Israel's military operation in the Gaza Strip is drawing attention, once again, to the persistent scourge of anti-Semitism in Spain.
As in many other European countries, Spanish media coverage of the conflict has been decidedly biased against Israel. Print and broadcast media from across the political spectrum have portrayed Israel as the aggressor, and have made scant effort to report that the current conflict was prompted by rocket attacks from Hamas-controlled Gaza that escalated even before Hamas-affiliated militants kidnapped and murdered three Jewish teenagers in June.
Beyond the biased reporting, which is actually nothing new, some of the anti-Israel rhetoric in Spain has become so virulent that it has plainly crossed the line into unabashed anti-Semitism, observers say.
A glaring example involves the center-right El Mundo, the second-largest circulation newspaper in Spain, which on June 24 published a blatantly anti-Semitic op-ed article that decries the war in Gaza and seeks to justify the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries on the basis that they "were not made to coexist with others."
The article—entitled, "The Chosen Ones?"—was written by Antonio Gala, an award-winning octogenarian novelist and playwright whose deep-seated disdain for Israel and the Jewish people is self-evident. Gala writes:
"The Hebrew people, tested since antiquity by ups and downs and the intimate dealings with their God, could have done much good for humanity: due to their prudence, their wisdom and endurance, their apparent religious fidelity and their proven administration of money.
"What is happening is that suddenly humanity is sick and tired of them: a phenomenon that has been repeated throughout their history, as if they were not made to coexist with others.
"This is how it is and will remain, as it always has been. No matter what the Jews call their civil or military leaders, they end up creating problems for everyone: it is ancient history. Now you must suffer their abuses in Gaza, and review it all with an apparent injustice. They are never clear.
"They ask for what was given to them and they accepted; but with new means, dimensions and benefits, with new pressure from a power situated elsewhere in the world and an invisible community of blood. It is normal that they manage to screw the weakest or those who today enjoy their ancient lands. It is always the same. It's not strange that they have been so frequently expelled. What is surprising, is that they persist. Either they are not good, or someone is poisoning them. I am not a racist."
This is not the first time El Mundo—a newspaper close to the ruling center-right Popular Party—has published one of Gala's anti-Semitic screeds.
In a column published by El Mundo in December 2012, Gala accused Israel of "making a living out of post-World War II guilt." In another column published in June 2012, Gala said the Jews have no one to blame but themselves for the persecution they suffered in medieval Spain.
In a column published by El Mundo in September 2011, Gala wrote that Israelis are "bloodthirsty" and are themselves to blame for the "antipathy that the Jew awakens in the non-Jew." In another column published in February 2009, Gala wrote that "Jewish greed" is the reason why Jews have been persecuted throughout history. He added:
"Zionism has given the wrong result: it has increased greed and a desire for more territory, a disregard for the lives and possessions of other people, and an increase in terrorism... the Jews do not want to coexist.
It remains unclear why El Mundo continues to publish Gala's anti-Semitic rants. Presumably, the newspaper's editors believe that anti-Semitism is good for business.
The Jewish Community of Madrid has now said enough is enough. On July 29 it filed a lawsuit against Gala for violating a Spanish law prohibiting anti-Semitic hate speech.
To be sure, the newspaper's anti-Israel bias has not been limited to the op-ed pages. On July 21, for example, El Mundo published an essay entitled, "From the Nazi to the Zionist Holocaust," in which Najib Abu-Warda, a Palestinian professor of international relations at the Complutense University of Madrid, accuses Israel of "committing crimes of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, aggression and state-sponsored terrorism."
The article, which El Mundo describes as an "analysis," is laced with Palestinian historical revisionism that repeatedly denies the legitimacy of the State of Israel. In a barefaced lie, for example, Abu-Warda asserts that a Palestinian state was actually in existence 100 years ago, before it was occupied by the British after World War I, and later partitioned by the United Nations in order to create a Jewish state "on top of part of Palestine."
In fact, Palestine has never existed as an autonomous state, nor has there ever been a distinct "Palestinian" culture or language. In 1977, the Dutch newspaper Trouw published an interview with Palestine Liberation Organization official Zuheir Mohsen, who admitted:
"The Palestinian people do not exist. The creation of a Palestinian state is only a means for continuing our struggle against the State of Israel for our Arab unity. In reality, today there is no difference between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese. Only for political and tactical reasons do we speak today about the existence of a Palestinian people, since Arab national interests demand that we posit the existence of a distinct 'Palestinian people' to oppose Zionism."
Abu-Warda ends his article with a threat against Israel:
"Today, 70 years after the Nazi genocide against the Jews, Israel is committing war crimes and genocide in Palestine.... The Zionist government forgets that the greater the attack, the greater the reaction, and that the Palestinian people cling to the right to defend against aggression, occupation and genocide. It is only a matter of time."
To its discredit, El Mundo has made no effort to refute Abu-Warda's falsehoods by pointing out that Hamas has deliberately been using its own citizens as human shields, placing rockets and explosives in or near schools and mosques, and using a hospital as a command center.
