It was agonizing being a Jew in Spain when Israel invaded Lebanon, when it attacked Gaza and when it shot the Turkish boat. I was against those three acts, as I felt that Israel was over reacting and responding with much more violence than it had received. Still I had a feeling that the tremendous anger of many in Spain was too targeted towards Israel and Jews in general, that it had an antisemitic undertone.

Now that I see how Spain doesn’t react in any comparable way to the massive killings of Syrian civilians by Bashar Al Assad, in a war that has already left over 25K dead, I am coming to the conclusion that I was right, many in Spain are just antisemitic.

It is not that Israel does not commit injustices, it does. And it is estimated that around 1000 people died in the Gaza attack and around 1300 in Lebanon and that is way too many, especially since most were civilians. So I want to make it clear that I opposed those wars.

But the number of casualties in Syria is shocking in comparison and nobody in Spain has done any demonstrating comparable to the massive protests against Israel. Because it was incredible how much Spaniards went to the streets to protest against Israel on each of those three events. I had to hear people call me “genocidal” just because I am Jewish, call all Jews Nazis and other attacks. My children were harassed at school over these incidents as if all Jews were part of them. Still I thought that I had to be understanding because Israel was committing injustices.

But now that I see how little people care about Bashar Al Assad killings I am coming to the conclusion that if Israel kills it’s huge news in Spain, now, if an Arab dictator does commit something that is closer to the definition of genocide however, there are no massive demonstrations in Spain. But if Israel boards a Turkish ship it is front page news and material for huge demonstrations. Not that Spaniards are physically violent because they generally are not, but they are extremely vocal in their dislike of Israel. A Spaniard will say horrible things about Israel and about Jews and it will feel normal. Indeed in Spanish of Spain (not of Latin America) calling somebody Jewish is an insult.

I love Spain but if there is one thing that it is hard in this country is to be Jewish, something that only 1 person in 2000 is. There is tremendous prejudice. Spain is a country in which most have opinions about Jews but most have never met a Jew in person. I wish more went to Israel and then see that while Israel it is clearly a country that has to improve a great deal is is light years ahead of its neighbors.

For the record I have visited Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Syria.

Here’s an article I wrote in Spanish about the challenges of being Jewish in Spain http://www.elmundo.es/elmundo/2008/07/21/lapurezaestaenlamezcla/1216636800.html

Here I emphasize that there is a great deal of cultural prejudice in Spain and it is not at all only a Jewish problem.

Here is the report of the Observatory for Antisemitism in Spain for the year 2011.. And here is their web site.

Here is a survey of Antisemitism in Europe that ranks Spain very poorly.

Follow Martin Varsavsky on Twitter: twitter.com/martinvars

No Comments

Diego on August 26, 2012  · 

Hi Martín,
While I mostly agree on the main jist of your article, I would like to point a few things out for the foreign readers:
– The word for jew – judío – is no more of an insult than, say, muslim – moro. I would argue it is considered less of an insult. However, as in every language, so much depends on the context. It is not that by calling someone jewish you are insulting them (how else would you refer to jewish people?); but rather if you want to insult someone by making a stereotypical reference to their stinginess – for instance – you might call them jew or catalan. This is extremelely common elsewhere as well, and there are plenty of jewish related jokes and comments even in the politically correct anglosaxon countries. Spain is no different in this respect.
– This general feeling of hatred towards the unknown – which is how I would describe it – is a major consequence of the francoist rhetoric that was partially inherited by the left in spain (like so many other things btw) where the Jews are responsible for the pains of Spain. This is changing extremely fast as the younger, more educated and tolerant generations are growing.
– I think you understate the frustration felt by plenty of people towards the arab dictatorships. While there is a small and loud anti-Israel section of society, there is a large resentment towards many of those arab/muslim dictatorships as well. As an example, I will mention the Western Sahara situation, which is one of the few foreign affairs issues that systematically upset spaniards. This is one of the reasons why there is a deep resentment towards the moroccan monarchy which has continously trumpled the saharaui population rights for the last 30-40 years.
– Lastly, semitic is a reference to a group of languages that encompasses both hebrew and arab. It would probably be better to use anti-zionist or just resentment/hate towards jewish people.

