While preparing to give a lecture in Bilbao recently, I was surprised to see headlines declaring Spain to be one of Europe’s most anti-Semitic countries.
The headlines were based on the findings of a report, published in late March, by the Observatory on Anti-Semitism in Madrid, an office run by the Spanish Federation of Jewish Communities. Reading the report, it became apparent that the observatory had deliberately conflated criticism of the state of Israel with a general hostility to Jews.
The observatory stated that it was notified of 28 incidents of anti-Semitic behaviour during 2010. Nine of these incidents were taken out of consideration as they either did not occur on Spanish soil or because they were found not to be anti-Semitic in nature. Some of the remaining 19 incidents were certainly deplorable. They involved verbal or written threats to Jews, the smearing of graffiti – including a swastika – near synagogues and Jewish cultural centres, and the posting of neo-Nazi blogs on the internet.
But the observatory also gave some spurious examples. These included a decision by organisers of the Gay Pride parade in Madrid that a float from Tel Aviv shouldn’t be allowed to participate following Israel’s attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla in May last year. Other examples given were a column for El Mundo newspaper by the writer António Gala and a cartoon by the artist El Roto. Both the column and the cartoon sought to compare how Israel treats the Palestinians and how the Nazis treated Jews during the Second World War.
The observatory uses a “3 D” test when assessing if incidents qualify as anti-Semitic. The brainchild of Natan Sharansky, a former Israeli government minister, this test identifies people as anti-Semitic if they resort to (1) demonization; (2) double standards or (3) deligitimization. According to Sharansky, demonization can involve likening the state of Israel to Nazi Germany, double standards can involve criticising Israel in a way that one does not criticise other countries and deligitimization can involve questioning the rights of Jews to have their own state.
Sharansky’s definition has little to do with defending ordinary Jews from racist attack and everything to do with shielding the state of Israel from scrutiny. The “double standards” criterion exposes his test to be particularly weak as Israel is treated far more lightly by governments in North America and Europe, as well as the mainstream media, than other serial abusers of human rights. At the behest of Western powers, the United Nations Security Council recently imposed a no-fly zone over Libya. Yet no Western government has advocated a no-fly zone over Gaza.
This was not the first time that threadbare evidence was used to accuse the Spanish public of hating Jews. In September 2009, the Anti-Defamation League, a Zionist lobby group in New York, published a “study” on Spain. It had a section titled “anti-Semitism at anti-Israel rallies”. Ludicrously, this alleged that protesters holding banners saying “Gaza = Auschwitz” and “Stop the Genocide” were guilty of anti-Semitism.
It is telling that the ADL paper did not quote the definition of genocide endorsed by the UN in 1948. Largely the work of the lawyer Raphael Lemkin, a Polish Jew who fled to the United States during the Holocaust, the definition refers to crimes designed to destroy a national or ethnic group in whole or in part by inflicting serious physical or psychological harm on that group. Given the suffering inflicted on Palestinians by Israel, the conclusion that Palestinians are victims of genocide appears inescapable. Research by the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, for example, indicates that more than two-thirds of Gazans have displayed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder over the past few years.
There is a perception among some Israelis that Spain even has an anti-Semitic government. When Trinidad Jiménez, the Spanish foreign minister, visited Hebron in the West Bank during February, a group of Israeli settlers followed her through the streets shouting “go home anti-Semite”. Speculation that Spain will soon recognise a Palestinian state, coupled with occasional gestures of solidarity towards Palestinians from official Madrid – Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero has been photographed sporting a keffiyeh – have created an impression that its ruling elite has a deep-rooted loathing of Israel. Historic anti-Semitism – Jews were expelled from Spain 500 years ago – is undoubtedly another factor behind that impression.
Yet the notion that Spain’s government is more favourably disposed to the Palestinians, than to the state of Israel, falls apart under scrutiny.
Spain was under Francisco Franco’s dictatorship when Israel was founded in 1948 and it wasn’t until 1986 – more than a decade after Franco’s death – that the two countries established diplomatic relations. To commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of that relationship, the Israeli President Shimon Peres recently hosted a visit from Crown Prince Felipe and his wife Princess Letizia. The Jerusalem Post marked the occasion by noting that the volume of trade between Israel and Spain was worth about €1.7 billion last year. Much emphasis was placed on the potential for growth in scientific and technological cooperation between Spain and Israel during the visit.
The Spanish authorities have attempted to put a positive spin on such cooperation, hinting that most of it is of a civilian nature. Around the time of Operation Cast Lead – Israel’s all-out attack on Gaza in 2008 and 2009 – Zapatero insisted that Spanish arms sales to Israel were “absolutely insignificant”.
