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Toronto Roma community asks Haifa U. to reconsider honor

TORONTO (JTA) — The University of Haifa will confer an honorary degree on Canada’s immigration minister despite pleas from the Roma (Gypsy) community in Toronto to reconsider.

Jason Kenney, Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, will receive an honorary doctorate from the university on Nov. 4 at a Toronto dinner planned by the Canadian Friends of Haifa University.

In a recent letter to university officials in Israel, the Roma Community Center of Toronto alleged that Kenney, who has tried to stem the tide of Roma coming to Canada, "dismisses" the growing far-right persecution of Roma in Hungary.

"Why does Mr. Kenney minimize the persecution of Roma in Hungary?" the Roma center asked. "Why has he remained silent about [Hungary's] neo-Nazi Jobbik Party, which threatens Roma and Jews with its paramilitary organizations and has advocated fraternal relations with Iran?"

The letter asked the university to reconsider granting Kenney the degree.

"He insults the memory of the Roma who were murdered along with Jews in the Nazi Holocaust. Honoring Mr. Kenney would deliver the same insult and threaten to drive a wedge between Roma and Jews in Canada."

The Roma center added that serving on the dinner tribute committee is Ezra Levant, a right-wing commentator who attacked Roma refugees in Canada on a Sept. 5 broadcast by the national Sun News television network.

Levant called the Roma "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 … And they come here to gyp us again and rob us blind as they have done in Europe for centuries."

Sun News apologized for the remarks.

In an e-mail, Amos Gaver, the University of Haifa’s vice-president for external relations and resource development, told JTA that "there is no reconsidering granting Minister Kenney the degree."

Tribute committee chair Arnie Aberman said Kenney is being honored "for his steadfast position against anti-Semitism and for his solidarity with the State of Israel."

Aberman said the University of Haifa and its Canadian friends organization "take no position with respect to Canadian immigration policies. That would be improper for an Israeli university. And we will not comment on these policies."

The degree’s conferral, Aberman said, "is not a statement about Canadian immigration policies."

 

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