Police cordon off the area after a van crashed into pedestrians near Las Ramblas avenue in central Barcelona on Aug. 17. Photo Reuters

Following terrorist attack, Barcelona’s chief rabbi says his community is doomed

Commenting on deadly attacks in Catalonia, the chief rabbi of that region in Spain said his community is doomed, partly because of radical Islam and the alleged reluctance of authorities to confront it.

Rabbi Meir Bar-Hen has been encouraging his congregants to leave Spain, which he called during an interview with JTA a “hub of Islamist terror for all of Europe,” for years before the attacks Thursday and Friday, he said. At least 14 victims and five suspected terrorists were killed in Barcelona and the resort town of Cambrils, 75 miles south of that city.

To Bar-Hen, whose community on Friday resumed activities that it had suspended briefly following the Barcelona attack, “Jews are not here permanently,” he said of the city and region. “I tell my congregants: Don’t think we’re here for good. And I encourage them to buy property in Israel. This place is lost. Don’t repeat the mistake of Algerian Jews, of Venezuelan Jews. Better [get out] early than late.”

white van on Thursday careered into crowds on Las Ramblas, Barcelona’s feted thoroughfare, when the street was packed with locals and tourists. Along with the fatalities, more than 100 were injured. The driver of the van fled on foot and was believed to be still at large on Friday. Police shot dead another man at a checkpoint Thursday. The Islamic State terrorist group claimed responsibility for that attack.

Hours later, police killed five men during a raid in Cambrils whom police said were terrorists planning an imminent attack.

Part of the problem exposed by the attacks, Bar-Hen said, is the presence of a large Muslim community with “radical fringes.” Once these people are “living among you,” he said of terrorists and their supporters, “it’s very difficult to get rid of them. They only get stronger.” He also said this applied to Europe as a whole.

“Europe is lost,” he said.

Bar-Hen emphasized that he was speaking as a private person and not for all the members of his community.

Displaying a defiant and more confident attitude than Bar-Hen, the Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain issued a statement expressing “full confidence in security forces who work daily to prevent fanatics and radical Muslims from inflicting pain and chaos on our cities.”

Bar-Hen also charged that authorities and some politicians are reluctant to confront Islamist terrorism. He cited the government’s decision in April to allow Leila Khaled, a Palestinian terrorist who was convicted in a plot to hijack an airplane in 1969, to enter the country for a book festival. This showed authorities “do not understand the nature of terrorism, if they treat it as an action by the disenfranchised,” Bar-Hen said.

Ignoring calls to ban the visit by Khaled — book fair organizers hung posters of Khaled on main streets — Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau Ballano of the far-left Barcelona en Comú party led the passage in April of a City Council resolution condemning Israel’s “violations of international law.”

On Friday, Colau Ballano wrote on Facebook: “Barcelona is a city of peace. Terror will not make us stop being who we are: a brave city open to the world.” She urged readers to show up at a solidarity rally that day.

Angel Mas, founder of the ACOM pro-Israel group, which protested Khaled’s visit, said it is “pure cynicism” by Colau Ballano to claim to oppose terrorism in light of her support for Khaled “and other individuals that support terrorist causes,” as he phrased it.

Bar-Hen said he may not attend the rally called by Colau Ballano, as security officials instructed him to avoid public areas in the coming days because he is recognizably Jewish.

Why Spain is standing up to BDS — for now

Only last year, Spain was still the undisputed bastion for the BDS movement in Europe.

Some 50 Spanish municipalities had passed resolutions in recent years endorsing BDS — an acronym for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel — more than in any other European country.

Relying on backing from a strong far left, the branches of Spain’s BDS movement were able to exert considerable pressure.

Last August, BDS activists pressured the organizers of a reggae festival near Barcelona to demand that the American-Jewish singer Matisyahu sign a statement condemning Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. Matisyahu, who was the only artist asked to sign the document, was disinvited when he declined. He wasreinvited following an international outcry over what was perceived as an anti-Semitic measure.

It was not an unusual occurrence in a country that topped the Anti-Defamation League’s 2015 anti-Semitism index in Western Europe, and where Jews are often conflated with Israel — including by a Catalan lawmaker who in May demanded the head of Barcelona’s Jewish community be removed from the local government’s parliament for being “a foreign agent.”

But the wind has shifted for BDS in Spain, where the movement recently was labeled discriminatory in a series of legal defeats and resentment growing against its activists because they oppose trade with Israel at a time of economic crisis.

Over the past year, pro-Israel activists have obtained 24 rulings, legal opinions and injunctions against BDS in Spain, according to ACOM, a nonprofit based in Madrid. Thanks to litigation by its volunteer team, including several lawyers, BDS motions have been repealed, defeated or suspended this year in a dozen Spanish municipalities.

“The BDS movement in Spain is established and works systematically,” said ACOM’s president, Angel Mas. “But for the first time, they are encountering a response that is as systematic.”

Last month in Campezo, a town 210 miles north of Madrid, an ACOM ultimatum forced the City Council to scrap a resolution passed in June in support of BDS. ACOM threatened to sue based on precedents set this year in Spanish tribunals ruling that BDS is unconstitutional and discriminatory.

In January, Spain’s Council of State, the country’s highest consulting body, made a similar ruling, forcing the government to compensate a West Bank Israeli university to the tune of $107,000 over its exclusion for political reasons from a state-sponsored scientific competition.

Such rulings are commonplace in neighboring France, where BDS is included among other forms of illegal discrimination against countries or their citizens under a 2003 law introduced by Pierre Lellouche, a Jewish lawmaker. Dozens of BDS activists have been convicted in France of inciting hate or discrimination based on the Lellouche law and other legislation. Britain’s ruling Conservative Party in February said it would pass similar laws.

But in Spain, where a judge in 2009 opened a war-crimes probe against the late Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, such strong judiciary treatment of BDS is unexpected and revolutionary, according to Yigal Palmor, a former Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman who had served in Spain during the 1990s as cultural attache.

Palmor said the BDS shift coincided with several developments in Spain that were welcomed by Israeli diplomats and Jewish community leaders. They include legislation to naturalize Sephardic Jews, support for Israel’s position on Palestinian statehood, a crackdown on anti-Semitic hate speech and a massive investment in the restoration of Jewish heritage sites.

Palmor attributes these changes to a mix of factors, including Spain’s gradual adoption of European standards on hate speech, improved rule of law and the election of a relatively stable centrist government.

And then there’s the effect of the financial crisis. Many Spaniards feel their country cannot afford to spurn any partners – especially not an affluent Western country like Israel. Last year, Spain had 21 percent unemployment and 45 percent among workers under 25.

The effects of the financial crisis on popular attitudes toward BDS were on full display last month in the northern city of Santiago de Compostella. After its City Council passed a nonbonding resolution supporting BDS, Israel’s national airline El Al reportedly ended talks on opening a direct connection to the city.

Local politicians for Spain’s centrist Popular Party accused the local government, led by a far-left party, of sabotaging the local tourism industry and precious jobs.

Israel, whose GDP per capita in 2015 was 36 percent higher than Spain’s $25,831, provides Spain with approximately 350,000 tourists annually.

Some observers also see a financial incentive in Spain’s historic legislation last year to grant citizenship to Sephardic Jews with ties to Spain.

Spanish officials described the move as correcting the historical wrong done to Iberian Jews during the Spanish Inquisition – a state- and church-backed campaign of persecution that began in 1492 and was not abolished until 1834. During that period, hundreds of thousands of Jews fled Spain and countless others became Christians under duress.

At least 4,500 of their descendants became Spanish citizens under the legislation in a process that generated millions of euros in revenue for Spanish notaries, government offices and language instructors. The legislation coincided with several Spanish initiatives to draw wealthy residents from abroad as well as tourists.

In 2004, Spain’s Congress passed a nonbinding motion conditioning support for Palestinian statehood on direct negotiations between both sides. The motion was considered a diplomatic victory for Israel and its supporters, especially after the parliaments of Britain, France and several other European countries pledged unconditional support for Palestine.

Until recently, Spain’s largely independent judiciary was subject to pressure from BDS supporters, noted Ramon Pérez-Maura, a journalist for Spain’s ABC network.

“The problem was pressure and intimidation of judges by lobby groups with anarchist traditions and violent tactics,” he told JTA. “There has been a crackdown on this sort of thuggery and this has empowered the judiciary, not only on Israel.”

Representatives of the BDS movement in Spain did not respond to JTA’s requests for an interview. But a campaign launched on their website in April showed they are feeling the heat.

In a petition titled “Stop criminalizing BDS,” they asserted that “activists of non-violent struggle [against Israel] are under threat.” They urged the European Commission to enforce in Spain “human rights guidelines guaranteeing freedom of speech and the right to boycott.”

Though Spain has modernized greatly since the fall in 1975 of the dictatorial regime of Francisco Franco, “it is still a decade or two arrears in many areas” compared to other Western European countries, Palmor said. Many Spaniards display strong anti-American – and by proxy, anti-Israeli — sentiment and “a worldview of Jews that’s at times based on medieval imagery,” he said.

With a Jewish population of only 6,000, there is “a lot of ignorance about Jews,” Palmor said. That manifests itself in phenomena that hardly occur elsewhere in Western Europe, including the airing of anti-Semitic screeds on public radio and cases like the Matisyahu affair.

