Antisemitism in Spain
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Part of Jewish history
Anti-Semitism in Spain has its roots in Christian anti-Judaism which began with the expansion of Christianity in the Iberian peninsula in times of the Roman Empire and has its first violent manifestation in the brutal persecution of Jews in Visigothic Hispania. During Medieval times, Jews in Islamic-occupied Spain, Al-Andalus, were designated as dhimmis, and, despite occasional violent outbursts such as the 1066 Granada massacre, they were granted protection to profess their religion in exchange of abiding to certain conditions that limited their rights in relation to Muslims. After the Almoravid invasion (11th century), the situation of the Jewish population in Muslim territory aggravated, and during the Almohad invasion of the peninsula many Jews fled to the northern Christian kingdoms, the eastern mediterranean and Africa.
During the Reconquista the Jews in Spain lived in relative peace next to their Christian neighbors. The kings, especially those of Aragon, regarded the Jews as their property and it was in their own interest to protect them. During this time the Jews enjoyed relative political freedom, they had posts in the courts and were merchants and businessmen. the Jews used to live separately in juderías (Jewish neighborhoods). Although the good relations the Jews had with their Christian neighbors, especially in the 14th century antisemitism was rising. Blood libel accusations were spreading and decrees were imposed on the Jewish people. The situation peaked with the massacres of 1391, in which entire communities were murdered and a lot were forcibly converted.
In 1492, via the Alhambra Decree, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella ordered the expulsion of a disputed number of Jews from the country, ranging from 45,000 to 200,000, and thus put an end to the largest and most distinguished Jewish community in Europe. The coercive baptisms eventually produced the phenomenon of the conversos (Marranos), the Inquisition, and statutes of “blood purity” five centuries before the race laws in Nazi Germany. From the end of the nineteenth century, Jews have been perceived as conspirators, alongside the notion of a universal Jewish conspiracy to control the world. Following the Soviet revolution and the founding of the Spanish Communist Party in 1920, such “anti-Spanish forces” were primarily identified with the “destructive communist virus,” often considered to be guided by the Jews.
During the Spanish Civil War, the alliance between Franco’s faction and Nazi Germany opened the way for the emergence of antisemitism in the Spanish Right. It was during the 1960s that the first Spanish neo-fascist and neo-Nazi groups appeared, such as CEDADE. Later on, the Spanish neo-Nazis attempted to use antisemitic discourse to explain the political transition to democracy (1976–1982) following the death of General Franco. It drew on the same ideas that had been expressed in 1931 when the Second Spanish Republic was proclaimed — that political turning points could be explained as the result of various “intrigues”. From 1948 until 1986, Israel was not recognized by Spain, and Israel and Spain had no diplomatic ties. In 1978, Jews were recognized as full citizens in Spain, and today the Jewish population numbers about 40,000 —approx. 1 percent of Spain's population, 20,000 of whom are registered in the Jewish communities. The majority live in the larger cities of Spain on the Iberian Peninsula, North Africa or the islands.
According to some, derived from the fact that almost all Spaniards are Catholic, and Spain remains to this day one of the most homogeneous Western countries, Spanish Judeophobia reflects a national obsession with religious and ethnic unity which is based on the conception of an imaginary "internal enemy" plotting the downfall of the Catholic religion and the traditional social order. However, this assumption clashes with the fact that 21st-century Spain is one of the most secularized countries in Europe, with only 3% of Spaniards considering religion as one of their three most important values and thus not linking it to their national or personal identity. Furthermore, in modern Spain there is not an "internal enemy" scare but in far-right circles, which are more often focused against Muslim immigration as well as Catalan and Basque separatism, way more visible phenomena. Modern antisemitic-like attitudes in Spain are actually related to the perceived abusive policies of the State of Israel against Palestinians and in the international scene rather than to any kind of religious or identity obsession, and it has been defined by Jewish authors as an "antisemitism without antisemites."
