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The Letter of the Law? The Roma and Israel

This is a guest post by Sarah
Recently the clampdown against the Roma has impacted on the Cirque Romanes, a successful gypsy circus which has been operating in Paris for 18 years. The permits of several of its Romanian performers have not been validated, for apparently spurious reasons. The circus’ founder, as a recent article in the Guardian reports, rejects these.

“Such claims are dismissed as “pure invention” by Alexandre Romanès, the circus’s charismatic founder. “They’re making up all these reasons. It’s complete fantasy,” he said, as he sipped coffee outside his caravan on the outskirts of Paris. Responding to the authorities’ chief criticism – that of low pay – he added: “They get four times the minimum wage, and they are fed and housed. When I contacted a lawyer and told her what they [the authorities] were trying to claim, she just burst out laughing.””

But for me the most telling quotation came from Reinhard von Nagel, a harpsichord maker, and supporter of the circus.

“”In France, as in other countries, there are laws for and against things, but they are not always applied. If you want to attack someone, you find a law and you apply it. That is what the authorities are doing in the case of Alexandre and Délia,” he said, criticising the “zealousness” of the authorities implementing the “hunting down of the Roma”.”

It doesn’t seem enough simply to establish that the individual Roma who have been targeted by France’s policies are perhaps guilty of some crime or misdemeanour. It’s also important to establish whether the Roma are being looked at with obsessive scrutiny, any wrongdoing many times more likely to be picked up on by the authorities than an offence committed by a member of another group.

This is the same question which troubled me about two recent rulings concerning protests against Israel. The first case concerned vandalism at a factory in which, it was thought, weapons components were being made for export to Israel in violation of export agreements.

“Judge George Bathurst-Norman told the jury: “You may well think that hell on earth would not be an understatement of what the Gazans suffered in that time.”

According to The Guardian, the judge highlighted the testimony by Green Party MP and anti-Israel activist Caroline Lucas, who had tried to justify the action by saying, “All democratic paths had been exhausted and, crucially, that their actions were driven by the responsibility to prevent further suffering in Gaza.”

A more recent case concerned the Ahava store in Covent Garden. Here the doubtful legality of products supposed to be Israeli, but manufactured in the West Bank, allowed anti-Israel activists to claim that their disruptive actions were not disrupting lawful activity. They were acquitted.

“The website of the International Solidarity Movement states that on the first day of trial, prosecutors dropped aggravated trespass charges. This would have required the prosecution to demonstrate Ahava was engaged in lawful activity but, apparently, the CPS decided that this was not something they would attempt to prove.”

Both these cases troubled me, as did another recent case in which vandals were excused on the grounds that their actions were a legitimate response to global warming. My concern about the Israel cases is similar to my concern about the French actions. Perhaps the rulings are technically correct (the best kind of correct as Sir Humphrey Appleby would point out) but it is difficult to imagine another country attracting the same concerted zealousness to identify and exploit these loopholes in the law.