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Proposed Knesset Law Would Create Memorial Day for Victims of the Spanish Inquisition

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

Galileo before the Inquisition by Joseph-Nicolas Robert-Fleury, 1847. Photo: Wikimedia.

A new law proposed to the Israeli Knesset would create an official memorial day for the victims of the Inquisition.

Created by the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages to root out heresy, the Inquisition brutally persecuted Spanish Jews who had been forcibly converted to Christianity but continued to practice Judaism in secret, becoming known in Hebrew as Anusim (forced ones).

The law was proposed by Member of Knesset Michal Cotler-Wunsh and would create a Day to Commemorate the Victims of the Inquisition, which would be held on November 1, the date the Spanish Inquisition was formally established in 1478. Co-signatories to the bill include Knesset members from most of Israel’s major parties, including the governing Likud party.

The day will be marked with educational activities that will teach the history of the Spanish crypto-Jews, as well as the mass expulsion of Jews from Spain and Portugal. Knesset discussions of the issue will also be held.

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In addition, the Minister of Diaspora Affairs will host an official state ceremony to mark the occasion.

Cotler-Wunsh said of the proposed law, “This bill will create a day of memory and reminder in the Knesset for us to recognize this tragic event in our collective history and learn from it, in order to ensure ‘never again’ in a world of ‘again and again.’”

“It also provides us with an opportunity to connect with the descendants of those affected by the Spanish Inquisition, in Israel and in the diaspora, based on our shared history and values,” she added.

David Hatchwell, President of the Fundación Hispanojudía (Hispanic-Jewish Foundation), which promotes ties between Jews and the Hispanic world, said, “The Spanish-speaking world, whether in Spain or in Latin America, is gaining a greater understanding of its common roots, culture, and traditions with the Jewish people.”

“The Inquisition was a dark chapter for humanity and in both of our peoples’ history,” he added. “It should be remembered as pure religious fanaticism and intolerance.”

“Nevertheless, we should also use these historic events to chart a more positive future between the Spanish-speaking world and the Jewish people based on respecting diversity emulating the modern State of Israel,” he said.

Ashley Perry, who leads the organization Reconectar and helped author the bill, commented, “There are tens, if not hundreds, of millions of people around the world who have both Jewish and Hispanic ancestry, and the Inquisition played a major role in the disconnection of our peoples.”

“This law is a vital recognition of a reign of terror which still has such a great effect on so many people even today, many without knowing,” he said. “This Day of Commemoration will hopefully not just be for Israelis, or even just for Jews, but for all those whose ancestors were hunted, tortured or prosecuted by the Inquisition.”

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