Those tendencies suggest why Mas of the ACOM group is not celebrating his victories over BDS just yet. He calls it a fight against a rival much larger and stronger than his group of volunteers.

“The Spanish Jewish community is small and overstretched,” he said. “It’s not the kind of community that can easily confront over time a challenge presented by well-entrenched activists with foreign funding and a foothold in government.”

Spain naturalizes 220 Sephardim, including Jerusalem’s chief rabbi

The Sephardic chief rabbi of Jerusalem, Shlomo Amar, was among the latest group of recipients of Spanish nationality under that country’s law of return for descendants of Sephardic Jews.

The Spanish nationality was conferred on Amar Friday, according to the EFE news agency, along with 219 others. They were made Spanish nationals by a decree as per legislation that passed last year, under which descendants of Sephardic Jews with proven ties to Spain may naturalize as Spanish citizens. Over 4,300 have been awarded Spanish nationality under the law.

Hundreds of thousands of Jews fled Spain after 1492, when the Catholic Church and the country’s royal house instituted a campaign of persecution, forced conversion to Christianity and dispossession against Jews known as the Spanish Inquisition.

Spanish officials said they enacted a Sephardic law of return to correct that historical wrong. The legislation in Spain followed the 2013 passing of a Sephardic law of return in Portugal, where the inquisition began in 1536.

Portugal’s law for naturalization of the descendants of Sephardic Jews is less strict than Spain’s, which requires applicants demonstrate knowledge of Spanish culture and language. The Portuguese law makes no such requirements.

The legislation occurred at a time of economic crisis in Spain and Portugal, where unemployment is more than double the European median and in some parts as high as 40 percent among young workers under 25. Both countries have invested millions of dollars in attracting tourists to their Jewish heritage sites and, separately, have also offered residency and eventual citizenship to affluent investors in so-called golden visa programs.

Both Spain and Portugal are members of the European Union and their citizens may settle and work in any of the bloc’s 28 member states.

Many of the Jews who fled Spain and Portugal as refugees settled in North Africa, including the ancestors of Amar, a former Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel who was born in Casablanca, Morocco.

In a statement, his office said the Spanish government conferred honorary citizenship on him in recognition of his work on behalf of the descendants of the Jews expelled from Spain at the time of the Spanish Inquisition, adding that he had not requested Spanish citizenship.

Sisters from a prominent Sephardic family to get Spanish citizenship

It’s been more than 500 years since Yosef Elyashar, a rabbi in the Spanish town of Híjar, was expelled from his home country. Now, centuries later, two of his American ancestors are poised to become citizens again, thanks to a law passed one year ago by the Spanish government reaching out to Sephardic Jews.

“My whole life I’d heard about my family’s connection to Spain and how much my parents and my ancestors respected their cultural connection to Spain,” said Tamar Hurwitz, who, with her sister Sharón Eliashar, went through the last hurdle of the bureaucratic process to attain citizenship on June 2. Having completed the rigorous undertaking, the sisters have been advised by the notary representing the Spanish government that they will soon be conferred citizenship.

“It never occurred to me that I’d be able to return to Spain. It never occurred to me that we’d be welcomed back as Sephardic Jews based on our family’s history, and the fact that this law emerged sparked something in me,” Hurwitz said. “It was like lighting a match and having flames suddenly appear that connected me instantly and very strongly to my ancestral homeland.”

According to family lore — buttressed by official forms, timeworn letters and handwritten notations dating back hundreds of years — after being driven out of Spain in the late 15th century, Yosef Elyashar’s family wandered in exile in Europe until finally reaching the Holy Land. 

In Palestine, and eventually Israel, the Eliashars — a spelling Sharón prefers, though some descendants spell it Eliachar — have been a distinguished family for more than five centuries, featuring prominent rabbis, scholars and community leaders. Givat Shaul and Kfar Shaul, at the western entrance to Jerusalem, are hubs of Orthodox Jewish life; they were named in honor of Yaakov Shaul Elyashar, Sephardic Chief Rabbi in Jerusalem from 1893 to 1904, when Palestine was part of the Ottoman Empire. A street in downtown Jerusalem is named for Yaakov Elyashar, an 18th century rabbi of the same family tree.  

The Eliashar family thrived after being forced out of Spain, and like many Sephardic families, they don’t seem to have harbored resentment toward the country that exiled them. Instead, they took Spain with them. Among themselves, they spoke Ladino, a Judeo-Spanish dialect. They ate buñuelos and sofritos, staples of Spanish cuisine. In their poetry, they conjured up medieval Spanish life. Even the name Sephardic evokes fond memories of their ancestral homeland: Sefarad means Spain in Hebrew. 

Spanish Jews also carried sacramental colors and shapes with them when they went into exile. Lucia Conte, an expert in the history of Spanish Jewry, has written that when she first stepped into one of the oldest synagogues in Safed, Israel, built in the 1500s, it struck her how similar it was to the still-surviving shul in Híjar, Spain, not far from the city of Zaragoza. The Safed shul’s bimah was the same blue as that inside Híjar’s shul, and had the same contours. Conte was thrilled to hear the guide explain that the shul was “probably founded by the first Spanish rabbi to reach Israel, someone named Yosef, who was known as ‘the Zaragozan’ because he came from a town near Zaragoza.” Conte has written that Yosef Elyashar, who had been rabbi at the shul in Híjar, was surely the same person who built and led a shul in Safed in the early 1500s.

Sharón Eliashar said that Conte’s published account was one of the many pieces of evidence that she and her sister presented to the notary representing the Spanish government in the recent hearings to determine whether the sisters had made a credible case for receiving Spanish citizenship. 

Under the recent law passed by the Spanish government, regulations were enacted to make it easier for Sephardic Jews to attain Spanish citizenship. The requirements, however, are still cumbersome.

“We had to pass a Spanish language test,” said Hurwitz, who lives in San Francisco and works for the city as an environmental educator in the school system. “We also had to pass a culture and civics test to show we understood the laws and culture and customs of Spain. We had to procure birth certificates, marriage certificates, family documents and otherwise prove our Sephardic lineage, and also prove that we were from that lineage. We had to get letters from the Sephardic community in the U.S. to show we were Sephardic. Everything had to be translated into Spanish. There were all sorts of things we had to do to make our case.” 

During this process, the Eliashar sisters — whose father is Joseph Hurwitz, a rabbi for many years at Temple Isaiah in Palm Springs — have had Barcelona-based Maya Dori, an Israeli-born lawyer and academic, helping them navigate through the red tape. Dori, herself of Sephardic background, has dedicated herself to helping Sephardic Jews get their Spanish citizenship. 

“By the time we got in to see the notary,” Hurwitz said, “Maya had already done her work. The notary had already been through the process with Maya, to understand all the connections. So Maya really made the case on our behalf, which is why we needed her.”

In a phone interview from her home in Barcelona, Dori said the Spanish citizenship request made by the Eliashar sisters was special to her. 

“You have to understand what family these sisters are from,” Dori said. “When I grew up in Jerusalem, I’d go to Givat Shaul and other neighborhoods that were named for people in the Eliashar family. This is a family that’s part of Sephardic and Jerusalem history.”

The Eliashar sisters made it clear that getting their Spanish citizenship will in no way compromise their Jewish identity or their love for Israel. Instead, becoming citizens of Spain is a way of reconnecting a crucial Jewish link that had been broken for hundreds of years.

“Meeting with the notary was a profound experience for me,” said Sharón Eliashar, a musician, singer and composer who lives in Santa Fe, N.M. “Our mother flew in for it, and our brother, as well. So it was a meaningful event for our whole family. They were there inside the room, as well, at the table with us. … The Eliashar family has had a Spanish identity for at least 500 years, handed from generation to generation, both as part of an oral tradition as well as in documents. It’s this identity that connects us to our ancestors, and each generation passed on the story of our having come from Spain. It’s almost like the haggadah, which passes on a story of origins and urges each new generation to keep the story alive.”

Though she doesn’t doubt the Spanish government’s sincerity in reaching out to Sephardic Jews, Dori said that “less than 15 people have been able to receive their Spanish citizenships under the new law during this past year. … According to the Spanish Jewish Federation, during the first year of the law, 1,026 people have been granted the certificates that will allow them to start applying for Spanish citizenship.” Dori said that the actual number of applicants who will go through the requirements will be “much lower.”

“So far, the number of people who have gotten their applications approved … is not very large,” Eliashar said. “We’re grateful that the Spanish government has offered us this opportunity, but we hope that they expand and extend it so that it has a real impact.”  

Spanish archaeologists unearth rare 13th-century portrait of a Jew

Archaeologists in Spain identified a rare depiction of a Jewish man on a piece of pottery from the 13th century.

The fragment was unearthed in Teruel, 140 miles east of Madrid, in 2004 but cataloged only in 2011 and identified this year by the archaeologist Antonio Hernandez Pardos, who wrote about in this month’s edition of the Sefarad periodical on the history of Sephardic Jews, the Spanish news agency EFE reported earlier this week.

Unusual for pottery decorations from that period, which mostly featured geometric shapes or depiction of flowers, the Teruel fragment shows the lower part of the face of a bearded man wearing a frilled gown that Pardos was able to trace back to Jewish iconography from the period.

