by Anna Mahjar-Barducci
"The levels of anti-Semitism in Spain are among the highest in Europe," wrote the Spanish daily, El Pais. According to a poll, presented on November 30 during the Fourth International Seminary on Antisemitism hosted at the Caja Navarra Foundation in Madrid, 52% of Spanish students declared that they would not like to have a Jewish classmate sitting next to them, and 58% of adults thought that Jews have too much power and that they are all too rich.
The organizers of the Madrid conference said they were sad an bewildered that anti-Semitism "is a problem that is often denied in the country." The Federation of the Jewish Communities in Spain (FCJE) also stated that although surveys indicate that there are high levels of "hostility" towards Jews, "most leaders and media persons believe there is no prejudice whatsoever against Jews." However, sociologist Alejandro Baer explains that the situation has become unbearable and that it is time to face the problem: "In Spain, insults, writings and slogans against Jews are considered normal."
Baer added that anti-Semitism in Spain is particularly surprising, as "there are hardly any Jews." Even though the percentage of Jews in Spain is only the 0.2% of the population, negative stereotypes are very much present and they are the symptom of a "social pathology."
Anti-Semitism has been Spain's problem since the reconquista in 1492, when the Catholic Kings, Isabel and Ferdinand, obliged the Jewish community either to convert to Catholicism or to flee the country. Over 300,000 Jews left Spain; those who remained where absorbed into the Catholic community, apart from a few who continued to practice their faith in secret (Marranos)..
Along the years the ant-Semitic bias has been present within the Spanish society. During the Francisco Franco's dictatorship, the regime aligned itself to the anti-Semitic sentiment that prevailed in the European extreme-right dictatorships. The seminar stressed that during the 40 years of his dictatorship, the idea that Jews were the people that killed the Christian founder of the Church, Jesus, was deeply rooted in the society. During every mass, the priest would call for the conversion or punishment of the "wicked Jews," until the Vatican Council removed this tradition in 1965. Up to the end of his life, Franco kept indicating in his speeches that Jews and masons were Spain's main national enemies.
With the advent of democracy, things changed for the better, even though at popular level prejudices against Jews continued to thrive. The creation of the State of Israel only added to the prejudice. Some Spanish regimes have not missed the opportunity to display a clear aversion to the Jewish state, thereby whipping up hatred against the Jews in the general public. It took Spain until 1986 to recognize Israel diplomatically.
During the two-day conference in Madrid, the president of the FCJE, Isaac Querub Caro, tried to describe the phenomenon of anti-Semitism in Spain, saying that this hate is so illogical that it is hard to explain it: "We are often asked why the Jews have been being hated so much and for so long. The question has to be made to those who hate us, not to those who are hated."
Carolina Aisen, coordinator of the Observatory on Anti-Semitism, has stressed that so far, "Spanish ant-Semitism does not involve any act of violence… Mostly, [attacks] consist of writings or offensive comments on different media outlets or on the Internet, but there is no personal aggression." It was noted that there is, however, a tendency within the Spanish institutions to underestimate the danger deriving from continuously slandering Jews. Author and jurist Jorge Trias Sagnier reminded the audience that last April the Supreme Court of Madrid acquitted four neo-Nazis, as it is not considered a crime to utter sentences such as, "Germans were wrong not to burn them all," or that "Jews are a pestilential and dangerous breed."Trías Sagnier, who participated in the debate, " The Penal Struggle against Anti-Semitism and Hate Offenses," expressed his repugnance of the Tribunal's sentencing, describing it as "barbaric."
The event ended with the hope that European efforts will be initiated by Institutions to end this worrying situation, that, according to the Israeli Ambassador to Spain, Alon Bar, is doomed to increase. The Ambassador argued that in times of economic crisis, minorities are usually attacked, used as the scapegoats of all the evil in the society. "The goal is to expose the invisibility and denial of the problem in Spain, focusing on cultural, legal and educational aspects," the FCJE's president concluded.
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