Spain has recently attempted to woo back the descendants of Jews who were expelled from the country in 1492. The offer of citizenship to those Sephardi Jews who can’t trace their ancestry back to the exile from the Iberian peninsula is primarily motivated by a desire to attract both capital and tourism to a country that is in dire economic straits. But if any Jews are tempted to take Madrid up on its offer, and apparently some may be, they should take into consideration the fact that Spain ranked third in the list of most anti-Semitic countries in Europe in the survey of international opinion published last week by the Anti-Defamation League.
Anyone who doubted the accuracy or the methods employed by the ADL in compiling its poll, especially with regard to Spain, ought to have second thoughts today. The reaction of Spaniards to the defeat of the Real Madrid basketball team at the hands of the Maccabi Tel Aviv team in the European championship game on Sunday is deeply troubling to the small Jewish community in that country. But the rash of anti-Semitic statements, especially on Twitter, in reaction to the victory of the Israeli squad shouldn’t be dismissed as only the sour reaction of supporters of a losing sports team. That the outcome of a basketball game would lead so many to resort to anti-Semitic language is not an accident or people just blowing off steam. The willingness to invoke traditional stereotypes of Jew-hatred as well as echoes of the Holocaust under these circumstances illustrates not only how deeply entrenched such attitudes are in European culture but the way Israel has become a stand-in for traditional anti-Semitism.
The fact that so many Spaniards adopt anti-Semitic attitudes is remarkable not only because of their nation’s desire to attract Jews and to honor the lost heritage of the Jewish communities that were destroyed by the expulsion and the Inquisition. It must be understood that most Spaniards have had little or no contact with Jews. Yet many Spaniards seem to have retained the remnants of the vicious anti-Semitic attitudes that led to the expulsion even all these centuries later. As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s late father wrote in his definitive history of the Inquisition, the persecution of the many Jews who converted and remained in Spain after 1492 was not so much a function of religious prejudice as it was a form of racism that would lay the foundation for future European horrors.
Just as important, this latest outbreak is a reminder that for many Europeans, expressing prejudice against Israel, even in the crudest manner possible that invokes memories of the Holocaust, has become legitimized by the campaign of demonization of the Jewish state that has been conducted by intellectuals and other elites. A Europe in which Israel is falsely accused of being a rerun of Nazi Germany is one in which anti-Semitism is starting to migrate from the margins of society in the wake of 1945 to the contemporary mainstream.
While I doubt that efforts by Spanish Jews to sue those who insulted them and Israel on Twitter will do much good, they deserve credit for not taking this hate lying down. While it would be hoped that the spectacle of an Israeli team winning a basketball game against Europe’s best would help to convince Spaniards and others that it is a normal country that should be accorded the same respect or indifference given other nations, that is probably too much to hope for. Anti-Semitism, including its anti-Zionist variety, is not really about anything the Jews do but the function of the sick minds of the anti-Semites. But in Europe today, it is becoming all too typical for any event involving Israel, be it good or bad, to serve as an excuse for hate.