The find is particularly noteworthy because researchers have very few depictions of Spanish Jews from the period, with the majority of illustrations being miniature sketches on prayer books, including ones used by Christians.

Tens of thousands Jews were expelled from Spain in the 15th century, when it was still  a major hub for world Jewry, as part of the Spanish Inquisition campaign of persecution led by the Catholic Church and the Spanish royal house.

The research by Pardos suggests the fragment was part of a work performed by the earliest known potters of Teruel, who were possibly commissioned by a Jewish resident of the area.

Pardos said that the archaeological museum of Teruel contains many more boxes of unstudied ruins that were unearthed along with the fragment in rescue excavations that closely predated a massive plan of urban renovation in Teruel in the early 2000s.

“There may be many more surprises” in those boxes, he told EFE.

‘Gaza Girls’ spoof of Palestinian propaganda flagged as incitement in Spain

A Spanish judge recommended the prosecution for incitement to violence of a person who shared on Facebook an Israeli-made music video spoofing Palestinian propaganda.

The No. 1 Court of First Instance and Instruction of Tudela, a municipality located about 200 miles northeast of Madrid, recommended Tuesday the indictment of the unnamed resident, the Noticias de Navarra daily reported.

The reason cited was the resident’s sharing of a 2014 video titled “Kill All the Jews” by the “Gaza Girls” – a fictional Palestinian girl group invented and headed by Orit Arfa, an Israeli artist and right-wing settler activist.

Arfa’s Internet videos, many of which she stars in, include the controversial “Gaza Wrecking Ball” and “Jews Can’t Stop” — both interpretations of Miley Cyrus hits. She was among 9,000 Israelis who lived in Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip before their evacuation in 2005.

Featuring lyrics likes like “exterminate the Zionists, the world will be better for it,” and “kill the Jews, it’s our turn,” the English-language video was produced to “help Hamas out and offer a more feminist, bubble-gum version of their genocidal propaganda,” Arfa wrote in 2014.

Omitting any reference to the video’s satirical nature, the Spanish court described it as “a musical video by the self-styled feminine trio ‘Gaza Girls,’ with English lyrics that incite to hatred and violence against people of the Jewish faith and against the State of Israel, sending clear messages through the lyrics as well as imagery encouraging to kill people belonging to these groups.”

The video was initially hailed by anti-Israel groups but eventually flagged as a parody, Arfa wrote in recounting the reaction. While her spoof was removed as hateful from various social networks, she wrote, the Arabic propaganda videos she was commenting were not.

The prosecution must decided whether to indict as recommended within two weeks.

Spanish city passes, then scraps BDS motion, calling it discriminatory

One month after passing a motion supporting a boycott against Israel, the Spanish municipality of Aviles distanced itself from that position and denounced it as discriminatory.

The northern city’s council on Saturday nullified its January motion favoring the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, or BDS, after a pro-Israel group initiated a discrimination lawsuit against the municipality in connection with that vote, the El Comercio daily reported Monday.

ACOM, which filed the lawsuit, and the municipality’s legal department held settlement talks before the motion was scrapped, according to El Comercio. The pro-Israel group called the reversal a “historic political and legal victory.”

In a statement to the media Sunday, ACOM noted the city agreed to advertise its unfavorable attitude toward BDS, including a statement that “the boycott threatens people’s right not to be discriminated against” as well as academic freedom, and runs counter to Spain’s law on public contracts and EU directives from 2006 on equal opportunities.

In recent months, the BDS movement has hit several hurdles in Spain and Europe.

Earlier this month, Britain’s government announced it would pass laws exposing promoters of a boycott against Israel to prosecution.

In France, which has had such a law since 2003, the country’s highest court of appeals in October confirmed earlier rulings that found promoters of a boycott against Israel guilty of inciting hate or discrimination.

Spain ‘deeply worried’ over Palestinian deaths from Israel’s use of force

Spain’s government expressed “deep concern at the loss of many dozens of lives” of Palestinians as a result of Israel’s “use of force” in response to attacks against its citizens.

The statement Tuesday by the Spanish foreign ministry also said that Palestinian murders of Jewish settlers in the West Bank and Palestinian attacks on other Israelis are “terrorist attacks” and “hate crimes.”

However, pro-Israel activists lambasted the ministry for the statement, which the ACOM lobby group condemned Thursday as “infamous” and creating a false moral equivalence between aggressor and victim.

The Spanish ministry’s statement was in reaction to the killing of Dafna Meir, a Jewish mother of six, on Jan. 17 at her home in the West Bank settlement of Otniel, and two other attacks that occurred thereafter in settlements, the statement said.

But, in addition to condemning those attacks, the statement read: “The government is also deeply worried about the loss of many dozens of human lives among the Palestinian population as a consequence of the use of force by agents of Israeli authorities in reaction to the attacks and calls on all parties to abandon all acts of violence or instigation thereof, as those can exacerbate the situation.” The statement added: “It is necessary to break this cycle of violence.”

But to ACOM, the statement suggests that the ministry “explains that the Palestinian kill as a logical result of the use of force” by Israelis, noting that many of the Palestinians killed in recent weeks were shot while trying to kill Israelis.

“The ministry apparently considers attacks against Jewish girls in supermarkets and others comparable to shooting the terrorists that perpetrate them,” the organization wrote in a statement Thursday.

Earlier this week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused U.S. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of justifying Palestinian terrorism when he said about these attacks that, “As oppressed peoples have demonstrated throughout the ages, it is human nature to react to occupation, which often serves as a potent incubator of hate and extremism.”

King of Spain honors Sephardic Jews in ceremony recognizing citizenship law

Spain’s king honored Sephardic Jews at a ceremony recognizing a new law that confers citizenship on the descendants of those banished during the Inquisition.

“Dear Sephardim, thank you for your loyalty,” King Felipe VI told representatives of Sephardim from various countries at the royal palace on Monday, The Local-Spain news website reported.

“Thank you for having kept like a precious treasure your language and your customs that are ours too. Thank you too for making love prevail over rancor and for teaching your children to love this country. How we have missed you.”

Spain granted citizenship to 4,302 people who identified themselves as descendants of Sephardim a day after the law granting dual citizenship went into effect in early October.

Justice Minister Rafael Catala said there have been nearly 600 citizenship applications and 10,000 information requests since then, The Associated Press reported Monday.

The law is the result of a government decision in 2012 that described offering citizenship to Sephardic Jews as compensation for their ancestors’ expulsion from Spain in the 15th and 16th centuries by the Spanish royal house and church during the Spanish Inquisition.

Applicants need not travel to Spain, but must hire a Spanish notary and pass tests on the Spanish language and history. The Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain, or FCJE, vets the applications in Spain under the law in its capacity as consultant and partner of the government on matters concerning the so-called Jewish law of return to Spain.

Portugal passed and implemented a similar law with fewer stipulations last year.

Questions for the European Left

Why don't we see demonstrations against Islamic dictatorships in London, Paris, Barcelona?

Or demonstrations against the Burmese dictatorship?

Why aren't there demonstrations against the enslavement of millions of women who live without any legal protection?

Why aren't there demonstrations against the use of children as human bombs where there is conflict with Islam?

Why has there been no leadership in support of the victims of Islamic dictatorship in Sudan ?

Why is there never any outrage against the acts of terrorism committed against Israel ?

Why is there no outcry by the European left against Islamic fanaticism?

Why don't they defend Israel's right to exist?

Why confuse support of the Palestinian cause with the defense of Palestinian terrorism?

And finally, the million dollar question: Why is the left in Europe and around the world obsessed with the two most solid democracies, the United States and Israel, and not with the worst dictatorships on the planet? The two most solid democracies, who have suffered the bloodiest attacks of terrorism, and the left doesn't care.

And then, to the concept of freedom. In every pro-Palestinian European forum I hear the left yelling with fervor: “We want freedom for the people!”

Not true. They are never concerned with freedom for the people of Syria or Yemen or Iran or Sudan, or other such nations. And they are never preoccupied when Hamas destroys freedom for the Palestinians. They are only concerned with using the concept of Palestinian freedom as a weapon against Israeli freedom. The resulting consequence of these ideological pathologies is the manipulation of the press.

The international press does major damage when reporting on the question of the Israeli-Palestinian issue. On this topic they don't inform, they propagandize.

When reporting about Israel, the majority of journalists forget the reporter code of ethics. And so, any Israeli act of self-defense becomes a massacre, and any confrontation, genocide. So many stupid things have been written about Israel that there aren't any accusations left to level against her.

At the same time, this press never discusses Syrian and Iranian interference in propagating violence against Israel, the indoctrination of children, and the corruption of the Palestinians. And when reporting about victims, every Palestinian casualty is reported as tragedy and every Israeli victim is camouflaged, hidden or reported about with disdain.

And let me add on the topic of the Spanish left. Many are the examples that illustrate the anti-Americanism and anti-Israeli sentiments that define the Spanish left. For example, one of the leftist parties in Spain has just expelled one of its members for creating a pro-Israel website. I quote from the expulsion document: “Our friends are the people of Iran, Libya and Venezuela, oppressed by imperialism, and not a Nazi state like Israel.”

