Many Spaniards thought Spain had solved its “Jewish problem” in 1492, when by the stroke of a pen, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella ordered the expulsion of an estimated 800,000 Jews from the country, and thus put an end to the largest and most distinguished Jewish community in Europe.
But now, more than 500 years later, Spanish anti-Semitism is on the rise once again. According to a recent study published by the Pew Research Center, nearly half of all Spaniards have negative views of Jews, a statistic that marks Spain as one of the most anti-Semitic countries in Europe. According to Pew, 46 percent of Spaniards hold negative opinions of Jews, up more than double from the 21 percent of Spaniards with such views in 2005.
Spain is also the only country in Europe where negative views of Jews outweigh positive views; only 37 percent of Spaniards think favorably about Jews. By comparison, 36 percent of Poles have negative views of Jews while 50 percent have positive views; in Germany, 25 percent negative versus 64 percent positive; in France, 20 percent negative versus 79 percent positive; and in Britain, 9 percent positive versus 73 percent favorable. (According to Pew, 77 percent of Americans have favorable views toward Jews, compared with 7 percent unfavorable.)
Pew’s latest research about Spanish anti-Semitism corroborates the findings of other, similar surveys. For example, a report about European anti-Semitism published by the New York-based Anti-Defamation League says that 54 percent of Spaniards believe that “Jews have too much power in international markets.” And 51 percent of Spaniards believe that “Jews are more loyal to Israel than to this country.”
The survey data on Spanish judeophobia raises many questions, including one that seems never to have been asked: How many contemporary Spaniards have actually ever met a Jew? Not very many, it would appear. In fact, Spain today has one of the smallest Jewish communities in Europe; the country has only 12,000 Jews out of a total Spanish population of 42 million, which works out to less than 0.05 percent.
By contrast, in France, which with 500,000 Jews has the third largest Jewish population in the world (after Israel and the United States), attitudes towards Jews are relatively positive when compared with those in Spain. (Of course, it is entirely possible that Spaniards are just being more honest than other Europeans about their genuine feelings towards Jews, thereby skewing the statistics and masking the true extent of the problem on other parts of the continent. After all, there are good reasons why more than one quarter of French Jews want to leave France.)
So what explains the dramatic increase in Spanish anti-Semitism since 2005, especially considering that the only exposure most Spaniards have ever had to Jews is through television?
Pew, in a politically correct sleight-of-hand, says the blame lies with “those who place themselves near the right end of the political spectrum.” But most professional observers of contemporary Spanish politics lay the blame squarely with Socialist Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, who took office in 2004, and since then has managed to drive Spanish-Israeli relations to their worst point since bilateral diplomatic ties were established in 1986.
Zapatero, who makes no secret of his postmodern dislike of Zionism, is well known in Spain for his anti-Israel and anti-Jewish outbursts. At a dinner party the Moncloa Palace (the Spanish White House) in 2005, for example, Zapatero addressed his guests by launching into a tirade of anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist rhetoric that ended with the phrase: “It is understandable that someone might justify the Holocaust.”
Zapatero has also sought to restore Spain’s traditionally strong ties with the Arab world by ingratiating himself with Israel’s enemies. During the Second Lebanon War, for example, Zapatero participated in an anti-Israel rally where he wrapped himself in a Palestinian kaffiyeh (scarf) and gratuitously accused Israel of using “abusive force that does not protect innocent human beings.” Just for good measure, Zapatero then dispatched his foreign minister to Syria, a move the Israeli foreign ministry said proved that the Spanish government was “closer to Hezbollah terrorists than to the Israeli government.”
Zapatero, who refuses to visit Israel (even as the two countries commemorated 20 years of diplomatic ties in 2006), also refers to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a “cancer” that is metastasizing into all the other conflicts in the region. As a disciple of postmodern moral equivalency, Zapatero naturally believes the “cancer” is Israel, not Islamic terrorism.
As if that were not enough, Spanish anti-Semitism is also being stoked by the non-stop anti-Israel rhetoric of Spain’s leftwing intellectual and media elites, most of whom are enthusiastic sycophants of Zapatero and his pro-Arab, pro-Islam worldview. Indeed, Spanish radio, television and print media, much of which is directly or indirectly controlled by the Socialist government, is notoriously biased against Israel. As most Spaniards do not speak foreign languages, they have little or no access to alternative sources of information, which goes a long way toward explaining Spanish attitudes towards Jews, especially of the Israeli variety.
Add to this the Spanish media’s bizarre obsession with neo-conservatism, which in Spain has become a pejorative term denoting a conspiracy to promote Jewish domination of the world. Many ordinary Spaniards, who otherwise show little interest in foreign affairs, seem to have deep-seated opinions about those Jews Frum, Kristol, Pearle, Podhertz and Wolfowitz, et al.
Zapatero and his cabinet ministers are now playing the neocon card to explain to the Spanish public why the Spanish economy is in a freefall. Although analysts had warned for many years that the Spanish housing bubble was unsustainable, Zapatero said those fears were overblown. But now the bubble has burst and Spain’s unemployment rate is skyrocketing to the highest levels in Europe. Nearly three million Spaniards are now without work and some analysts expect that number to double by 2010 to reach a staggering 18 percent jobless rate. Spanish voters are looking for someone to blame.
Zapatero, in a classic display of hands-on economic crisis management, says the blame for Spain’s problems lies with “the neo-conservative model based on capitalism without borders nor limits nor ethics.” Translated into regular English, that’s postmodern Zapatero-speak for “the Jews are to blame.”
But just as Spaniards get smug about their perceived racial superiority, along comes a new study which implies that many Spanish anti-Semites actually have Jewish blood. An examination of the genetic signatures of the Spanish population shows that 20 percent of contemporary Spaniards have Jewish origins. As it turns out, far more Jews than previously thought did not comply with the order to leave Spain back in 1492 and simply converted to Catholicism instead.
Many of those conversos tried to blend in by adopting surnames that indicated trades or professions. One such Sephardic name is Zapatero, which means shoemaker.
This article was first published by Pajama’s Media on December 29, 2008
Soeren Kern is Senior Fellow for Transatlantic Relations at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group