Thanks,

Diego

juan on August 26, 2012  · 

The basic idea you describe in your post is “many in Spain are just antisemitic”. However, I think the reasons you give to back that idea are basically fallacious. You say:

A) When Israel attacked other people, there was massive coverage by media in Spain.
B) When arab dictatorships attack other people (you perceive that) there’s less coverage by the media in Spain.
ERGO) People in Spain are antisemitic.

So, this could be an example of secundum quid, a quite common fallacy. I don’t deny that, to some degree, actual antisemitism (and not just ignorant stereotypes like #1 described) is part of society in Spain, just like in other countries. However, basing that idea in your perception of media coverage on events in other countries, is just… Fallacious. I think you should consider the fact that media is conditioned by the ratings, and I think it’s obvious that the issues regarding arab dictatorships/revolutions are a bit burned-out. For example, coverage by media in the beginning of “arab spring” was quite intensive, even more than the coverage of Israel attacks. However, like with all news, coverage has been “deflated” with the time. So, you should not compare the peak coverage of Israel attacks with the present coverage of arab dictatorships. You should compare the peak coverage of both. And, of course, saying that the people in Spain are antisemitic based just on media coverage is wrong considering a logic perspective.

Ouriel Ohayon on August 26, 2012  · 

Martin

This is why I could not stay in Spain any more. I hated the feeling of underlying antisemitism in particular reflected in the media

While I understand you did not support Israel war on lebanon (Hezbollah to be accurate ) I don’t understand why you d have to apologize for it. Your are not Israeli. You are Jewish. This is very different.

The modern form of antisemitism if hating Israel. But being Jewish does not make you Israeli in any way.

You can say you disagree. But that’s all

Martin Varsavsky on August 27, 2012  · 

I love Spain and among the elites with whom I interact it has not been a problem being Jewish. But the media is terribly anti Israel. Moreover it is a widespread belief in Spain that the injustice of Israel is not that Palestine is not yet a nation (which I agree with but equally blame the Palestinians) but that Israel should not exist at all. And that is hard to live with as a Jew so that is why I defend Israel as a nation and run into a lot of debates online over this. And frequently get extremely antisemitic comments or tweets.

Manuel on August 27, 2012  · 

First of all, I think both Israel and Palestine should exist as independent nations. However:

#4 “Moreover it is a widespread belief in Spain that (…) Israel should not exist at all. And that is hard to live with as a Jew”

Why thinking that Israel should not exist is something antisemitic? Let’s suppose someone thinks Israel should not exist because mere historic/political reasons, besides which religion the population has. Is that hating Jews? I am a Spaniard, but I think Gibraltar isn’t part of Spain, only based on historic events. Am I supposed to be anti-Spain? Antisemitism is, as far as I know, hating/discriminating Jews only for the fact they are Jewish. How is this related to the fact that there are people that express negative points of view about Israel? Surely, there are lots of antisemitic people that think Israel should not exist because it’s essentially a Jewish country. But there are also lots of people that criticize, for example, the way Israel was formed in the first place after WWII finished. Or the wars in which Israel expanded it’s frontiers. That’s not hating Jews.

Moreover, lots of people tend to sympathize with the weakest part in a conflict, just because they’re weak, or perceived as weak. In that sense, lots of people, and media, support Palestine and criticize Israel just because the last one is seen as a powerful country killing poor people. If you add the Israel-USA alliance, then I think the anti-imperialism idea is quite evident. Related to this is the fact that said anti-powerful point of view is traditionally defended by left wing media/parties, and you can see that websites like Público (left) strongly oppose Israel and others like Intereconomía (right) are pro-Israel.

Imagine for a moment that population of Israel is 100% atheist, or catholic. The same country, the same politics, the same recent history, just without the Jewish heritage. Does anyone think that 95% of critics regarding present Israel wouldn’t be applied in the same way to that non-Jewish version of Israel described before?

Yes, there’s antisemitism. However, I think that in most cases criticizing Israel is just expressing a political/historic point of view. It has nothing to do with religion. Obviously, in general. There’s always a minority of crazy people.