Data and analysis
Surveys from the 1980s and 1990s showed that the Spanish image of the Jews was ambivalent: pejorative stereotypes such as avariciousness, treachery and deicide contrasted with positive evaluations such as their work ethic and their sense of responsibility. In 1998, a survey conducted of 6,000 students in 145 Spanish schools showed a slight increase in racist attitudes compared with 1993 - 14.9 percent would expel the Jews compared with 12.5 percent in 1993. In spring 2002, many EU member states, including Spain, experienced a wave of antisemitic incidents which started with the 'Al-Aqsa-Intifada' in October 2000 and was fueled by the conflict in the Middle East. During the first half of 2002, the rise of antisemitism reached a climax in the period between the end of March and mid-May, running parallel to the escalation of the Middle East Conflict.
According to a September 2008 study published by the Pew Research Center of Washington DC, nearly half of all Spaniards have negative views of Jews, a statistic that marks Spain as one of the most antisemitic countries in Europe. According to Pew, 46% of Spaniards held negative opinions of Jews, more than double the 21% of Spaniards with such views in 2005. Spain was also the only country in Europe where negative views of Jews outweighed positive views; only 37% of Spaniards thought favorably about Jews.
In September 2009, the ADL published a special report titled "Polluting the Public Square: Anti-Semitic Discourse In Spain." Following the report, Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director, said, "We are deeply concerned about the mainstreaming of anti-Semitism in Spain, with more public expressions and greater public acceptance of classic stereotypes. Among the major European countries, only in Spain have we seen viciously anti-Semitic cartoons in the mainstream media, and street protests where Israel is accused of genocide and Jews are vilified and compared to Nazis [...] Opinion makers in Spain are crossing the line that separates legitimate criticism of Israeli actions from anti-Semitism, and the results are evident. Our polling shows an alarming rise in anti-Semitic attitudes."
According to the "Report on Anti-Semitism in Spain in 2010" which was jointly produced by the Observatory on Anti-Semitism in Spain and a nongovernmental organization called the Movement against Intolerance in 2010, while Spain was mired in the worst economic recession in its modern history, it emerged as one of the most antisemitic countries in the EU. According to a poll commissioned by the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 58.4% of Spaniards believe that "the Jews were powerful because they controlled the economy and the mass media. This number reached 62.2% among university students and 70.5% among those who are "interested in politics." More than 60% of Spanish university students said they did not want Jewish classmates. In other polling data, more than one-third (34.6%) of Spanish people had an unfavorable or completely unfavorable opinion of Jewish people. Another interesting finding is that antisemitism was more prevalent in the political left than it is on the political right - 34% of those on the far right said they are hostile to Jews, while 37.7% of those on the center-left were hostile to Jews. Sympathy for Jews among the extreme right (4.9 on a scale of 1-10) is above the average for the population as a whole (4.6). Among those who recognized themselves as having "antipathy for the Jewish people," only 17% says this was due to the "conflict in the Middle East." Nearly 30% of those surveyed said their dislike of Jews had to do with "their religion," "their customs," and "their way of life," while early 20% of Spaniards said they dislike Jews although they do not know why.