In another example, the socialist mayor of Campozuelos changed Shoah Day, commemorating the victims of the Holocaust, with Palestinian Nabka Day, which mourns the establishment of the State of Israel, thus showing contempt for the six million European Jews murdered in the Holocaust.

Or in my native city of Barcelona, the city council decided to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the creation of the State of Israel, by having a Week of solidarity with the Palestinian people. Thus, they invited Leila Khaled, a noted terrorist from the 70's and current leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a terrorist organization so described by the European Union, which promotes the use of bombs against Israel .

This politically correct way of thinking has even polluted the speeches of President Zapatero. His foreign policy falls within the lunatic left, and on issues of the Middle East, he is unequivocally pro-Arab. I can assure you that in private, Zapatero places on Israel the blame for the conflict in the Middle East, and the policies of Foreign Minister Moratinos reflect this. The fact that Zapatero chose to wear a kafiah in the midst of the Lebanon conflict is no coincidence; it's a symbol.

Spain has suffered the worst terrorist attack in Europe and it is in the crosshairs of every Islamic terrorist organization. As I wrote before, they kill us with cell phones hooked to satellites connected to the Middle Ages. And yet the Spanish left is the most anti-Israeli in the world.

And then it says it is anti-Israeli because of solidarity. This is the madness I want to denounce in this conference.


I am not Jewish. Ideologically I am left and by profession a journalist. Why am I not anti-Israeli like my colleagues? Because as a non-Jew I have the historical responsibility to fight against Jewish hatred and currently against the hatred for their historic homeland, Israel. To fight against anti-Semitism is not the duty of the Jews, it is the duty of the non-Jews.

As a journalist it is my duty to search for the truth beyond prejudice, lies and manipulations. The truth about Israel is not told. As a person from the left who loves progress, I am obligated to defend liberty, culture, civic education for children, coexistence and the laws that the Tablets of the Covenant made into universal principles.

Principles that Islamic fundamentalism systematically destroys. That is to say, that as a non-Jew, journalist and lefty, I have a triple moral duty with Israel, because if Israel is destroyed, liberty, modernity and culture will be destroyed too.

The struggle of Israel, even if the world doesn't want to accept it, is the struggle of the world.

Spanish pol says BDS law would mean “rethink” of Jewish music fest

A far-left lawmaker from the Spanish city of Cordoba said that a local Jewish music festival would need to be rethought if a motion she had submitted in favor of boycotting Israel passed.

Amparo Pernichi, Cordoba’s alderwoman for landscape and infrastructure, linked Israel to the music festival during a news conference earlier this month, the Spanish news agency Europa Press reported. Following controversy in local media over her statements, the draft motion was rejected by the Cordoba City Council on Nov. 10.

However, a similar motion passed the same day in the northern city of Santiago de Compostela.

At the Nov. 4 news conference Pernichi, who represents the United Left party, was asked whether her draft motion would spell the end of the International Sephardi Music Festival. The festival has been held since 2002 in Cordoba, a city in southern Spain that was a major cultural hub for Jews before their expulsion from Spain in the 15th century.

“If the motion really passes, one would need to rethink it,” Pernichisaid.

She later wrote on Twitter that “one needs to separate anti-Zionism from anti-Semitism.”

In the Cordoba City Council vote, only the United Left voted for the motion. Its coalition partner, the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party, abstained, the ABC News website reported on Nov. 11.

Pernichi’s four-page draft motion calls Israel an apartheid state eight times, proposes to cut all ties with it and establishes Cordoba as “an Israeli-apartheid free space” as “part of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, movement.”

The shorter motion submitted to the council of Santiago de Compostela, the capital of the Spanish autonomous region of Galicia, makes one reference to “Israel apartheid” and supports BDS as “a measure to apply pressure to end the increasingly bloody ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people.” The motion is nonbinding.

In August, a Spanish music festival’s decision under pressure from groups promoting BDS to withdraw the invitation of American reggae singer Matisyahu, who is Jewish but not Israeli, triggered a wave of condemnations, including by Spain’s government and the European Jewish Congress.

Cordoba is one of the Spanish cities where the municipality and tourism promoters invested millions of dollars in restoring Jewish culture.

Matisyahu performs outside Auschwitz following Spain appearance

Three days after a performing at a reggae festival in Spain that had previously disinvited him, Matisyahu brought his music to a synagogue near the gates of Auschwitz.

The Jewish-American singer gave an intimate acoustic concert Tuesday night in the tiny Chevra Lomdei Mishnayot synagogue in Oswiecim, the town in southern Poland where Auschwitz was built.

“Played in the last remaining Synagogue outside of Auschwitz in the city Oświęcim. Peace and blessings,” Matisyahu wrote on his Facebook page. He also quoted a line from his song, “Jerusalem:” “The gas tried to choke but it couldn’t choke me.”

On Saturday night, he sang “Jerusalem” in front of thousands at the Rototom Sunsplash festival in Spain. Its organizers had initially cancelled his appearance due to pressure from the local branch of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, movement, which aims to put economic and political pressure on Israel. The festival reinvited him following widespread condemnation, including from the Spanish government.

The only one of Oswiecim’s synagogues to survive today, the Chevra Lomdei Mishnayot synagogue forms part of the Auschwitz Jewish Center, a prayer and study center and museum founded in 2000. The concert marked the center’s 15th anniversary.

Matisyahu has performed a number of times in Poland and has appeared before in Oswiecim. In 2011, he was a headliner at the Oswiecim Life Festival, a summer festival aimed at using art and music to promote tolerance. Matisyahu is performing several concerts in Poland during his current tour, including in Gdansk, Wroclaw and Warsaw, where he is appearing in a free outdoor concert on August 30as part of the Singer’s Warsaw Jewish Culture Festival.

Israel’s football team playing Spain in first international game

Israel’s national football team will compete in Spain in its first official international game.

The Israelis will play the Spanish national team on Sunday in a bid to qualify for the International Federation of American Football’s B-Group International Tournament in 2016.

All the players on the Israeli club compete in the nine-team Israel Football League.

A notable newcomer on the national team is former University of Michigan quarterback Alex Swieca, who played in the IFL while attending the Young Judaea year course in 2011-12.

“These are football players. It’s a pretty tough bunch,” IFL Commissioner Betzalel Friedman said in a statement. “They’re not fearful, just proud.”

Security for the team, which is traveling to Europe as an official state delegation, will be provided by the Shin Bet security service.

With the help of New England Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft, there has been a big push in recent years to develop American football  in Israel.

The International Federation of American Football is made up of teams from more than 70 countries worldwide, including Middle Eastern lands such as Egypt, Turkey and Kuwait.

Jewish groups protest cancellation of Matisyahu’s Spanish concert

Jewish groups protested on Monday after a Spanish reggae festival cancelled a concert by an American Jewish musician when he failed to reply to a demand to clarify his position on Palestinian statehood.

Matisyahu, who fuses reggae, hip-hop and rock with Jewish influences in his songs, had been due to perform next Saturday at the week-long Rototom Sunsplash reggae festival at Benicassim near Valencia in eastern Spain.

But after pressure from the local supporters of the movement to boycott and back sanctions against Israel over its policies towards Palestinians, the organisers announced over the weekend that they were cancelling his appearance.

“Rototom Sunsplash, after having repeatedly sought dialogue in the face of the artist's unavailability to give a clear statement against war and on the right of the Palestinian people to their own state, has decided to cancel the concert,” they said in a statement.

The Spanish Federation of Jewish Communities condemned the decision as cowardly, unjust and discriminatory, saying that Matisyahu had been asked to take a political position because he was Jewish when this was not required of other performers.

World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder expressed outrage at the decision, urging Spanish authorities “to take appropriate action against those responsible for it.”

Matisyahu, whose real name is Matthew Miller, made no comment on the controversy on his Twitter or Facebook sites and the organisers said there had been no reaction from the musician, who had a concert scheduled in Brussels on Monday.

The Valencia section of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign had launched a public campaign for Matisyahu's performance to be cancelled, saying he was a “lover of Israel” and demanding he make a public statement on his stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The BDS movement, which objects to Israel's 48-year-old “occupation” of territories where Palestinians seek an independent state, has campaigned against groups and individuals over their links to Israel.

The moves against Matisyahu had led some other participants to cancel their appearances at the festival, according to press reports.

New law offers Sephardim right of return to Spain

On June 11, the government of Spain unanimously passed a law that attempts to right a historic wrong: It offers descendants of Sephardic Jews who were expelled from Spain in 1492 a less arduous path toward Spanish citizenship. Under the new law, Sephardim seeking Spanish citizenship do not have to renounce their current citizenship, live in Spain or own property there, all of which were previously required for citizenship. 

To discuss this new law, Javier Vallaure, the Spanish consul general in Los Angeles, visited the Jewish Journal office. 

“It was a long process,” Vallaure said. “It started on the first day that we expelled the Jews in 1492. I think many people in Spain felt guilty for doing that. … The Jewish community in Spain was an important community, so important that many historians say that 150 to 200 years later, Spain was still suffering the consequences. Jews were important in philosophy, in the development of language, in banking, in finance, in the arts.” 

The expulsion of Sephardic Jews, Vallaure said, “was the beginning of [Spain’s] decline.”  