Juan Leon on August 27, 2012  · 

I don’t discard latent antisemitism in Spain, but I think
that what you observe is shock that a country that is
correctly viewed as advanced and democratic behaves at times like Israel does. Spaniards are not surprised by atrocities committed by dictators of countries they view as less advanced and lacking the rule of law etc. A matter of expectations. Reaction seems similar to their reaction against the US when that country uses naked power or appears to discriminate against is own citizens. I think Spaniards admire both the US and Israel, with atinge of envy, and feel spurned and vindicated when they feel those countries misbehave.

Rafael V on August 29, 2012  · 

As far as I can tell, I studied in a public school and my teachers were clearly antisemitic. Most of public school history teachers are and nobody’s doing anything to prevent this.

Patxi on August 29, 2012  · 

I agree that “There is tremendous prejudice”. As a Spaniard, I only realized after living for two years in Silicon Valley. At one point, I realized that I had many Jewish friends from work and university, and that these were probably the first Jews I’ve ever interacted with directly. A very nice couple invited us to their Rosh Hashanah celebration, we shared many intelectual interests with others, all was nice. So far so good.

Now on one of my visits back home, I was at a big family reunion, and I explained this new group of friends, among many others of my discoveries of living in the US, like the fact that people don’t die on the streets due to lack of health coverage or that I was yet to see a weapon.

Some of the reactions I got were shocking: “Of course you have met them all there, as they control all the key power”, “They get into these top companies and universities through their network of contacts” , “So they allowed you in”, “Right right, they are all working to support each other” and many other loaded stereotypes. As you say, this is mostly rooted in ignorance, none of them knew a jew.

I find fascinating that after WWII, being openly antisemitic is not acceptable. But all these prejudices, which are the foundation of antisemitism, are alive and well in Spain, probably having deep roots from centuries ago. Some of the media cover of Sheldon Adelson’s EuroVegas project openly portrayed him as a capitalist jew which was using the local jewish network to get serious support and circumvent laws.

Finally, with regards to anti-Israel sentiment, I believe it’s very linked with anti-American feeling. America as the big imperial capitalist power has in Israel its sidekick. This is probably a pan-EU feeling.

Martin Varsavsky on August 29, 2012  · 

Patxi welcome to what it feels to be a Jew in Spain. Thanks for your testimonial. It’s tough to be Jewish here and it shouldn’t be. Those prejudices are absurd and above all, hurtful.

Juan Leon on August 29, 2012  · 

Patxi, your family sounds like mine talking about Opus Dei. There is an assumption of corruption and nepotism in power that is prevalent in Spain and is unfortunately justified by our history. The success of minorities in achieving power is always suspect in that context. Is this antisemitism? I don’t see how that conclusion can be reached so easily. My family is not anticlerical let alone anti christian but they still are able to assume favoritism in powerful religious orders.

Patxi on September 3, 2012  · 

@Martin, Spain is not a terrible welcoming place for “the others”. I’m sorry about that part of your experience. I, for one, am very happy to have you Spani and it’s the country’s gain!
.
@Juan Leon, by the book, the definition: “hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic, or racial group “. I’m pretty sure what I heard was hostile towards Jews, thus antisemitism: I know it when I see it.
.
The fact that xenophobia in Spain is directed at many groups (those in power, or Opus Dei in your example), doesn’t preclude antisemitism. Just a different flavor of the hostility towards “the different ones”.

Pra oodyu on September 4, 2012  · 

Before blaming the Spanish media, take a look at yourself and the way you refer to Israel. Agonizing being a Jew?
The reason this whole thing started was Hezbollah’s bombing Israeli cities. I guess when you get punched in the face, you prefer to sit down and wait for the next punch.
Mentioning your visits is the same as someone claiming to be a biologist because he visited a zoo.
Finally, a quick solution for your agony – if you are so ashamed of Israel, just stop mentioning your religion.

Juanito on September 11, 2012  · 

I’m soooo tired of listening every jew to cliam that:

1st: they are jews. -OK! Good for you!
2nd: they suffer antisemitism. – C’mon, the average spaniard doesn’t even know that there is a tiny jewish community in Spain. And the elite circles they normally interact with are well educated and not really antisemitic.

It doesn’t really get out anything of continously publicly announcing your religion… believe me. This is like addictions, first time you stop doing something you feel weird, but with time it gets better ;)

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