Highlights from the 2015 Human Rights Award Dinner
Antisemitism is surging across Europe. Stoked by ascendant neo-fascist parties and violent extremists trying to lay claim to Islam, mounting hatred has led to an increase in antisemitic attacks and worries that the continent is becoming unsafe for Jews. We know from history that when antisemitism goes unchecked it leads to attacks on other vulnerable minorities and eventually to societal breakdown.
This year, we honor three young Europeans from diverse faith backgrounds who are challenging this scourge in their own communities. Their courageous and imaginative advocacy is inspiring solidarity and action to build a better future. Like us, they know that antisemitism is a threat not only to Jews, but to all who value democracy and human dignity.
Jane Braden-Golay is originally from Schaffhausen, Switzerland, and studied Religious Studies, Public Law and Education at the University of Zurich. She was elected vice president of the European Union of Jewish Students and served for four years in that position. Since January 2014, she has been the president of the organization and based in Brussels, Belgium. Her intercultural activism includes the international Muslim Jewish Conference and “Europe of Diasporas”, a project bringing together Jewish, Roma and Armenian activists. She will begin graduate studies at the University of Cambridge in the fall of 2015, working on educational methods for prevention of extremism.
Braden-Golay has worked ceaselessly as a young Jewish voice to raise awareness on antisemitism and empower activists to take action. She successfully pressed to include the perspectives of young Jewish leaders in high-level policy meetings, necessary for any discussion relating to the future of the community. She has focused on alliance building and intercultural solidarity, local grassroots projects, and confronting progressively extreme political forces in Europe. Speaking at the Council of Europe on the 70th Anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Braden-Golay affirmed: “It is becoming increasingly clear that our responsibility in the presence of survivors and in honor of all the victims is more than simply to remember. It is to remember, understand, recognize, and act.”
Siavosh Derakhti, Malmo, Sweden
While he was still in high school, Siavosh Derakhti became concerned about intolerance towards Jews in his home town of Malmo, Sweden’s third largest city. In 2010, at age 19, he formed an organization, Young Muslims Against Anti-Semitism, to educate young people about the dangers of antisemitism, racism, and xenophobia, including traveling with youth to Auschwitz, and to speak out against desecration of Jewish sites and physical attacks on Jews, for which Malmo was developing a bad reputation. Siavosh, whose family is originally from Iran, wrote in a local newspaper: “Jews in Malmo have been subjected to everything from threats to harassment, and it is our duty as Swedish citizens of Malmo to react and stand up.” In September 2013, he met with President Obama in Stockholm, and he has since met with the U.S. Special Envoy to Combat Anti-Semitism, Ira Forman, in Malmo.
Derakhti continues to organize, despite receiving threats for his work. His organization is now called Young People Against Anti-Semitism and Xenophobia and leads through events like the Stockholm Ring of Peace. Some have labeled him a traitor and called for his death. Derakhti says: “Because I see Jews as my brothers and sisters, and I believe they should enjoy all the same freedoms as all Swedes . . . a freedom without hate. And all Swedes have to do something to bring about peace between Jews and Muslims, and if we want something done we have to do it ourselves. Jews must be able to live in this city as Jews, and I am trying to make this happen.”
After the fatal attack on the Krystalgade Synagogue in Copenhagen in February, activist Niddal El-Jabri, whose family is Palestinian, felt the need to reach out to the Jewish community in his home city to demonstrate support and solidarity. He came up with a plan to form a ring of peace. On March 14, a month after the attack, over a thousand Danes from diverse backgrounds—including the father of the volunteer security guard killed outside the synagogue, Denmark’s chief rabbi, and government ministers—formed a human chain to demonstrate unity and tolerance in the face of hateful violence. Niddal said: “This is a gesture of solidarity with and support for the Jewish community, which was traumatized by the attack at the synagogue, and a call for the creation of a society where all faiths and ethnicities can live together in peace and harmony. We are also saying that Danish Muslims see ourselves as part of Danish society and reject the path of violence and extremism.”
Niddal believes that peace between religious groups anywhere will help promote peace everywhere. He continues his public activism against bigotry and antisemitism in Denmark and the rest of Europe.
2015 Sidney Lumet Award for Integrity in Entertainment
HBO Documentary Films has consistently taken on some of the most important—and most challenging—human rights issues of our time. War and peace, interrogation and torture, hate crime and discrimination, the rights of LGBT people, freedom of speech, domestic violence, the revolutions of the Arab Spring—there is hardly a human rights issue that HBO Documentary Films has not tackled. This powerful programming is an essential part of our democracy: it not only educates, but also entertains and inspires action. Sheila Nevins, President of HBO Documentary Films, will accept the award.
Marvin Frankel Award
The Marvin Frankel Award, established in 2002, pays tribute to law firms carrying on Judge Frankel’s dedication to human rights by demonstrating extraordinary commitment to pro bono service.
This year’s award honors three firms for their outstanding service to refugee families and unaccompanied immigrant children arriving at United States’ southern border. From direct representation to policy advocacy, these firms have done much to address this refugee influx.
Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP
Akin Gump marshaled its resources to secure the release of countless detained women and children fleeing persecution at home for safety in the United States. Those individual successes at the Karnes County Residential Center in Karnes City, Texas—one of three detention centers contracted by the federal government to hold immigrant families in the United States—spurred Akin to do even more. The firm’s advocacy increased detained immigrants’ access to counsel, which makes all the difference between a stay of weeks or months. Their representation work is only eclipsed by their commitment to advocacy, which focuses on long-term change, as well as short-term solutions. Their willingness to help these refugees obtain the most basic of human rights in the most complex of circumstances gives hope to those who need it most.
Chadbourne & Parke LLP
Chadbourne & Parke’s commitment to improving access to counsel for immigrant children has made a difference in thousands of families’ lives. The firm’s advocacy and representation work on behalf of children highlights the significant impediments that juveniles face in our immigration system. By providing essential technical expertise, Chadbourne’s national advocacy work led to increased trainings for immigration judges, improved understanding of what can reasonably be expected of children in court, and more child-appropriate docketing practices. Chadbourne’s direct representation of children facing deportation, often in partnership with Human Rights First, speaks to the highest traditions of the legal profession.
Jones Day continues to play a pivotal leadership role in providing pro bono representation to detained immigrant children and families. In the aftermath of the 2014 border surge, the firm was among the first to respond to the mass detention of women and children at a temporary facility in Artesia, New Mexico. Jones Day sent not only teams of attorneys to this remote facility, but also advocated for systems and infrastructure that facilitated access to counsel. They then recruited counsel nationwide, persuading law firms to prioritize the representation needs of detained families. Jones Day’s commitment to these families extends beyond the walls of detention to post-release representation across the country. Jones Day’s willingness to fill the representation gap, coupled with the firm’s local and national advocacy, enables other law firms to follow in their footsteps.