By Jessica Spencer
For the fourth session of our fellowship, we focused on the issues of hate crime and discrimination. Particularly in recent years, the surge in hate crime has made this an urgent threat to our human rights in the UK, and one that must be investigated more closely. Mia Hasenson-Gross, director of René Cassin, introduced the topic and presented on discrimination and hate crime in law and in practice.
Mia discussed the current levels of prejudice in the UK, before going on to explain the legal definition of hate crime and how it impinges on human rights. We learnt about the ‘justice gap’ for hate crime: for all the hate crimes that are committed, a tiny proportion actually lead to conviction of the perpetrator. Mia also talked about the difficulties faced by the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities in the UK, and René Cassin’s work to advocate for them.
NEW @KateGreenSU: Abuse against Gypsies and Travellers has accurately been described as the last acceptable form of racism – as politicians we must take care with the language we use @APPGGTR https://t.co/d2NdDIjYb4
— The House (@theHouse_mag) May 16, 2019
René Cassin’s campaign against Gypsy, Roma and Traveller discrimination is a reminder of our duty to fight all hate crime. All too often, the Jewish community’s campaigning around discrimination is limited to that which affects the Jewish community: the fight against antisemitism; the difficulties faced by LGBTQ+ pupils at Jewish schools; ensuring freedom to practise Judaism. These are important struggles, and we must continue them. However, if we only campaign on these, we risk losing sight of an important principle from the Torah.
In this week’s parsha, Kedoshim, all the children of Israel are commanded: “Do not go around as a tale-bearer amongst your people; do not stand by the blood of your neighbour” (Leviticus 19:16). We have a duty to stand up for others, and to combat discrimination wherever we see it. We must act against prejudice in any form, even mere tales, as we know where it can lead: to the spilling of our neighbours’ blood.
It is not enough to be inward-looking, to only protect our own community from the effects of discrimination. Taking inspiration from René Cassin’s campaigns, we can turn our vision outwards. Let’s commit to ending discrimination in all forms – in our communities, and those of our neighbours.
Jessica Spencer is a Programme Manager at the Council of Christians and Jews, where she leads CCJ’s social action programmes and Jewish educational programmes. She is also the editor of CCJ’s journal, Common Ground, and is involved with CCJ’s work on Israel-Palestine dialogue.