Vallaure — whose charm, tact and graying hair bespeak his long career representing the Spanish government in many parts of the world — said the current law makes it easier than ever for Sephardim to get Spanish citizenship. 

The new rules may still be daunting to some applicants. The law states that the process can be started online (beginning Oct. 1) and costs 100 euros ($112) to apply, whether the applicant ends up receiving citizenship or not. Each applicant will have to: present documents verifying Sephardic background; show some connection to Spain, having visited the country or having friends or family there; demonstrate basic knowledge of Spanish language, culture and history; and come to Spain to have the application and original documents notarized. (This last requirement can be waived if the applicant is disabled or under 18. In either of these cases, a legal representative will have to attend the interview.) This path to Spanish citizenship will be in place during a period of three years and could be extended for one additional year. 

The law itself does not spell out specific requirements for demonstrating Sephardic roots; each application will be evaluated in its totality (valorado en su conjunto). Applications can include supporting documents from a rabbi at a Sephardic synagogue or from leaders of Sephardic organizations. They also should include birth, marriage or death certificates, or any other official document that provides evidence of Sephardic origin, such as Sephardic names in the family. All documentation must be translated into Spanish and will first be assessed by the Madrid-based Federation of Jewish Communities in Spain. 

The level of knowledge of Spanish language required for citizenship will be what’s known as A2: familiarity with commonly used words and expressions, both written and spoken (those who come from Spanish-speaking countries are exempt). However, no one is exempt from being tested on his or her knowledge of Spanish history and culture. The Cervantes Institute, a cultural division of the Spanish government that has branches all over the world, including in various cities in the United States, will administer these exams.

“These conditions look complicated,” Vallaure said, “but they are not. You don’t have to present all of these papers and all of these documents. Just some. Not just that your name is, for example, Toledano [a common Sephardic name], but that you have kept [up] some relationship with Spain throughout the years. The idea is to make the process easy for Sephardics, not to put obstacles in the way.”

Sara Elena Loaiza, founder and managing partner of Latino Consultants, an L.A.-based “social-cause marketing” firm, told the Journal that, whatever the obstacles, she’ll be applying for Spanish citizenship under the new law. She said she feels very much at home in Spain, a country she visits every year. “My ancestry is from Santander, so I would prefer to go there to apply for this, especially since I understand the culture and speak the language. It’ll be a beautiful memory, to apply for citizenship in Santander, where my family is from.”

Loaiza’s mother’s maiden name was Mortera. The Spanish government, as part of this offer, has issued a list of 5,000 last names which can be used as a factor in showing Sephardic roots. Mortera is on the list, spelled in its variant form, Morteira. 

Another name on that list is Nahom, a variant of Nahoum. Bonita Nahoum Jaros has carried on a double career as an academic administrative professional at Santa Ana College and as a singer. She  has traced her family roots back to “specific cities in Spain. … During a trip to Spain, we even found a ketubah [Jewish marriage contract] in Toledo with the name Nahoum on it — my maiden name.” 

Jaros grew up in New York in a “Ladino-speaking enclave” and said her most recent recording, “Kantigas de Mi Chikés” (“Songs of My Childhood”), is “a compilation of 34 [Ladino] songs, each dedicated to a different friend or relative, all of Sephardic background.”

She intends to apply for Spanish citizenship because of her “longing for the motherland,” while also trying to understand why “we Jews became aliens from the land we lived in for centuries and to which we contributed mightily.”

In the run-up to the law’s enactment, some opined that Spain is taking this step because of contributions Jews might make to the Spanish economy. Vallaure pointed out that the path toward citizenship does not require applicants to have a certain economic status: Sephardim can apply regardless of income or net worth. Moreover, he said, the application fee covers Spain’s administrative costs to process an expected 90,000 applications.  

Vallaure made clear that, from his country’s point of view, this is a “spiritual matter.” 

“[The] Spanish are … a very sentimental people,” Vallaure said. “So we ask ourselves: Why did we do that to the Jews? They were nice people who contributed to society. So, why? That’s why there was no debate in the Spanish Parliament or in the media.”

Even though there were no dissenting votes, there was, in fact, some debate. During discussions about the proposed act, one member of the Spanish Parliament asked why the Jews are being offered this option and not the Muslims (or Moors), who were expelled at the same time.

It has been pointed out that — unlike the Jews—Moors invaded Spain in the eighth century as conquerors. They were expelled 800 years later when Spain unified under Ferdinand and Isabella. Given the bloody battles between Catholics and Moors — Spanish leader El Cid is the symbol of that struggle — it’s likely that the Spanish people’s residual memory of Moors is different from how they remember the Jews who once lived among them. Even the Parliament member who raised this question did not vote against the law.

Moreover, it’s clear that Sephardic Jews, during their Diaspora, have maintained emotional ties to Spain. The preamble to the law expresses this in a poetic way. 

“Wherever they’ve lived,” the preamble states, “the children of Sepharad have remained nostalgic about Spain. … They’ve used the language of their ancestors [Ladino or Haketía, which are Spanish dialects] for their traditional prayers and recipes, for their games and poetry. They’ve carried on their Spanish customs, they’ve used last names that invoke their Spanish places of origin, and accepted without rancor the silence of a country that had all but forgotten about them.”

As Vallaure sums it up: “As King Juan Carlos has said many times, [Sephardim] are Spaniards. … It’s not that we want the Jews to feel nostalgic about Spain, or to feel [as if] they are at home in Spain. No! When Sephardic Jews are in Spain, they are home.”

Name change for ‘Kill Jews’ in Spain becomes official

A town in northern Spain has officially changed its name from “Kill Jews Town.”

On Monday, the town formerly known as Castrillo Matajudíos published its new name — Castrillo Mota de Judios, or Castrillo Jews’ Hill — in the official state gazette.

The official renaming comes a year after the some 50 residents of the town voted to change its name at the suggestion of Mayor Lorenzo Rodriguez, who submitted the proposal to change the name back to the original Castrillo Mota de Judios. He said the name was changed during the Spanish Inquisition.

The name change was approved by the regional government of Castilla y Leon.

In parts of Spain, especially in the north, locals use the Spanish term for “killing Jews” to describe the traditional drinking of lemonade spiked with alcohol at festivals held in city squares at Easter, or drinking in general.

Spanish Congress to vote on final amendments to Jewish citizenship law

Spain’s congress is poised to vote on final amendments that would make it possible for descendants of Sephardic Jews to apply for citizenship.

The Congress of Deputies is scheduled to vote on the amendments on June 11, according to a statement published on the congress’ website on Monday.

Under the amendments, approved by the Spanish senate on May 27, applicants would be able to apply without traveling to Spain, as proposed in previous amendments which did not pass, but are required to hire a Spanish notary and pass tests on the Spanish language and history.

Applicants can study for the tests and take them at the facilities of the Cervantes Institute, a government entity that offers courses on Spanish culture and its language in over 20 countries, including Israel.

“The procedure for acquiring Spanish nationality regulated in this law will be electronic,” the amendments read. “The request will be in Spanish and will be overseen by the General Directorate of Registrars and Notaries.”

In addition, candidates will need to apply to the Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain, or FCJE, which will vet applications along with government officials, the amendment states. If passed by the congress on Thursday, Spain’s law for nationality for descendants of Sephardic Jews will come into effect in October. The law will expire after three years, though it may be extended another year if deemed necessary.

The law is the result of a government decision from 2012 that described offering citizenship to Sephardim as compensation for their ancestors’ expulsion from Spain in the 15th and 16th centuries by the Spanish royal house and church in the Spanish Inquisition. Portugal passed a similar law, which went into effect earlier this year. It is open-ended and does not require proven knowledge of Portuguese.

Whereas the law passed unanimously in Portugal, in Spain it prompted opposition leaders to accuse the government of discriminating against other minorities, including Muslims, who were expelled from Spain during the Inquisition. It is nonetheless expected to pass in the congress.

Jesús Enrique Iglesias, a former communist and lawmaker for the United Left party, told the EFE news agency that the government was “relativizing grievances” with its new law.

And Jokin Bildarratz of the Basque Nationalist Party called the law a “historical injustice” if it is not extended to Muslims that were expelled.

Some historians have disputed the comparison, citing the presence of Muslims in Spain as occupiers who were driven out of Spain back to their lands of origin.

Spain’s lower parliament passes Sephardic return bill

Legislation in Spain that would naturalize Sephardic Jews was approved by the country’s lower parliament.

The legislation approved Wednesday goes to the country’s Senate for a vote. It is expected to go into effect in May.

The draft bill was introduced in February 2014 by Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon, who told JTA at the time that it was meant to “repair a historical error” — a reference to the Spanish Inquisition that began in 1492. The Inquisition forced hundreds of thousands of Jews to flee the Iberian Peninsula or convert to Christianity in an attempt to escape religious persecution led by the Catholic Church and the Spanish royal house.

Under current Spanish legislation dating back to 1924, Jews may apply for citizenship if they reside in Spain for more than two years and can prove family ties to expelled Spaniards. Each request is evaluated individually and approved or rejected by a senior Interior Ministry official.

The new draft bill proposes to do away with the demand for residence and to make the application process automatic and not subject to the ministry’s discretion for candidates who meet all the criteria.