- To determine the degree of antisemitism in Spain
- To examine its origin
- To diagnose its intensity
The qualitative study showed there has been a decline in traditional antisemitic attitudes, which were still present in some sectors, and an increase in those of a political and/or economic type. According to the quantitative study, in April 2010, 34.6% of the Spanish population expressed an unfavorable opinion on Jews, while 48% expressed a favorable opinion on Jews. It is noteworthy that the unfavorable attitudes towards Jews were at the same level as those regarding other groups addressed, including Orthodox Christians and Protestants. It is particularly significant that as a source of problems in Spain, Jews were considered to be at the same level as were Catholics. The results obtained from segmentation of the study population confirmed the existence of fairly homogeneous attitudes – both favorable and unfavorable – towards all religious groups in general, rather than any differentiated opinion with respect to the Jews. Among the reasons cited by the respondents for expressing unfavorable attitudes towards Jews, 17.5% pointed to Israel’s role in the Middle East conflict, while 31.3% pointed to this factor as the reason why Jews are perceived as creating problems in the world. These findings confirmed that a significant proportion of the negative evaluation of Jews and Jewishness among the Spanish population was due to a perceived association between Jews as a religious group and the State of Israel and its policies. Among the reasons cited by those who consider Jews to create problems in Spain, the most significant one (cited by 11.4% of respondents) was the association with issues that are characteristic of immigration in general. This confirmed that part of the population in Spain viewed the Jews as an alien group, and extended its negative perceptions of this group toward the difference in general, concerning both its origin and its religion. Regarding opinions on Israel and the Middle East, both Israel and Palestine were viewed unfavorably by the majority of the study population. Regarding the perception of the Middle East conflict, 67.2% of those interviewed held both parties to be responsible to some degree. Similarly, the questions on the Middle East conflict produced a majority of results clearly recognizing the legitimacy of the State of Israel.
Antisemitism in the media
Some important elements differentiate the Spanish media from its European counterparts:
- Uniformity of opinion across ideological lines - There are few writers who consistently go beyond stereotypes or denounce manipulation.
- Anti-Americanism - The level of intensity was higher in Spain, due to former Prime Minister Aznar's role in the war in Iraq, in comparison to the anti-Bush and antiwar policy of the Socialist government.
- Intensity - Antisemitic discourse in the Spanish media has a long history and reaches levels of intensity that would be considered unacceptable elsewhere in Europe. It should be mentioned that when confronted with the accusation of antisemitism, journalists, as well as editors and opinion columnists in the press, generally deny it, claiming they are justifiably criticizing the policies of Israel.
During the past decade, historical Catholic antisemitic stereotypes returned in the media when it came to the Middle East coverage. Medieval antisemitic tropes rooted in the religious tradition emerged from time to time in the representation of the Israeli-Arab conflict in the mainstream press. During the years of the Second Intifada and throughout the Lebanon war in 2006, Spanish newspapers and magazines published cartoons in which Israelis, Israel as a whole, or Jewish symbols were linked to the killing of children, themes of vengeance and cruelty, echoing ancient anti-Jewish imagery. Likewise, this merges with newer stereotypes such as charges of sowing disorder, subjugation of others, and the analogies between Israelis and Nazis - sometimes through direct comparisons, while other times through indirect comparisons by referring to "the Palestinian Holocaust" or making an analogy between Gaza and concentration camps or the ghettos. For example, on 23 April 2002, at the height of Operation Defensive Shield, the highly satirical magazine El Jueves (Thursday) displayed on its front page a caricature of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon with a pig's face, a skull cap, a swastika and the caption "This wild animal."
A contemporary example of Antisemitism in the Spanish Media is the posting of 17,500 antisemitic tweets following Israeli basketball team, Maccabi Tel Aviv's win of the Euro-league on 18.05.2014. Angry Spanish supporters created an expletive antisemitic hashtag in their messages after the match, which briefly became one of the most popular keywords on Twitter in Spain. Twelve Jewish associations filed a judicial complaint after seeing references in some messages to death camps and the mass murder of Jews in the Holocaust. The organizations singled out five people who were identified by their real names on Twitter, accusing them of “incitement to hatred and discrimination” — a crime punishable by up to three years’ jail in Spain.
Modern antisemitic-like attitudes in Spain are mostly related to the perceived abusive policies of the State of Israel against Palestinians and in the international scene, and it has been defined by Jewish authors as an "antisemitism without antisemites."
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- The latter present a tendency towards rationalization and modernization of the stereotypes underlying antisemitic views, largely grounded on the ongoing process of secularization within Spanish society.
- The only group to be negatively rated by a majority of the study population, in every case, was that of the Muslims, both as concerns the levels of unfavorable attitudes and of identification, and of the greater perception of problems created in Spain and throughout the world.
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