Polluting the Public Square: Anti-Semitic Discourse In Spain
Posted: September 21, 2009
"Spaniards believe there is no anti-Semitism in Spain."
— Ana Palacio,
Former Spanish Foreign Minister
2005 ADL National Leadership Conference
Ana Palacio's statement raises a serious question: Why do Spaniards believe there is no anti-Semitism in Spain?
We know there is anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism has always existed on the European far-left and far-right, and Spain is no exception. Why don't Spaniards see it?
This brief report does not attempt to comprehensively answer those questions, but to clarify one aspect: anti-Semitism clothed as criticism of Israel. While physical attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions are fortunately rare occurrences in Spain, anti-Semitic discourse is common in public commentary on Israel, whether in newspapers or at demonstrations in the streets.
We start from the premise that not all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic. But demonization of Israel is. Equating Israel with the Nazi regime is. Attacking Judaism as the evil inspiration for Israeli policies is. These are not just ADL standards, but those of the European Union's own racism watchdog, included in its working definition of anti-Semitism.
This report could have been written at any time since Ana Palacio made her curious statement. Another Spanish intellectual and defender of Israel, Pilar Rahola, said in October 2008 that "in terms of media, Spain is the most anti-Semitic country in Europe."
This report was written now for two reasons.
First, the anti-Semitic criticism of Israel was most clearly on display during Israel's military campaign in Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009, Operation Cast Lead.
Second, opinion polls conducted over the past year by ADL, the Pew group, and even by the Spanish government show an alarming rise in anti-Semitic attitudes.
ADL is deeply concerned about the mainstreaming of anti-Semitism in Spain, with more public expressions and greater public acceptance. Opinion makers in the media and in politics are crossing the line that separates legitimate criticism of Israeli actions from anti-Semitism and the results are evident. The scale of this problem caused the Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain to send an open letter on this topic to all major media.
Among the major European countries, only in Spain's mainstream media have we seen clearly and viciously anti-Semitic cartoons, e.g. a Hasidic Jew with barbed-wire sidelocks. Mainstream papers also published op-eds that explicitly compared Israel with the Nazi regime, a comparison that the European Union's anti-racism organization considers anti-Semitic.
Spain's ruling Socialist party was a co-sponsor of the largest anti-Israel protest in Europe during the recent Gaza operation. Their members marched under a banner that accused Israel of genocide, one of the most common anti-Semitic means of demonizing Israel. In January 2008, a major regional party in the northwestern province of Galicia prevented the adoption of a Holocaust Remembrance resolution to protest Israeli actions, ostensibly reasoning that Jews everywhere are responsible for Israeli policies, yet another instance of anti-Semitism according to the European Union's anti-racism organization.
These alarming developments cannot be ignored. While Spain's Jewish community has rarely come under physical attack in recent years, incitement by some and indifference by many could lead to violence against Jews and their institutions in Spain. In May, Israel's ambassador to Spain, Raphael Schutz, was harassed on a street by three men, who shouted "dirty Jew," "Jew bastard," and "Jewish dog." This dangerous trend cannot go unchecked if Jews are to feel that they are equal Spanish citizens with full civil rights.
The Spanish government and Spain's civil society must take action to control and to lower the prevalence and intensity of anti-Semitic attitudes and expressions before they develop into violent expression. Fourteen members of the United States Congress expressed this concern in a May 1 letter to Prime Minister Zapatero, writing "we strongly believe that you and your government must take immediate steps to denounce and combat anti-Semitism in Spain" and "[i]f this situation is not addressed at the highest levels of government, we fear that the situation could descend into violence towards the Jewish community in Spain." Just two weeks prior, Spanish police discovered a weapons arsenal, including mortars, grenades, and assault rifles, in the home of a neo-Nazi in the town of Llíria.
Opinion makers need to be educated about the differences between legitimate and anti-Semitic criticism of Israel and those standards must be applied in the public square. When the anti-Semitism that is obvious to us and many others will also be seen by the Spanish themselves, a milestone in the fight against anti-Semitism will have been achieved.