Spain’s Council of Ministers, the Spanish Cabinet, approved the draft law last June.

Under revisions introduced in December, applicants must be certified as Sephardic by Spain’s Federation of Jewish Communities, and then tested in Spain by a government-approved notary on their knowledge of Spanish and Sephardic culture. If they pass, applicants would need to return to Spain at a later date for another procedure.

The Spanish government estimates that about 90,000 people of Sephardic heritage will apply for citizenship, though they may not all qualify, according to the Financial Times.

French parliament votes for recognition of Palestinian state

French lawmakers on Tuesday urged their government to recognize a Palestinian state, a symbolic move that will not immediately affect France's diplomatic stance but demonstrates growing European impatience with a stalled peace process.

While most developing countries recognize Palestine as a state, most Western European countries do not, supporting the Israeli and U.S. position that an independent Palestinian state should emerge from negotiations with Israel.

European countries have grown frustrated with Israel, which since the collapse of the latest U.S.-sponsored talks in April has pressed on with building settlements in territory the Palestinians want for their state.

The motion received the backing of 339 lawmakers with 151 against.

It comes after Sweden became the biggest Western European country to recognize Palestine, and parliaments in Spain, Britain and Ireland held votes in which they backed non-binding resolutions in favor of recognition.

The text, proposed by the ruling Socialists and backed by left-wing parties and some conservatives, asked the government to “use the recognition of a Palestinian state with the aim of resolving the conflict definitively”.

Neither Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius nor Prime Minister Manuel Valls attended the vote in parliament. The government has said it will not be bound by the result.

“We don't want a symbolic recognition that will only lead to a virtual state,” Europe Minister Harlem Desir told lawmakers in reaction to the vote. “We want a Palestinian state that is real so we want to give a chance to negotiations.”

Palestinians say negotiations have failed and they have no choice but to pursue independence unilaterally.

“Israel believes that the vote … will only jeopardize the possibility of reaching an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians,” Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said.

“Such decisions only toughen the Palestinian positions and send a wrong message to the leaders and peoples of the region.”

Fabius said on Nov. 28 the status quo was unacceptable and France would recognize an independent Palestine without a negotiated settlement if a final diplomatic push failed.

He backed a two-year timeframe to relaunch and conclude negotiations and said Paris was working with Britain and Germany on a text that could be accelerated if a separate resolution drafted by Palestinians is put forward.

The vote in Paris has raised domestic political pressure on France to be more active on the issue. A recent poll showed more than 60 percent of French people supported a Palestinian state.

France has the largest Jewish and Muslim populations in Europe and flare-ups in the Middle East tend to aggravate tensions between the two communities.

Right-wing lawmakers criticized the Socialist majority for backing Palestine recognition to win back support from Muslim voters who were dismayed by a gay marriage law passed last year and President Francois Hollande's apparent support for Israel's intervention in Gaza.

“It will add fuel to the fire in a region that doesn't need that at all,” said Christian Jacob, leader of the conservative UMP party in parliament.

Spanish parliament backs call for eventual Palestine state

Spanish lawmakers on Tuesday urged their government to recognize Palestine as a state, albeit only when the Palestinians and Israel negotiate a solution to their long-standing conflict.

The symbolic motion, which echoes similar votes last month in Britain and Ireland, was backed by all the political groupings in the lower house after the ruling People's Party (PP) watered down the wording hours after an attack in Jerusalem.

Two Palestinians armed with a meat cleaver and a gun burst into a synagogue and killed four Jews at prayer before being shot dead.

The non-binding text brought by the opposition Socialists was initially an outright call to recognize a Palestinian state and had angered the Israeli government.

But Beatriz Rodriguez-Salmones of the PP, which holds an absolute majority in the lower house, told the debate her party would not back a unilateral recognition of the Palestinian state “at a time of intense pain for Israel”.

“It is not the right time to seek a unilateral recognition. Peace and a peaceful cohabitation between two states are the objective … The method is a negotiation between the two,” she said.

The text that was adopted said: “The parliament urges the government to recognize Palestine as a state … This recognition should be the consequence of a process negotiated between the parties that guarantees peace and security for both, the respect of the rights of the citizens and regional stability.”

Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo, the only member of the Spanish government to attend the debate, said the government was now committed to working in favour of a dialogue between the two parties that brought “peace, stability and progress to a region that has been suffering for a long time.”

He also called on the European Union to have a coordinated approach on the issue.

France is eyeing its own non-binding resolution this month after Sweden's centre-left government took the lead by officially recognizing the state of Palestine within days of taking office last month.

The moves reflect mounting frustration in the EU at Israel's expanding settlement programme on land the Palestinians want for a state following the collapse of U.S.-sponsored peace talks.

The EU's new foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said the bloc's 28 foreign ministers discussed on Monday how they could start “a positive process with the Israelis and Palestinians to relaunch a peace process.”

Zara ‘sorry’ for t-shirt that looks like Nazi camp uniform

Global fashion chain Zara, owned by Spain's Inditex, pulled from sale on Wednesday a striped children's top decorated with a large six-pointed star after it was likened to uniforms worn by Jewish concentration camp inmates in Nazi Germany.

The shirt, bearing horizontal blue and white stripes, was on sale online in three European countries but not in Israel, an Inditex spokeswoman said. The resemblance was unintentional and the design had been inspired by sheriff's stars from classic Western films, she said.

Within hours of the t-shirt being put up for sale, some newspapers had picked up on its resemblance to concentration camp uniforms and messages were posted on Twitter criticising the design.

“The shirt bears a large six-pointed star on the upper-left section, in the exact place where Nazis forced Jews to wear the Star of David,” wrote Israeli newspaper Haaretz, calling the garment “hauntingly reminiscent of a darker era”.

On its website, Haaretz displayed a photograph of part of a uniform worn by prisoners at Auschwitz, showing a jacket with vertical green and white stripes and a yellow star below the left shoulder bearing the word “Jude,” the German word for Jew.

Just days ago Zara, which has over 2,000 stores in 88 countries worldwide, withdrew a t-shirt bearing the slogan 'White is the new black'.

Reporting by Sonya Dowsett; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky

Penélope Cruz, Javier Bardem: Moral idiots

About 10 days ago, Penelope Cruz and her husband, Javier Bardem, signed a public letter in Spain along with prominent Spanish director Pedro Almodovar and other Spanish directors and actors accusing Israel of “genocide” and “extermination.”

Some excerpts (unofficial translation from the Spanish):

“There is no distance or neutrality that can be justified in the horror taking place in Gaza at this time. It is a war of occupation and extermination.” 

“The West standing and allowing such genocide is shameless. I do not understand this barbarism, and considering the Jewish people’s background, this cruelty is even less comprehensible.” 

“I want to clarify certain issues: Yes, my son was born in a Jewish hospital; I have close, dear friends who are Jewish. Because someone is a Jew does not mean he supports this massacre, just as being a Hebrew does not make you a Zionist, and being a Palestinian does not make you a Hamas terrorist. That is as absurd as saying that being German makes you a Nazi.”

After receiving some blowback, Cruz and Bardem released a statement as moronic and even more fatuous than their original statement. 

Bardem: “My signature was solely meant as a plea for peace. Destruction and hatred only generate more hatred and destruction. While I was critical of the Israeli military response, I have great respect for the people of Israel and deep compassion for their losses. I am now being labeled by some as anti-Semitic, as is my wife — which is the antithesis of who we are as human beings. We detest anti-Semitism as much as we detest the horrible and painful consequences of war.

“I was raised to be against any act of violence.”

On the meaningless-response scale, Cruz actually outdid her husband:

“I don’t want to be misunderstood on this important subject. I’m not an expert on the situation and I’m aware of the complexity of it. My only wish and intention in signing that group letter is the hope that there will be peace in both Israel and Gaza.”

One will notice that neither Cruz nor Bardem retracted their charges of genocide, extermination or Zionists as Nazis. 

There were, however, two true sentences in their follow-up statements. 

Bardem undoubtedly was “raised to be against any act of violence.” Raised in Spain as a leftist, that is exactly what he was raised to believe. That violence can never be moral is one of the many moral idiocies that almost all Europeans have been raised to believe.

The other truth was Cruz’s statement that she is “not an expert on the situation.”

But if she doesn’t understand the situation, why did she sign that vile letter against Israel? 

There are two possible reasons: One is that she simply did what her left-wing husband asked her to do. The other is that Cruz, like so many celebrities, thinks that fame makes one smart.

Let’s make something clear: The charge of genocide against Israel is morally and factually identical to the medieval blood libel — the claim that Jews slaughtered Christian children in order to use their blood for making matzah. 

This modern equivalent should henceforth be known as the genocide libel. And for the record, let it be noted that (A.) the Palestinian population has quintupled since Israel came into existence and doubled since 1990; and (B.) the Cruz-Bardem-Almodovar charge has thoroughly cheapened the real genocides of the Jews, Ukrainians, Chinese, Cambodians, Tutsis and others. These other communities, too, should be livid.

Every Jew and every decent non-Jew should regard Cruz, Bardem, Almodovar and the other signatories with the same contempt that is directed at medieval Christians who charged Jews with the blood libel and at contemporary Holocaust deniers. They are on the identical moral plane.

