No More Spanish Historic Mistakes about Jews

My Fair Lady has told us that the rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain.  She might now tell us of the outbursts, if not yet a tempest, of vicious antisemitic noises and the danger of tempestuous thunder showering the country with irresponsible condemnations of the State of Israel.

Jews have had a long connection with Spain and its possessions.  Some reputable scholars are certain, and a number of others believe, that Spain’s greatest writer, Miguel de Cervantes, came from a family of conversos, Jews who in 1492 were forced to convert to Catholicism or be expelled, and that Don Quixote contains many references to Kabbalah or Jewish traditions.

At the current exhibition in the Museo del Prado in Madrid in July 2014 of the paintings of El Greco (Domenikos Theotokepoulos), popular discussion of his origins suggest that even he, born in Crete and raised as a Greek Orthodox Christian who spent most of his life in Toledo, might have had Jewish origins. Apparently, El Greco’s main associates, and his mistress and the mother of his child, were Jewish converts.

The Jewish experience is Spain was virtually terminated when Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon on March 31, 1492 ordered the expulsion from the two kingdoms, said to be the sites of the largest Jewish community in Europe, of all Jews who would not convert. The Spanish Inquisition created the concept of limpieza de sangue (purity of blood) to differentiate those of true blood from those who had Jewish, and Muslim, ancestors. This distinction made in Spanish racial laws was to be transmitted to Nazi ideology. In Mein Kampf, Book 1, chapter 8, Adolf Hitler wrote, “We must fight to safeguard the existence and reproduction of our race and our people, the purity of our blood.”

Some changes in Spanish behavior have been evident in recent years. An amusing drama, symbolizing efforts to overcome past prejudice, and to make amends for Jewish persecution during the Inquisition, was played out in a delightful comedy on May 24, 2014 when the small village of Castrillo Matajudios (Camp Kill Jews) by a vote of 29 to 19 agreed to change its name to Mota de Judios (Hill of the Jews). Its name had been changed in 1623, possibly by conversos who wanted to dissociate themselves from their Jewish origins. The village of 56, mostly elderly, people has no Jewish residents, but no doubt some have Jewish roots.

To make further amends, the Spanish Government and Parliament in an extraordinary move in June 2014 agreed to correct an “historic mistake” by offering Spanish citizenship to the descendants of the Sephardic (“Spanish” in Hebrew) Jews, who six centuries ago, were expelled. Moreover, recipients can accept this citizenship without being required to move to Spain or renounce any other citizenship they may have.

It is improbable that many, if indeed any, of the 800,000 Sephardic Jews in Israel are likely to accept the offer. Antisemitism has reared its ugly head in Spain in an increasing manner. This has been shown in research surveys, writings and by actual behavior. A dishonorable example of that behavior was the anger and hatred registered after the Maccabi Tel Aviv team beat Real Madrid in the final of the Euroleague basketball tournament. As a result, there were 17,500 antisemitic messages recorded by Twitter users, including bulletins of “Jews to the ovens,” and “Jews to the showers.” Noticeably, there has been a striking increase in the number of hostile references to Jews in print and online publications and other web sites.

Perhaps the most distasteful of these references are the continuing fulminations by the Spanish writer and playwright, Antonio Gala. In his latest article in El Mundo on July 23, 2014 he said, in the midst of commenting on what he thought were injustices by Israel in Gaza, that the expulsion of Jews in 1492 was justified. What was surprising, he said, was that the Jews persist. His remarks outrageously allude to a Jewish conspiracy; the Jews “have new means, dimensions, and benefits, with new pressure from a power situated elsewhere in the world and an invisible community of blood.”

Recent surveys in Spain of attitudes towards Jews and the State of Israel show an increase of antisemitic beliefs of five per cent between 2009 and 2012. Questions were asked on four issues; were Jews more loyal to Israel than to their own country; did they have too much power in the business world; too much power in international financial markets; did they talk too much about what happened to Jews in the Holocaust. On all of the answers the Spanish antisemitic score was high, almost the highest of the European countries surveyed. Shamefully, 25 per cent of Spaniards thought Jews were guilty on all four issues.

More pertinent to commentary on recent events is that 59 per cent said they were more likely to view Jews more negatively as a result of actions taken by Israel. This issue has now come to the fore because of a public letter written by one hundred prominent cultural personalities that was printed on July 28, 2014 by the Europa Press. The letter is highly critical of actions by Israel in the Gaza fighting, even to the point of referring to the Israeli bombardment of Gaza as genocide, and to  “Israeli Occupation Forces.”

The letter has received considerable attention because of its celebrated signatories, the most well known of whom are the film stars Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem, and the film directors Pedro Almodovar and Benito Zambrano. The first two are well known in the United States. There is no apparent connection between their famous film roles and their present statement. Cruz won the Oscar for best supporting actress in 2009 for playing a mentally and emotionally impaired woman. Bardem, renowned for playing villains, won in 2008 for his role as supporting actor as a psychopathic killer. He signed the letter in El Mondo, a paper that is well known for publishing antisemitic material and cartoons, often referring to Israel as a country of apartheid, colonialism, and ethnic cleansing. El Mundo’s point of view was obvious when it published in 2009 an interview by David Irving, the British well-known Holocaust denier, whom it characterized admiringly as an “expert.”

Bardem is also the author of an article published on July 25, 2014 in the New York Spanish paper, El, condemning, as he describes it, the war of occupation and extermination waged by Israel against a people with no means, and in which hospitals, ambulances, and children have been struck by Israeli actions. He, and his fellow celebrities who signed the letter, ignore or appear to be unaware of the war crimes that Hamas has committed, let alone the fact that Israel’s actions are responses to attacks initiated by Hamas. So far, Hamas rocket weapons have been found in three UNRWA schools in Gaza, an existence of which the officials of UNRWA running the schools feign ignorance.  Children have been used as human shields to prevent retaliation against terrorists, and that at least 160 children died when they were used as slave labor to build the tunnels for Hamas.

Bardem attempts to be disarming. He reported his son was born in a “Jewish (?) hospital.” Not unexpectedly, some of his best friends are Jews. In spite of them, his rhetoric, in which his wife Cruz joins, refuses to take account of actual events and the behavior of the terrorist group Hamas. Yet the reality is clear, as proclaimed in a broadcast sermon on July 25, 2014 on Al-Aqsa TV, the Hamas television station.  The broadcast outlined Hamas policy: “Our belief about fighting you Jews is that we will exterminate you, until the last one, and we will not leave even one.”  

Life is not a stage or film set, or an “insubstantial pageant.” The Spanish cultural elite must acknowledge that its stars are no longer in the Hollywood firmament competing for Oscars in supporting roles but engaged in legitimizing war crimes. According to experts in international law, by employing human shields, especially children, Hamas is committing a war crime. By contrast that law entitles Israel to attack buildings, normally used by civilians, which are being used for military purposes. These sites are regarded as legitimate military targets along with weapons and bombardment installations.

Bardem has written, “…there is no place for distance or neutrality.” In his self-conferred political supporting role he should read the existing script of action in Gaza accurately. In writing of a “war of occupation and extermination against a whole people,” he should be addressing the guilty party, Hamas, that has occupied and ruled Gaza since 2007, not the State of Israel.  Bardem should be aware that in July 2014 Hamas executed more than 30 Palestinians who were protesting against it.  He should take care that his “non-neutrality” is not defending or excusing Hamas war crimes and crimes against humanity.  Spain does not need another “historic mistake.”