J'lem won't mourn Spain's socialists' loss of power

Diplomatic officials expect new Spanish PM Rajoy will slightly improve Israel-Spain gov't relations, but won't better public opinion.

Spain's Mariano Rajoy 311 R (photo credit: REUTERS/Juan Medina)
Spain's Mariano Rajoy 311 R
(photo credit: REUTERS/Juan Medina)
While not shedding any tears in Jerusalem over the anticipated defeat of the Socialist party in Sunday’s elections in Spain, there is little expectation the victory of the conservative People’s Party will dramatically change Spain’s overall orientation toward Israel for the better.
The bottom line, according to diplomatic officials in Jerusalem, is the likely victory of PP head Mariano Rajoy will lead to a slight improvement in relations between the two governments, but to no noticeable improvement in Spanish public opinion.
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The official said Spanish public opinion – and the Spanish press – is among the most anti-Israel in Europe. As a result, he said, referring to others among Israel’s friends in Europe, “Spain under Rajoy won’t be Italy under [Silvio] Berlusconi, or Germany under [Angela] Merkel. It will be better for us, but the best scenario is that it will be like France under [Nicolas] Sarkozy.”
Spain, which voted for accepting Palestine as a member state in UNESCO earlier this month, is not likely to change its voting pattern at the UN under the new government, the official said.
Regarding anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic public opinion in Spain, Israel’s former ambassador to the country, Raphael Schutz, decried the “anti-Semitism and hatred that exist in Spanish society” in a posting on the embassy’s website before he left his ambassadorial post in July. He said his tenure in Madrid was “not very pleasant.”
“I am ending a four-year term as Israel’s ambassador to Spain and returning to Israel to continue my diplomatic career in the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem,” he wrote in the message.
“I also take with me the hatred and the anti-Semitism that still exist in Spanish society, and which I experienced personally.”
A poll released by the Spanish government in 2010 found that one of every three Spaniards holds negative views of Jews, and one in nine agrees with the statement that “Israel should disappear because it was established on Arab land.” Anti- Defamation League and Pew Research Center polls from 2008 and 2009 showed nearly half of the country held anti-Semitic views.
Outgoing Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero did not run in Sunday’s election, something that did not sadden officials in Jerusalem who said simply “he was not a friend. He had a very artificial understanding of our reality, and was very close to pro-Palestinian elements in Spain.”
This was manifest, the official said, when Zapatero took part in an anti-Israel rally during the Second Lebanon War, wrapped himself in a keffiyeh decorated with a Palestinian flag, and said Israel used “abusive force that does not protect innocent human beings.”
ADL National Director Abe Foxman wrote at the time that Zapatero “wears his anti-Israel bias on his sleeve.” Zapatero’s predecessor, the PP’s Jose Maria Aznar, is now a strong supporter of Israel who in 2010 founded the Friends of Israel initiative to counter attempts to de-legitimize Israel. One government official said his articulate defense of Israel started in earnest once he left office in 2004.
“He was not as outspoken in his support when he was in power,” the official said.
The official said the new PP leader, Rajoy, a former property registrar and interior minister, has left no significant “trail” regarding his views on Israel, though in general the PP is more supportive of Israel than the Spanish Socialist party.