Polluting the Public Square: Anti-Semitic Discourse In Spain
Posted: September 21, 2009
While the Spanish government has taken serious actions in the past few years, the scale of the problem and the increase in anti-Semitism demonstrate the need for more effective measures.
In his May 12 State of the Nation speech, President Zapatero said that his government will promote "policies that guarantee the cohesion of our society and make it stronger, more stable, more capable, and more just." Properly implemented, the Human Rights Plan of Action should contribute to improving the situation, especially in anti-bias education and the long-term benefits these programs provide. The government has already committed with Measure 123 of the Human Rights Plan of Action to educate for responsible media use. While respecting freedom of the press, the government can educate about anti-Semitic discourse and try to marginalize what has become mainstream. The measures, however, are unlikely to be sufficient nor will they address the immediate problems of anti-Semitism evident in the media and at the anti-Israel demonstrations.
Spanish law already prohibits incitement to anti-Semitism. Article 510 (1) of the Spanish Penal Code calls for prison terms of one to three years and a fine of six to twelve monthly salaries for "incitement to discrimination, hatred or violence against groups or associations for racist or anti-Semitic motives or for other motives relating to ideology, religion or beliefs, family, race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, illness or disability." Article 510 (2) prescribes the same punishment for those who "disseminate slanderous information known to be false or recklessly disdainful of the truth" about such groups or associations.
Enforcing these laws, together with high-profile statements by political and community leaders and other opinion makers, is necessary when anti-Semitism is voiced in the public square, whether in newspapers or in the streets, because ceding the public square to anti-Semitism sends three messages.
- Impunity. To anti-Semites, it says that officials will not use available legal authorities against them.
- Indifference. To the general public, it says anti-Semitism is acceptable.
- Insecurity. To the Jewish community, it says they have been abandoned.
When leaders do speak out publicly and forcefully, the opposite messages are sent. Using the bully pulpit of high office,
- Makes clear to the anti-Semites that the state will use its authority against them.
- Makes clear to the general community that anti-Semitism is intolerable.
- Makes clear to the Jewish community that their rights will be protected.
In its July 1 letter, the Spanish government promised that it "will not spare any effort to curb any occurrence of anti-Semitism. The Spanish Government and the better angels of the Spanish society are conscious and proud of our Jewish heritage. We do it credit by fighting for our own Jewish present."
If that commitment is implemented by Spain's leaders, its educators, and its law enforcement, the question raised by Ana Palacio's statement will begin to be answered.