The Vidal Sassoon International Center (SICSA) - http://sicsa.huji.ac.il/
Raanan Rein, Martina Weisz
Ghosts of the Past, Challenges of the Present: New and Old “Others” in Contemporary Spain
Several weeks after the conclusion of the war in Gaza, rather infelicitously codenamed Operation Cast Lead, we were invited to dinner at the home of the Spanish ambassador to Israel. We were surprised to see the tightened security around the house, a direct result of the political tensions between the two countries. One Spanish diplomat told us about a meeting with Israeli business people at which he was surprised to be asked whether it was safe for Israelis to go to Spain. A few days later the Israeli ambassador to Spain was called a “Jew dog” as he was leaving a Real Madrid-Barcelona soccer match in the Spanish capital (Ravid, 2009). On the same day a Spanish judge announced that he would move forward with a criminal investigation of seven Israeli officers and politicians concerning a 2002 air strike in the Gaza Strip that killed a Hamas militant and 14 civilians (Harel and Zarchin, 2009).
These anecdotes underscore the fact that relations between Israel and Spain have always been dogged by misunderstanding. The roots of the problem can be traced back to the long absence of any meaningful Jewish presence in Spain, from the expulsion of Jews in the late fifteenth century to the late nineteenth century when a small number of Jews resettled in the Iberian Peninsula (Lichtenstein, 1962; Aronsfeld, 1979; Caro Baroja, 1978; Gonzáles García, 1991; Lisbona, 1993). Spain’s neutrality in World War II and the fact that not only did it not participate in the Jewish Holocaust but it actually helped save the lives of thousands of Jews supposedly absolved the country of any guilt concerning the Jews.1 In addition, the absence of diplomatic relations between Spain and Israel until January 1986 contributed to Spaniards’ relative ignorance about Jewish and Israeli issues.2
This brief paper makes two arguments. First, there is a huge gap between public dis- course and social realities. While Spanish media and politicians often express a hostility towards Israel that borders on anti-Semitism, this has not hindered the development of Jewish life in Spain.3 Nowadays Jews, both individually and collectively, enjoy a richer and more prosperous life in Spain than at any time during the past century. Second and even more important, Spanish attitudes towards Jews must be viewed within two wider contexts: recent demographic changes and the struggle to reshape Spanish collective identities, both of which require a comparative approach…