For that reason, if Cruz, Bardem or Almodovar were ever to enter a room in which I was present, I would leave. 

I ask everyone in Hollywood to do the same. However, with only two exceptions of which I am aware, not one Hollywood actor or director has said a word against Cruz and Bardem. Not a word from Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Harvey Weinstein, Norman Lear or anyone else.

The two exceptions are that wonderful man and actor Jon Voight and Relativity Media CEO Ryan Kavanaugh. Both condemned Cruz and Bardem in the strongest terms.

Cruz, Bardem and Almodovar have done real damage to the Jewish state and to the Jewish people. The issue is not whether Cruz, Bardem or Almodovar are anti-Semites. Of course they have Jewish friends and don’t hate Jews per se. The issue is that of all the countries in the world, they singled out — to a worldwide audience — the one Jewish state (and the only one that must fight to stay alive) to libel with the most vicious charge that one can direct against a nation. And they equated “Zionist” with “Hamas” and with “Nazi.” They are not anti-Semites, but those words are anti-Semitic.

Cruz, Bardem and Almodovar should retract their charges completely, explain why, visit Israel and condemn Hamas as the genocidal party. They won’t, of course. Because they are too self-important, too morally confused and too shallow to understand the damage they have wrought. 

There is only one thing more troubling: the almost complete silence of the rest of Hollywood. The left-wing dominance of Hollywood has truly rendered it a moral desert. That is why Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem will remain in good standing. After all, they do oppose carbon emissions.

Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host (AM 870 in Los Angeles) and founder of PragerUniversity.com. His latest book is the New York Times best-seller “Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph” (HarperCollins, 2012).

Spain suspends arms sales to Israel over Gaza operation

The Spanish government “provisionally suspended” arms sales to Israel over its operation in Gaza.

The country’s Interministerial Regulatory Board on Foreign Trade and Defense made the decision last week in Madrid, the Spanish daily El Pais reported Monday.

Spanish arms sales to Israel are limited, and were more than $6.5 million in 2013, or just over 1 percent of total Spanish exports. The arms included missile components, all-terrain vehicles, grenade fuses and optical systems.

The suspension will be reviewed in September at the next meeting of the interministerial committee, which is made up of of representatives of the ministries of the presidency, economy, foreign affairs, defense and finance. In the last year, Spain also has suspended arms sales to Egypt, Ukraine and Venezuela.

Spain’s minister of foreign affairs, Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo, in a speech to the Spanish Congress the same days as the arms sales suspension described as “shocking” the numbers of victims in the bombing of Gaza.

Garcia-Margallo recognized “the right of Israel to protect its citizens, but conditioned the principle of proportionality and respect for civil protection they deserve, which is nothing but a manifestation of international humanitarian law.”

Spanish town named ‘kill Jews’ to seek Jewish studies center

The Spanish town in the process of changing its name because it contains the words “kill Jews” is promoting plans to open a Jewish studies center.

Lorenzo Rodriguez, the mayor of Castrillo Matajudios in northern Spain, was scheduled to present the plan at a meeting Wednesday at the seat of the local government in Leon, Radio Arlanzon reported.

In addition to opening a center for studies on the culture of the Sephardim — including Spanish Jews who converted to Christianity or left the Iberian Peninsula because of persecutions during the Spanish Inquisition — Rodriguez also is seeking to initiate archaeological excavations that he said would help clarify how his town of a few dozen families came to be receive its controversial name.

On May 25, a majority of residents at a town hall meeting voted to change the name to Castrillo Mota Judios, meaning “camp Jews’ hill.” Rodriguez, who initiated the vote, believes it was the original name because the town had a sizable Jewish contingent and was changed during or before the Inquisition.

The intention to change the town’s name was published recently in the region’s official publication. If no one objects to the proposal within one month of the publication, then the town may file for an official name change with the district.


Spanish city making ancient Jewish cemetery accessible to disabled

A Spanish municipality plans to make one of the country’s largest Jewish cemeteries accessible to disabled people.

Work on the accessibility project began Wednesday at the Jewish cemetery of Lucena in the autonomous province of Cordoba in Spain’s south, Europa Press reported.

The project,  first announced earlier this year at a tourism fair in Madrid, “aims to guarantee mobility to anyone all over the area of the Jewish Necropolis of Lucena,” the city said in a statement.

The necropolis is the largest Jewish cemetery ever excavated in Spain, and it contains 346 catalogued graves, many of them centuries old, according to Europa Press.

The Marrero Architects agency, which designed the accessibility plan for the city, is supervising the construction of a network of wooden paths to be suspended over the graves in a grid. “Construction is undertaken with consideration to the dignity of the dead,”  the city said.

The suspended wooden paths are to be made accessible from a specially designated parking area for people with disabilities, the city said.

The project, supervised by Lucena’s tourism department, is scheduled to be completed by Dec. 18.

The cemetery was discovered in 2006 during construction of Lucena’s southern ring road, according to the office of the Red de Juderias, a network of approximately 20 Spanish cities containing Jewish heritage sites.

The remains pointed to a late medieval period between the years 1000 and 1050 CE, the heyday of Jewish presence in Lucena. One of the oldest gravestones uncovered at the cemetery features Hebrew lettering and is dated to somewhere between the eighth and ninth centuries CE.


Seeing Seville

In Spain’s fourth-largest city, Seville, the Juderia (Jewish quarter) is a vibrant maze of brightly painted buildings, vest-pocket-sized parks, sidewalk cafes, flamenco-show venues and boutiques. 

While this should come as no surprise — it is the area’s social and commercial epicenter — all of the paint, flower boxes and souvenirs conceal a darker history that, over time, nearly rid the city of Jews entirely. 

According to the Bible (I Kings 10:22), Jews were in contact with southern Spain during the days of Solomon. Historical records, however, suggest the time of their introduction in Seville — now capital of the autonomous community called Andalusia — was between the fifth and seventh centuries. 

When the city came under Moorish rule in 712, a Jewish guard was formed for its defense, making a harmonious period during which Jews, Moors and Christians co-existed. In the Middle Ages, Seville’s Juderia was a bustling Jewish community that was second largest after Toledo. At its peak in the mid-13th century, an estimated 6,000 to 7,000 Jewish families lived in the area.

During those times, Jews were engaged in banking, law, commerce, medicine and the dyeing industry. After the 1013 Berber conquest, Seville served as a refuge for Jews escaping from persecution in nearby Córdoba. 

The protracted decline of the Jewish community started in 1378 — more than 100 years before the final expulsion from Spain in 1492. Following a Christian reconquest of the city, a local archdeacon, Ferrand Martinez, launched a campaign of violent sermons against the Jews, and, according to Stephen Birmingham in “The Grandees: America’s Sephardic Elite,” led an armed mob in 1391 that “massacred more than four thousand Jews, looted and burned their houses.” Although many Jews converted, the Jewish problem became the Converso problem. 

Today, about 130 Jews are trying to restore Jewish life and tradition to Seville. According to local tour guide and historian Moises Hassan-Amselem, the Orthodox community (consisting of Moroccan Jews and more closely resembling the American Conservative denomination in practice) was created officially in 1966. Although some Moroccan-Jewish families had lived there for a couple of generations, others arrived in the 1960s and ’70s to attend the local university. 

This community — about 30 families— stages services for Shabbat, even though getting a minyan can prove challenging. There also are services for the High Holy Days. 

The Reform community (beitrambam.es), which also identifies itself as Progressive, was organized a few years back by Jews from Andalusia seeking an alternative. Its 25 to 30 families include expats from the United States and elsewhere in the Americas, converts and other members of mixed marriages. They celebrate Kabbalat Shabbat once a month, but do not have a permanent shul, instead using offices and hotel rooms around town as needed. A member of the community teaches Hebrew once a week to children of both congregations.

The Centro de Interpretacion Juderia de Sevilla, a museum in Barrio Santa Cruz, one of the sections that make up the Jewish quarter, houses artifacts from the Juderia’s glory days and downfall. But Hassan-Amselem (jewishsevilla.com) prefers telling Jewish history by hitting the streets. 

“I take my clients to small corners of the quarter where they can see a piece of history that provokes conversation about how Jews live in Spain today,” he explained upon our meeting at the Hotel Las Casas de la Juderia. “My job is to let people know that the strong historical roots of the Jewish community are still important. I want to connect Jewish history to the present and prove to visitors that it is still possible to live a Jewish life here, even if it can be challenging.”

Although the hotel lobby is quite beautiful, Hassan-Amselem is quick to point out the building is not representative of the Juderia as it existed 600 years ago. Our tour takes the form of a scavenger hunt, tracking down finds hidden in and around Barrio Santa Cruz, Barrio de San Bartolomé, Calle Santa Maria la Blanca and remnants of the quarter’s wall originating from Calle Conde de Ibarra.  

Our first stop is the Church of Santa María la Blanca, where one wall section embellished with vividly colored and gilded Christian imagery is peeled back to reveal the spare architectural hallmarks of a medieval synagogue. Although there is no signage to point out the building’s former use, the architectural contrast stands as a visual reminder of how Martinez galvanized his flock to erase any trace of Jewish presence. 

