Right of Reply: The facts about anti-Semitism in Spain

Undeniably, the country ranks too high on the list of states where public opinion holds prejudice against Jews and negative views on Israel.

Israel_Spain_311 (photo credit: Ohad Kaner)
(photo credit: Ohad Kaner)
It is demoralizing to read that Casa Sefarad-Israel’s recent survey on anti- Semitism could conceivably be a disguised effort to deny the problem (“A survey to deny a problem,” October 18). Still unknown to most in Israel, Casa Sefarad- Israel is a Spanish public institution set up in 2007 by the Spanish government with the assistance of Madrid’s local authorities with the goal of contributing to foster relations between Spain, Israel and world Jewry. Fully-funded by the Spanish taxpayer, it is neither a joint Spanish-Israeli institution nor a Jewish-affiliated organization.
In its short but intense three years of existence, Casa Sefarad-Israel has undertaken hundreds of projects and initiatives of all sorts on almost every area of activity which can bring together civil society from Spain, Israel and Jewish communities around the world. Culture features prominently in our programming and we have become the reference point in Spain regarding the Shoah. In addition, we actively promote links between Spanish and Israeli universities, professional gatherings and business-related initiatives aimed at increasing trade and investment flows between Spain and Israel.
WE CONDUCTED the survey precisely because we are well aware of the problem and because we wanted to have a tailor-made Spanish tool to better guide our efforts to counter it.
The results of the survey, as of every poll, are subject to interpretation. That was precisely one of the goals of the survey: to place the question of anti-Semitism in Spain at the center of public debate. It is, however, regrettable that we were met with accusations of political manipulation. This is particularly unacceptable when such accusations come from experts whose knowledge was sought and taken into account during the energy-consuming, yearlong process of preparing and carrying out the survey.
At any rate, the professional quality of the company that carried out the survey, which is fully available on our website (www.casasefarad- israel.es), stands for itself. I leave to critics the task of properly substantiating their accusations instead of merely expressing opinions that may be biased in the first place.
It is undeniable that Spain ranks too high in the list of countries where public opinion holds prejudice against Jews and negative views toward Israel and its policies. This is a fact that our poll not only does not deny, but indeed stresses. It is also true, nevertheless, that while remaining at an excessively high level of 34.6 percent, anti-Jewish prejudice in Spain has decreased considerably from the some 45% detected in earlier international polls.
Besides, anyone wanting to have a sensible debate on this issue should acknowledge that, contrary to what happens in other countries, anti-Semitic views in Spain remain mostly just that – views – which, fortunately almost never develop into attacks or boycott campaigns against Israel.
The Spanish government took a number of meaningful relevant decisions at the end of 2004, and rightly so. Spain applied and became a full member of the International Task Force on the Holocaust, increased the time devoted to the Shoah in schools, state protocol started to commemorate the day of the liberation of Auschwitz every year and Casa Sefarad-Israel was established.
Spain’s broad commitment to improve and deepen relations with world Jewry and Israel is based on our belief that our national identity owes a lot to the prolonged and very fruitful contribution of the hundreds of thousands of Jews that lived among us for 13 consecutive centuries. Moreover, we argue that the evolution and development of Jewish culture that took place in Spain during that period is very relevant to how the Jewish world, including Israel, looks, feels, thinks and is nowadays.
AGAINST THIS background, it is not only right but sensible to try to mend past errors and catch up with history in what we are convinced is a win-win equation.
The fight against anti-Semitism must be and is part of this effort. It is a curse against which Europe cannot afford to show any lenience, and Spain, with its troubled history including the tragic expulsion in 1492 and the notorious Inquisition, must be particularly vigilant.
That said, it is absurd and unfair to continue to depict Spain as the worst case of anti-Semitism in Europe. Living as a Jew in Spain may at times be problematic, particularly when tensions flare up in the Middle East, but any informed analyst should acknowledge the government’s commitment to continuing to tackle this problem head-on. In addition, Spain could be given some credit for undertaking a number of meaningful initiatives which are, on purpose, not highly publicized, including the granting of Spanish passports to more than 700 Sephardi Jews living in countries where their situation is somewhat uncomfortable for political reasons.
Our policy to reach out to Israel and international Jewry will continue in spite of whatever suspicions and accusations we may meet because we owe it to ourselves. It is, anyhow, helpful and – why not? – also gratifying to perceive a gradual change of mind-set in those to whom we are trying to reach out.
The writer is director-general of Casa Sefarad- Israel.