'Culturally acceptable racism' at Dale Farm

By Jessica Elgot, September 8, 2011
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René Cassin supporters outside the High Court at the end of last month

René Cassin supporters outside the High Court at the end of last month

Jewish activists have urged the community to support Travellers and Gypsies' rights to stay on the controversial Essex site, Dale Farm.

Basildon Council's planned eviction of the Travellers and Gypsies from the site will cost around £18m. Once a scrapyard, the land was bought by the travelling community around 30 years ago, but at least half the site has no planning permission for the building of homes, and 400 people are due to be evicted on September 19.

Council leader Tony Ball said: "The council has spent 10 years trying to avoid a forced clearance. We have always sought to persuade the Travellers to move on." He said the dispute was purely down to planning law and not because of the Travellers' lifestyle.

Local residents have complained of antisocial behaviour on and around the site, including illegal fly -tipping.

But Jewish campaigners have sought to draw parallels between anti-Traveller feeling and antisemitism. A website called Jewify.org replaces the word "Gypsy" in negative news stories, with the word "Jew". The result is headlines such as "Anger at Jewish invasion."

Liberal Judaism's Rabbi Janet Burden has been visiting the site as a member of a Jewish solidarity group, which includes Plane Stupid activist Dan Glass and former refugee Ruth Barnett. Rabbi Burden said: "The Travellers are vilified just as Jews were in this country in the early part of the 20th century. The language used clearly echoes the rhetoric of antisemitism."

Ruth Barnett, who came to the UK from Berlin on the Kindertransport, said: "[Attacking Travellers] is the last bastion of culturally acceptable racism. Even the local taxi drivers refuse to drop me at the site for fear of being labelled 'gypsy lovers'."

Jon Benjamin, chief executive of the Board of Deputies, said: "This is a difficult case, with raised passions on all sides, but our concern as Jews is the tendency for members of the Traveller community to be stereotyped and stigmatised. As we have learned from our shared experiences as victims of Nazi tyranny, demonising a minority in this way is never acceptable."

Jewish human rights charity René Cassin has been providing legal workshops and media training on the site for the last two weekends, and demonstrated outside the High Court on August 31 during an unsuccessful appeal for an injunction to stop the eviction.

The charity's director, lawyer Simone Abel, said: "There's been a large amount of private support, even from the conservative Jewish establishment."

    Last updated: 11:31am, September 8 2011