Later, as we walked through a beautiful garden park, Jardines de Murillo, Hassan-Amselem told me it was once the site of a Jewish cemetery. And inside the Church of San Nicolás, he showed me its most visited shrine, memorializing a child, whose signage was changed around 2005 to remove a declaration that the boy was killed by Jews. (Local historians believe, according to Hassan-Amselem, that the story was a myth planted by clerics to support pogroms.) 

In addition to these larger landmarks, there are small Hebrew inscriptions posted in random walls and archways around town that remain enigmatic centuries after they were placed. Hassan-Amselem said they may have been written by non-Jews — one captions a picture of the Virgin Mary stepping over a snake, reading “hu yeshufecha rosh” (“[S]he will strike you in the head,” from Genesis 3:15, a reference to the enmity that is said to exist between humanity and the snake after the incident in the Garden of Eden). 

Essential sites beyond the Juderia include the Castillo de San Jorge/Spanish Inquisition Museum in the Triana neighborhood; Plaza de España (built for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929); Jerez, the cradle of sherry production; and the Tio Pepe bodega, known for its acclaimed kosher sherry.

A man named ‘Kills Jews’

There is a town in Spain called Castrillo Matajudios, and in Colombia “Matajudios” is a common surname.

The problem is, in Spanish one meaning of the name is “Kills Jews.” Which has led a Colombian emigre cashier in Argentina to attract the ire of a Jewish organization there.

It all started when Adrian Marguiles, a customer at the Expoalimentos supermarket in Argentina’s San Isidro district, discovered, upon reviewing his receipt, that his cashier went by the name Ivan Matajudios.

Thinking the cashier had chosen Matajudios as a nickname, in order to incite violence against Jews, Margulies complained to DAIA, a Jewish group that, just four days earlier, had signed an agreement with the district’s mayor to work together on educational activities promoting coexistence and tolerance.

When DAIA leaders met with the supermarket owner, they discovered that Ivan Dario Matajudios Galindo was the cashier’s actual name.

DAIA Vice President Waldo Wolff told JTA that the supermarket owners asked if they should fire the worker.

“We told them that this is not necessary at all,” he said. “But we want the cashier to appear in the receipts with his other surname, as Ivan Galindo.”

DAIA plans to request a meeting with Argentina’s interior ministry to request that immigrants with names that appear to promote anti-Semitism be required to choose a different moniker while in Argentina.

Perhaps Amajudios, or “Loves Jews,” would be a good option.

Spain OK’s bill for Jewish return

Spain’s Jewish community congratulated the government for approving a bill proposing to facilitate the naturalization of Sephardic Jews of Spanish descent.

On Friday, Spain’s government approved the bill, which was filed last month by the ruling Popular Party and proposes to amend previous legislation that allowed for granting citizenship to Sephardic Jews who chose to apply for it.

Spain’s Federation of Jewish Communities, of FCJE, said in a statement Friday that it welcomed the move. “Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz Gallardon has kept his word,” FCJE wrote in the statement.

The bill proposes to allow dual nationality, enabling people who can prove Sephardic ancestry to also retain their other citizenships. Reports about the bill did not say when it would go up for a vote by lawmakers of Spain’s Congress of Deputies.

Spain already granted citizenship to individuals who applied based on previous naturalization laws for Sephardic Jews, but had no procedure in place to process such requests, the Terra Espana news site reported Friday.

Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon said the measure smooths the bureaucracy involved in obtaining Spanish citizenship. Applicants must be vetted by the government and FCJE.

Gallardon announced his intention to introduce new legislation in November 2012. His party, the Popular Party, introduced the bill in December 2013, after Portugal passed its own law of Jewish return in July.

Hundreds of thousands of Jews fled Spain and Portugal during the 15th and 16th centuries, when they were persecuted by the Catholic church and the royal houses of both countries.

Last month, the initiator of the Portuguese law, lawmaker Jose Ribeiro e Castro, urged the government to draft regulations to allow its implementation. Portuguese law gives the government 90 days to draft regulations for laws passed, but this did not happen in the case of Portugal’s law of return, the Lusa news agency reported on Jan. 20.

Spanish town prepares first seder in 500 years

A town in northern Spain is preparing to hold its first Passover seder since 1492.

The festive dinner will take place in the old center of the town of Ribadavia on March 25 and is being organized by the municipality’s tourism department in partnership with the Center for Medieval Studies, a Ribadavia-based association which researches the history of Iberian Jews prior to their expulsion during the Spanish Inquisition that began in 1492.

The center’s honorary president, historian Abraham Haim, will be conducting the religious ceremonies at the seder, according to a report by La Voz de Galicia, a local newspaper. Anyone is invited to attend, but a seat costs about $40, the newspaper said. The city expects a few dozen people will attend.

The project is aimed at increasing tourism to Ribadavia and “breathing new life into its old Jewish quarter.”

Like many Spanish cities, Ribadavia used to have a sizable Jewish population before the Spanish Inquisition, in which Jews were forced to emigrate or convert. Since the 1990s, several cities and towns in Spain and Portugal have undertaken tourist projects that highlight their Jewish past.

Israel faces European backlash over settlement plan

Israel faced concerted criticism from Europe on Monday over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's decision to expand settlement building after the United Nations' de facto recognition of Palestinian statehood.

Britain, France and Sweden summoned the Israeli ambassadors in their respective capitals to hear deep disapproval of the plan to erect 3,000 more homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Ahead of a Netanyahu visit this week, Germany, considered Israel's closest ally in Europe, urged it to refrain from expanding settlements, and Russia said it viewed the Israeli moves with serious concern.

Angered by the U.N. General Assembly's upgrading on Thursday of the Palestinians' status in the world body from “observer entity” to “non-member state”, Israel said the next day it would build the new dwellings for settlers.

Such projects in the past, on land Israel captured in a 1967 war and which Palestinians seek for a future state, have routinely drawn almost pro forma world condemnation.

But in a dramatic shift that Netanyahu would have certainly realized would raise the alarm among Palestinians and in world capitals, his pro-settler government also ordered “preliminary zoning and planning work” for thousands of housing units in areas including the so-called “E1” zone east of Jerusalem.

Such construction in the barren hills of E1 – still on the drawing board and never put into motion in the face of opposition from its main ally, the United States – could bisect the West Bank, cut off Palestinians from Jerusalem and further dim their hopes for a contiguous state.

The settlement plan, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, would deal “an almost fatal blow” to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Britain made clear it would not support strong Israeli retaliation over the U.N. vote, which Palestinians sought after peace talks collapsed in 2010 in a dispute over settlement building.

“We deplore the recent Israeli decision to build 3,000 new housing units and unfreeze development in the E1 block,” a Foreign Office spokesman said. “We have called on the Israeli government to reverse the decision.”

But a spokesman for British Prime Minister David Cameron played down talk of recalling Britain's ambassador in Tel Aviv.

“We are not proposing to do anything further at this stage,” the spokesman said. “We are continuing to have conversations with the Israeli government and others.”

France expressed “serious concerns” to the Israeli ambassador, reminding him that settlement building in occupied territories was illegal and an “obstacle” to reviving peace talks with the Palestinians.

A French Foreign Ministry official, responding to reports Paris might bring its Tel Aviv envoy home, said: “There are other ways in which we can express our disapproval.”


Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said Israel could not have remained indifferent to the Palestinians' unilateral move at the United Nations.

In Europe only the Czech Republic voted against the resolution while many countries, including France, backed it. Netanyahu also plans to visit Prague this week to express his thanks.

“I want to tell you that those same Europeans and Americans who are now telling us 'naughty, naughty over our response, understand full-well that we have to respond, and they themselves warned the Palestinian Authority,” Steinitz told Army Radio.

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said building in E1 “destroys the two-state solution, (establishing) East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine and practically ends the peace process and any opportunity to talk about negotiations in the future”.

Sami Abu Zuhri, spokesman for the Hamas Islamist movement that governs the Gaza Strip, said the settlement plans were “an insult to the international community, which should bear responsibility for Israeli violations and attacks on Palestinians”.

Only three weeks ago, Netanyahu won strong European and U.S. support for an offensive in the Hamas Islamist-run Gaza Strip, which Israel said was aimed at curbing cross-border rocket fire.

Favored by opinion polls to win a January 22 national election, he brushed off world condemnation of his latest settlement plans and complaints from critics at home that he is deepening Israel's diplomatic isolation.

He told his cabinet on Sunday that his government “will carry on building in Jerusalem and in all the places on the map of Israel's strategic interests”.

But while his housing minister has said the government would soon invite bids from contractors to build 1,000 homes for Israelis in East Jerusalem and more than 1,000 in West Bank settlement blocs, the E1 plan was still in its planning stages.

“No one will build until it is clear what will be done there,” the minister, Ariel Attias, said on Sunday.

Israel froze much of its activities in E1 under pressure from former U.S. President George W. Bush and the area has been under the scrutiny of his successor Barack Obama.
Approximately 500,000 Israelis and 2.5 million Palestinians live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Additional reporting by Crispian Balmer, Dan Williams, Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza, Jihan Abdalla in Ramallah, Sreve Gutterman in Moscow, Gareth Jones in Berlin, John Irish in Paris and Tim Castle in London; Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Giles Elgood