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November 26, 2014 2:10 am

Don’t Fall Into Spain’s Jew Trap

avatar by Boaz Vilallonga

Opinion

A statue of Maimonides at the synagogue in the Juderia in Córdoba, Spain. Photo: Irvina Lew.

The Spanish parliament recently approved a resolution recognizing a Palestinian State by an overwhelming majority, and with heated debates regarding Israeli “occupation.” The expedited treatment that this resolution received contrasts with the treatment expected for the bill on Spanish citizenship for Sephardi Jews, which should be receiving its final approval at the end of this year.

The bill for the naturalization of Sephardi Jews has been received with great enthusiasm. The historic reparation for the expulsion of the Jews in 1492 is much welcomed by the Jewish community in Spain, which has officially endorsed and praised the new bill. Spanish embassies all over the world, especially in Israel and Brazil, have received more than 40,000 applications for naturalization. Spanish citizenship opens the door to a passport from the European Union, with all its rights. But the law was only approved by the Spanish Council of Ministers last June, and it has now to be submitted to the Spanish parliament.

The new bill, however, presents dubious, even dangerous, features.

The Spanish Government does not expect to amend historical injustices and crimes against Sephardi Jews. Its intentions are directed toward building a favorable opinion among international Jewry. This purpose notwithstanding, the practical goal of the Spanish government is to attract new immigrants with high income and new resources for a nation hit by the economic crisis. For this reason, the Spanish government has tailored a bill in which the requirements for naturalization may include Ashkenazi Jews who possess knowledge of Spanish culture and language.

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The new bill requires a Spanish-language test. This test is going to be similar to other tests required for naturalization. One may ask, however: if the new bill represents a historic restitution for the crimes committed in the past, why did the Spanish government have to set up requirements? The language requirement has been strategically designed to interfere with the restitutive nature of the bill. In the end, the Spanish reparation is a poisoned gift that does not treat Sephardi Jews justly.

Indeed, the bill is an example of how restitution to the descendants of Spanish Jews can turn into discrimination against the Jews through the identity wars that plague Spanish politics. In article 1.1, section C, the new bill stipulates as a requirement to citizenship that applicants provide a marriage certificate – ketubah – according to the Castilian traditions. Castilian traditions, however, are not the only Jewish traditions preserved among Sephardi Jews. Spain is an aggregate of historical kingdoms and medieval nations, which include Castile, Aragon and Andalusia. Catalan-Aragonese Jews had different Jewish traditions, and they founded separate communities after the expulsion in 1492. An analogous situation applies to Andalusian Jews, who were under Muslim rule in Southern Spain until the fifteenth century.

The fact that the bill requires a minimum knowledge of the Spanish language also represents a form of discrimination. But, which Spanish language? Castilian, Catalan, Basque, or Galician? In general, Spanish law assumes that the Spanish language is Castilian – the only Spanish language with official recognition at the national level.

The Spanish press has repeatedly stated that Jews have great interest in the bill in order to correct a historic discrimination. In fact, as most of the news on this topic demonstrates, prospective applicants have shown a practical interest in Spanish citizenship. Many Brazilians with Jewish origins as well as Israeli citizens see an opportunity to access the benefits of EU citizenship and its passport, with full working rights within the European Union. Sephardi Jews have, however, not shown an interest in moving back to Spain, a country with strong cultural anti-Semitism.

If Spain had a real interest in restituting the descendants of its historic discrimination, this country would have prepared an inclusive bill, covering not only the Jews, but also the historic Spanish Muslim population, known as the Moriscos or Andalusians, who were expelled in the early seventeenth century.

The Spanish government has clearly articulated why the Jews alone were included in the bill. Juan Bravo, the Spanish Vice-Secretary of Justice, stated this summer: “[The Jews] have preserved the identity traits that recall their Spanish condition; the Moriscos were assimilated into their new cultures after the expulsion. The Moriscos disappeared as a community with a common origin. The new bill is rewarding not the expulsion itself, but the ability to preserve links with Spain and Spanish culture.”

This statement greatly clarifies Spain’s intentions: the new bill is a reward for Sephardi Jews who maintained a hypothetical Spanish culture after the expulsion in 1492. The bill has no restitutive character. There is no reparation, neither for the Jews, nor the Moriscos: the bill rewards Sephardi Jews because they preserved gentile cultural traits in their exile. According to the mentality of the Spanish government, a historic reparation needs to be useful for the sake of national identity – the most important Spanish obsession. The Moriscos still represent a menace to Spanish identity. The Muslims are viewed as fearless invaders who conquered the territory in 711 that Spain constitutes today.

The Jews, in contrast, do not represent a real menace to Spanish identity, even after four centuries of Inquisition, evil representations of the perfidious Jew, and paranoid processes of limpieza de sangre (purity of blood). Anti-Semitism still pervades Spanish society and culture, and anti-Zionism fuels new anti-Semitic demonstrations, as in other European countries. Nonetheless, the affluence of the Jew sets new, practical solutions to self-serving restitution.

Sephardi Jews, as well as Jews in general, must lose the fear of opposing insincere legal restitutions. The bill provides shameful rewards to Jews for preserving gentile cultures that may serve Spain’s nationalistic agendas. Spain is rife with anti-Semitism, and its political institutions threaten Israel’s existence. This is the Spanish trap for the Jew.

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