult and threaten to drive a wedge between Roma and Jews in Canada.
We wrote to you on September 6, but have not heard back. We still hope that you will honour us – and the Romani community in Canada – with a substantive reply that addresses the issues we have raised.
Lynn Hutchinson Lee
Chair, Social Justice Committee
Roma Community Centre
Gina Csanyi, Executive Director, Roma Community Centre, Toronto
Micheal T. Butch, Chair, Roma Community Centre
Mr. Ronald Lee, Vice Chair, Roma Community Centre
Dr. Ian Hancock, Romani Archives and Documentation Centre (RADOC), University of Texas at Austin
Professor Emeritus Thomas Acton, Romani Studies, Greenwich University, London, U.K.
Mr. Valery Novoselsky, Executive Editor, Roma Virtual Network (RVN)
Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre for Holocaust Studies (Canada office, Israel office)
Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers: Lorne Waldman, President; Mitchell Goldberg, Vice President; Donald Galloway, Co-chair, Legal Research Committee
Dr. Philip Berger
Mr. Leon Charney, Chairman, Board of Governors, University of Haifa
Canadian Friends of Haifa University
(vi) http://www.holocaust-trc.org/sinti.htm; http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/media_da.php?ModuleId=10005219&MediaId=101
(vii) http://www.ejpress.org/article/55114; http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/24/opinion/bruni-in-hungary-the-usual-scapegoats.html;