Meanwhile, Spanish actor Javier Bardem accused Israel of committing "genocide" against the Palestinian people. In an open letter that was published by El Mundo on July 25, Bardem wrote:
"In the horror happening right now in Gaza there is NO place for distance or neutrality. It is a way of occupation and extermination waged against a people with no means, confined in a minimum territory, with no water, and where hospitals, ambulances and children are targets and presumed to be terrorists. It's hard to understand and impossible to justify."
Bardem denied that he was anti-Semitic by noting that he has many Jewish friends and that his child was born at a Jewish hospital in Los Angeles.
A subsequent open letter signed by more than 100 Spanish actors who represent the vanguard of Spain's ideological left, condemned Israeli "genocide" against the "civilian population of Palestine."
According to Spanish analyst Ángel Mas, the frivolous accusations of Israeli genocide are a reflection of the Spanish left's deep-seated anti-Semitism disguised as legitimate criticism of Israel. In an op-ed article entitled, "The Delegitimizers of Israel," Mas writes:
"It is inevitable. When certain people open an article by announcing that they have many Jewish friends, what will follow is a virulent, disproportionate and sectarian attack against the State of Israel.
"Javier Bardem has done nothing new by using this trick in his recent letter about Gaza. It is in the manual of the delegitimizers of the only Jewish state to make reference to Jewish friends (not named) who are equally horrified by the actions of a diabolical state that does not represent them.
"Bardem wants to show that criticizing Israel is not anti-Jewish, since some Jews also criticize Israel…. In reality, Bardem has a long history of delegitimizing, demonizing, dehumanizing and using double standards in his criticism of Israel. These four Ds today denote a politically correct way to express hatred for Jews disguised as ferocious criticism of Israel.
"It is possible legitimately to criticize Israel. But it smells fishy when all of the blame is attributed to Israel, without even mentioning the small detail that a terrorist and jihadist group that rules Gaza has infringed on every conceivable humanitarian principle, by using civilians as human shields, and launching missiles from apartment blocks, while their leaders are living comfortable in Qatar, guests of a sheik.
"It is not difficult to unmask an anti-Semite: someone who frivolously abuses the term "genocide," a word that has such profound significance for the Jewish people."
Elsewhere in Spain, a Roman Catholic religious festival in honor of the Apostle James in the Spanish city of Ceuta on July 25 was hijacked by activists protesting the "extermination of the Palestinian people." A video of the demonstration, which was held in front of the only synagogue in Ceuta, and was attended by dozens of local officials, shows a local Muslim politician shouting into a megaphone:
"Jews for thousands of years have wanted to exterminate... every person on the face of the earth other than Jews. In the Torah the Jews say they are the chosen people. I swear to God that they are going to fear us until the Day of Judgment. Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar! [Allah is greater]."
An anti-Semitic demonstration in Ceuta, Spain, on July 25. (Image source: Libertad Digital YouTube screenshot)
On July 24, SOS Gaza, a coalition of more than 40 Spanish pro-Palestinian NGOs, organized a protest in front of the Israeli embassy in Madrid. Protestors held banners condemning Israeli "genocide," "war crimes," and "super terror." One banner read: "You are making Hitler look like a saint." A protest organizer told Spanish media that Israel is once again committing war crimes, which "has always been linked to the history of Israel since the creation of their state."
On July 23, the United Left (IU), a coalition of far left political parties, called on the Spanish government to expel the Israeli ambassador to Spain and to suspend diplomatic relations with Israel.
Also on July 23, a coalition of Spanish feminist organizations called on the Spanish government to isolate the "Zionist government" through an economic boycott because of the "planned genocide that Israel has been carrying out for more than sixty years against the Palestinian people."
The statement added: "We cannot remain indifferent and silent, as if such events did not concern Spanish women, feminists and any other honorable association."
On July 16, pro-Palestinian activists called on the organizers of the Vitoria Jazz Festival, an annual jazz festival held in the Basque Country, to prevent the Israeli singer Noa from performing at the event. Her performance went ahead as planned, but was interrupted by shouts of "Israeli genocide" and "Free Palestine."
Spanish activists often claim that they are not anti-Semitic, just critical of Israeli policies. In practice, however, they are obsessed with Israel and the Jews, especially if one considers that there has been virtually no public outcry whatsoever in Spain over the deaths of more than 160,000 people during three years of fighting in Syria; the decimation of ancient Christian communities at the hands of Islamists in Iraq; the kidnapping of 300 girls by Islamists in Nigeria; or the downing of a civilian passenger plane in Ukraine.
In an essay in the Basque newspaper Diario Vasco, commentator Alberto Moyano reflects on Spanish society's "perplexing moral inconsistency" when it comes to Israel:
"Of course, not all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitism. But there is a 'political class,' and another 'ethics caste,' which operates strictly according to ideological criteria, with à la carte ethics, which appear and disappear in order to unleash outrage whenever convenient.
