Spain – our new ‘amigo’

Historically, no country in Europe rivals Spain in terms of the ferocity of its Judeophobia. Today, however, Madrid is emerging as one of Israel’s strongest supporters.

Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy_311 (photo credit: Reuters)
Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy_311
(photo credit: Reuters)
The condemnation of Israel in mid-December by the EU members of the UN Security Council (France, Germany, Portugal and the UK) showed that true to form, our European friends are more European than friends.
There is one country, however, that is emerging as a new Israeli ally on the European stage, despite harboring one of the most vicious Judeophobic histories of any country on the continent: Spain.
It bodes well that Spain’s new government has so far refrained from Israel-bashing. It also appears that Madrid’s foreign policy will probably keep its distance from Europe’s anti-Zionist rituals.
The new winds of friendship toward Israel stand in sharp contrast to Spain’s history of Judeophobia. Only a decade ago, Spaniards revealed themselves to have some of the worst Judeophobic attitudes in Europe, and Spain’s history of Judeophobia has a unique depth and intensity.
Culturally, Spain is one of the most homogeneous Western countries. Almost all Spaniards are Catholic and, until at least until a generation ago, most of them were often raised in a Judeophobic atmosphere. Furthermore, Spanish traditions and vocabulary include many expressions which in other languages have been eroded by modern political correctness. The Spanish Royal Academy dictionary includes “meeting for illicit purposes,” as one acceptable definition of the word “synagogue.” “Judiada” is defined as “evil action.”
Spanish Judeophobia stands out from its Western parallels in at least six ways: its antiquity (since the year 418); its “official” status (a 1263 law supported blood libels); its virulence, as evidenced for instance in the massacres of 1391; its all-inclusiveness (leading Spanish intellectuals have subscribed to Judeophobia); the phenomenon of Marranos, the secret Jews, a sequel to forced baptisms; and the most thorough expulsion of Jews ever.
Following the Inquisition and the Edict of Expulsion of 1492, Spain remained officially Jew-free, and its obsession with unity and purity lingered for centuries. The Academia Militar required cadets to prove their “purity of blood” until 1860, and San Bartolome in Salamanca, the most prestigious Spanish college, traditionally rejected any candidate with suspected Jewish ancestry.
ALTHOUGH THE 1869 constitution implicitly revoked the infamous Edict by allowing private religious practice, the move towards tolerance was sluggish. Spain was the last Western European country to establish relations with Israel, in 1986, and several Spanish priests still openly revere the memory of children supposedly ritually murdered by blood-drinking Jews.
The Spanish media, too, demonizes the Jewish state in the same way Spaniards have demonized Jews throughout the centuries. In October, when rocket attacks from Gaza forced a million Israelis into bomb shelters in the south, the main Spanish newspapers limited their headlines to how many “Palestinians died by an attack of the Israeli Air Force.”
In 2002, while the press in Germany and Britain mused about the possibility that Israel had committed a “massacre” in the Jenin refugee camp during Operation Defensive Shield, the Spanish press reported that accusation as fact, even charging Israel of committing “ethnic cleansing” and a “holocaust” in the camp.
Spain also surpasses its left-wing counterparts in other European countries. The head of the United Left, Gaspar Llamazares (who was recently marginalized from the leadership of his own Communist Party) is an obsessive Israel-basher who went so far as to declare that he is fed up with the six million Jews killed during the Holocaust and his party would not take part in any homage paid to their memory.
Still, despite these very real examples, there are clear signs that Judeophobia is on the decline in Spain. On the conservative side of the political spectrum, Camilo José Cela was one of the promoters of the establishment of relations between Spain and Israel and presided for years over the institute for friendship between the two countries (these facts often go unmentioned in his biographies, including the press reports of his being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1989.)
In addition, two prominent Spanish intellectuals wrote very sympathetic books about Israel after visiting the country in 1957 (Josep Pla) and 1968 (Julian Marias). Pla is considered the top Catalonian novelist, and the second edition of his book on Israel was published in 2002. Marias is one of the top Spanish philosophers of last century.
On the political Left, Pilar Rahola is a journalist and former congresswoman who has bravely and staunchly denounced the vitriolic Judeophobia within Spanish left-wing circles.
Many Spaniards are becoming increasingly interested in their Jewish history as well. Small towns in which there had been Jewish presence during medieval times are becoming proud of their past and trying to recreate it.
“Casa Sefarad Israel” (Israel-Spain House) was created six years ago by the Spanish Foreign Ministry in order to strengthen ties with the Jewish people, but in practice it remained indifferent or hostile toward the Jewish state.
Today, however, it has been touched by these Spanish winds of change. Its recently appointed new director, Alvaro Albacete, is a young diplomat whose first steps included flying the Israeli flag in the building for the first time.
There are other sign that Spain is displaying a more positive attitude towards Jews and Israel. Last December 17, the President of the Madrid region, Esperanza Aguirre, told the Jewish Community of Madrid declared that “to defend Israel is to defend human rights, the enemies of Israel are the enemies of Spain, the fight of the Maccabees continues today.” Aguirre’s (conservative) Popular Party won a landslide victory on November 20 to unseat the socialists who had been in power for eight years.
On the international stage, the Popular Party opposed the Palestinian bid in the UN, despite the fact that the official Spanish position at the time supported the Palestinian move. Former president Jose Maria Aznar, who founded and heads the international organization “Friends of Israel,” is a known speaker for Jewish causes.
The current head of the PP, Mariano Rajoy, became the new Prime Minister of Spain last week, in a particularly positive atmosphere towards the Jewish state. We should wish his government Mazal Tov – may the next four years be the period in which Spain reconciles with the Jewish people.

The writer is author of the book Spain Derailed and the Internet-accessible essay Naïve Spanish Judeophobia. He is an educational advisor to the Madrid Jewish Community.