To the Editor:
The University of Haifa insists on giving an honorary degree to Canada’s minister of citizenship and immigration, Jason Kenney, despite his well-documented bias against Roma refugees. Arnie Aberman, chair of the Toronto committee organizing the award, says Kenney is being honored "for his steadfast position against anti-Semitism and for his solidarity with the State of Israel."
But according to Canadian Friends of Haifa University, the award also recognizes his “steadfast position … against racism and intolerance.” Is it tolerance that Mr. Kenney has shown in labeling as “bogus” Roma refugees fleeing persecution by neo-Nazis in Hungary? Extreme-right hate groups are growing in popularity (the far-right Jobbik has 47 members in the Hungarian parliament), becoming more violent, carrying out pogroms in Roma neighborhoods — and are targeting Jews as well as Roma.
In 1939, Canada turned back 900 Jews fleeing Nazi persecution (“None is too many,” an immigration official said). In the 2000s, Canada is sending Roma back to neo-Nazi violence in Hungary. Is this a steadfast position against racism?
Aberman claims that Haifa University and Canadian Friends “take no position in respect to Canadian immigration policies.” But Canadian Friends’ own website says the award, the university’s “highest accolade,” is also “in appreciation of his revered leadership as Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism.” How can the award not be an endorsement of Canadian immigration policies?
Oddly for an opponent of anti-Semitism, Kenney has publicly praised Cardinal Alozije Stepinac, who was convicted of collaborating with the Nazi satellite regime in Croatia. This regime was responsible for the deaths of up to 750,000 Jews, Roma, Serbs and anti-fascist Croats.
In a 2009 speech, Kenney said, "I have in my office a prayer card with a picture of Cardinal Stepinac … (he) was a kind of martyr for Croatia and the faith, and he for me is one of the great heroes of the 20th century.”
The Roma Community Centre shared this well-documented information with the University of Haifa and the Canadian Friends, but Kenney’s silence about Hungarian neo-Nazis’ attacks on Roma and admiration for a World War II fascist collaborator do not appear to have inconvenienced their agenda.
Lynn Hutchinson Lee
Chair, Social Justice Committee
Roma Community Centre