A November 2009 study by Nova, a Barcelona group promoting non-violence, exposed Zapatero’s assurance as duplicitous. Official data stating that Spain sold more than €32 million worth of weapons to Israel between 1995 and 2008 did not tell the whole story, according to the study. Those figures do not taken into account how Indra, a leading Spanish arms manufacturer, supplies components to the F-16 fighter jets produced by Lockheed Martin. Once completed, those warplanes – used extensively in Operation Cast Lead and Israel’s 2006 war against Lebanon – are exported from the US to Israel.
Indra brags on its website of how it has been acclaimed as one of the world’s most ethical companies by a “think tank” called the Ethisphere Institute. Among the other firms viewed as highly ethical by Ethisphere were Caterpillar and CRH, which have supplied bulldozers for the destruction of Palestinian homes (and the murder of American Palestine solidarity activist Rachel Corrie) and cement used to build Israel’s annexation wall in the West Bank respectively.
When a pregnant Carme Chacón became Spain’s first-ever female defence minister in 2008, Time magazine mused that by appointing her Zapatero may be “making a kinder, gentler statement about the armed forces”. Time was wide of the mark. Chacón has enjoyed a cordial relationship with her Israeli counterpart Ehud Barak, untroubled by his long track record of oppressing Palestinians (as both a military and political leader). Within less than two years of Chacón’s appointment, Spain had signed an agreement paving the way for far-reaching military cooperation with Israel, with a particular focus on the development of weapons for future wars. The accord followed several years, in which the Spanish army has been an important customer for Israel’s burgeoning arms industry. Israel Aerospace Industries, for example, is scheduled to deliver a consignment of pilotless drones – or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – to Spain in 2012. Known as Herons, these remote-controlled killing machines were “battle-tested” by Israel during Operation Cast Lead. At least 87 civilians died from Israeli drone attacks in that three-week offensive, investigations by human rights monitors found. The Spanish forces taking part in NATO’s war in Afghanistan have Israeli drones in their arsenal, too.
Although there was widespread public opposition in Spain to Cast Lead, the elite has not had any qualms about bolstering its ties with Israel. Alejandro Pozo, author of the Nova report, said “it is a scandal” that in 2009, Spain authorised arms sales €2.8 million to Spain, most of them in the categories of bombs, torpedoes, missiles and rockets. This was in addition to the almost €1.2 million worth of “dual-use” exports (which have both civilian and military applications) approved by Spain to Israel that year. Moreover, it was separate from the €3.7 million in weapons actually delivered from Spanish firms to Israel in 2009 (the relevant licenses for those sales had been approved before Cast Lead).
Spain has proven so accommodating to Israel lately that it has even allowed Israel shape its human rights legislation. Since 1985, Spain had an important law on its statute books relating to universal jurisdiction, the principle under which crimes against humanity could be tried in Spanish courts irrespective of where they were committed. The law had been invoked to issue an arrest warrant against the Chilean tyrant Augusto Pinochet and to prosecute an ex-navy officer involved in Argentina’s “dirty war” of the 1970s and 1980s.
Yet when it was used by Palestinian human rights campaigners in an effort to hold Israel to account for a 2002 operation in which 14 civilians were killed, Spain’s then foreign minister Miguel Angel Moratinos promised his Israeli equivalent Tzipi Livni in early 2009 that the law would be watered down. Moratinos kept his word: later in 2009, a bill restricting universal jurisdiction to cases with a clear Spanish link was approved by both houses in the Spanish parliament.
With the ruling Socialists faring badly in opinion polls, there is a high probability they will cede power to the centre-right Popular Party after parliamentary elections slated for next year. The Popular Party is likely to be even more hawkish in its support for Israel, judging by the antics of its former leader José María Aznar, who was prime minister from 1996 to 2004. On the day Israel attacked the Gaza Freedom Flotilla in May last year, Aznar presided over the inaugural meeting of the Friends of Israel, a grouping of other retired politicians and diplomats, including the one-time Czech president Václav Havel and the American neoconservative John Bolton.
In a speech he gave in New England earlier this month, Aznar argued that even though Israel is located in the Middle East, it is a Western country. It is strategically and morally imperative that the West, therefore, stands up for Israel, he added. “When people are deligitimizing Israel, our roots and the values of pluralism, tolerance, innovation, liberty and human dignity are deligitimized as well,” he said.
It is no coincidence that Aznar is also a director of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. For the kind of baseless propaganda he has been peddling about Israel is worthy of Fox News and other outlets in Murdoch’s media empire. The tragedy is that Aznar’s curriculum vitae allows him to be taken seriously. And even though he is no longer in office, the views he espouses still resonate in Madrid’s corridors of power.
Regardless of what the Zionist lobby may claim, Israel can count Spain as a loyal customer of its arms industry. The Madrid government’s occasional gestures of sympathy towards the Palestinians amount to little more than posturing and are worthy only of contempt.
·First published by The Electronic Intifada (www.electronicintifada.net), 28 April 2011