"From the lesser to the greater, one is surprised by the frivolity of those who, on the one hand, claim that the Basque conflict is very complex, that outsiders cannot possibly understand it, and that in any case, you have to listen to all the parties involved, and then turn around and deal with the Middle East conflict in batches of 140 characters linked to grisly images which are often rescued from archives.
"There is no territory more occupied than the body of a Palestinian woman, or a strip narrower than the female spirit severed by the violent imposition of the superstitions of Allah and the followers of Mohammed. We had better not even mention the situation of Palestinian homosexuals. This selective outrage by top progressives when it involves Israel is indeed anti-Semitism."
The depth of anti-Semitism in Spanish society was brought to the fore in May 2014, after nearly 18,000 people posted comments on Twitter using profane and anti-Semitic hashtags after Maccabi Tel Aviv defeated Real Madrid in the final of Europe's main basketball tournament.
Spanish police specializing in hate crimes launched a formal investigation but said they were able to identify only five Twitter users (the rest were apparently anonymous). Some of the more hateful tweets included:
"We've been defeated by bloody Jews. Hitler would not have allowed this to happen."
"Sh*tty Jews. You should all be thrown in the ovens."
"Jewish sons of b*tches. The ovens of Auschwitz your home. Syria bomb Israel."
"Now I understand Hitler and his hatred for the Jews."
"Maccabi needs to take a shower after the game. But in the gas chamber, I hope."
Maccabi Tel Aviv said that while it had dealt with anti-Semitism while playing in Spain in the past, "nothing like this has ever been experienced."
Meanwhile, opinion polls consistently show that Spain is one of the most anti-Semitic countries in Europe.
A May 2014 survey by the Anti-Defamation League places Spain as the third most anti-Semitic country in Europe, behind Greece and France. Separately, the latest "Report on Anti-Semitism in Spain," published in May 2013, shows a steep jump in anti-Semitic attacks in Spain.
The document records anti-Semitic attacks on persons and on property, anti-Semitism in the Spanish media and on the Internet, efforts to trivialize the Jewish Holocaust, dissemination of anti-Semitic literature, as well as anti-Semitism in public institutions.
According to a poll commissioned by the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 58.4% of Spaniards believe that "the Jews are powerful because they control the economy and the mass media." This number reaches 62.2% among university students and 70.5% among those who are "interested in politics." More than 60% of Spanish university students say they do not want Jewish classmates. "These numbers are as surprising as they are worrying: the most anti-Semitic people are supposedly the most educated and well-informed," the report says.
The poll also shows that more than one-third (34.6%) of Spanish people have an unfavorable or completely unfavorable opinion of Jewish people. But as in other European countries, anti-Semitism is more prevalent on the political left than it is on the political right. For example, 34% of those on the far right say they are hostile to Jews, while 37.7% of those on the center-left are hostile to Jews. And 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 recognize themselves as having "antipathy for the Jewish people," only 17% says this is due to the "conflict in the Middle East." Nearly 30% of those surveyed say their dislike of Jews has to do with "their religion," "their customs," and "their way of life." Nearly 20% of Spaniards say they dislike Jews although they do not know why.
The survey data on Spanish anti-Semitism raises many questions, including one that seems never to have been asked: How many 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 around 40,000 Jews out of a total Spanish population of 47 million, which works out to less than 0.08 percent.
Reflecting on the sad state of affairs in contemporary Spain, the Spanish Jewish author Jacobo Israel Garzón, writes:
"Over many years I have observed that every time there is a conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, there is a spontaneous eruption of outcry in the Spanish media…. The clamor from this group of supposed intellectuals has nothing to do with their love for Muslims or Arabs. They feel no special sympathy toward them….
"What we have here is something far more simple: hatred of Jews. Some say Jews have lots of money and lots of power, but in our country there is not a single Jewish banker, no Jewish politician of note, no Jewish military official of high rank. There are no powerful Jews in Spain. No, Jewish power cannot be the cause of anti-Semitism in Spain....
"As I reflect on the anti-Jewish articles that we have been reading in the Spanish newspapers of late, I must conclude that they are not the product of unconscious ignorance, but rather the conscious manifestation of hatred against the Jew.
"Imagine my disappointment and sadness. I have lived among Spaniards for more than seventy years. I attended grade school and college in Spain, and I have worked here all of my life. Spanish is my language and Spain is my country. And now as I reflect back on all those years, I have to ask myself what the German Jew could have done during the 1930s in Germany? How could I not have realized that so many of my fellow countrymen hate me, not for what I have done, but for who I am? How could I have been so blind?
"When I see that a national newspaper is capable of publishing two articles in the same week that blame the expulsion of the Jews during centuries past on the poison that we carry within ourselves, it generates not only anger. It also generates deep disappointment and sadness that I have lived all my life in a society where many people hate me for who I am."
Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute. He is also Senior Fellow for European Politics at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter.