The future of Spanish Jewry

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Should Jews leave Spain? Following last Thursday’s jihadist attack in Barcelona, Barcelona’s chief rabbi, Meir Bar- Hen, told a reporter that he is urging his community members to flee Spain for Israel.

“I tell my congregants: Don’t think we’re here for good, and I encourage them to buy property in Israel,” he said.

“This place is lost,” he warns, adding, “Don’t repeat the mistakes of Algerian Jews, of Venezuelan Jews. Better [get out] early than late. Europe is lost.”

The Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain rejected Bar-Hen’s warning. It issued a statement last Thursday saying its member have “full confidence in the security forces who work daily to prevent fanatics and radical Muslims from inflicting pain and chaos on our cities.”

Bar-Hen’s warnings and the Federation’s statement of faith in Spain’s security services are not mutually exclusive. Spain’s security forces probably are doing their best to protect the people of Spain from Islamist terrorists. And the future of the Jews in Spain may very well be doomed.

The data certainly back up both claims. Bar-Hen called Spain “a hub of Islamist terror for all of Europe.” And he is right.

Soren Kern, an expert on jihad operations in Europe at the Gatestone Institute, noted in a 2015 report that Spanish security forces arrested nearly 600 jihadists in the decade that followed the March 2004 al-Qaida train bombings in Madrid. But the pool of potential recruits to jihadist cells keeps growing as a result of mass immigration from the Middle East and North Africa. Since 2007, the Muslim community in Spain doubled in size. With two million Muslims in Spain, the community now constitutes 4% of the overall population.

Those numbers can be expected to continue to skyrocket. With Italy and Greece working to block mass flows of illegal immigrants to their shores, the number of migrants seeking to enter Europe through Spain is growing.

According to Kern, in the first seven months of 2017, the number of migrants illegally entering Spain from the sea is triple what it was in all of 2016. The number of migrants attempting to enter through Spain’s heavily fortified land border with Morocco is similarly growing steadily, and violently.

This month the situation along Spain’s border with Morocco has become particularly fraught. Kern reports that on August 7, more than 300 mostly- sub-Saharan Africans ambushed Spanish and Moroccan security forces and stormed the border crossing at El Tarajal; 186 migrants made it onto Spanish territory.

The next day, “more than a thousand migrants armed with spears and rocks attempted to breach the same crossing.”

But it isn’t only Muslims from the Middle East and North Africa that are pushing their way into Spain.

Radical Muslims from France moved to Spain in significant numbers following the French government crackdown in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre in 2015. According to Spanish security officials, they came to Spain because the security services’ attitude toward radical Islam is more accommodating.

From the perspective of Islamic State (ISIS) recruiters, native Spanish converts to Islam are even more attractive targets of jihadist recruiters than Muslim- born radicals. According to official figures cited by Kern, there are more than 50,000 converts to Islam in Spain.

One such convert, Antonia Saez Martinez, also known as “Ali the barber” because he worked as a hairdresser, converted to Islam in July 2012. By October 2012, he was already writing in his diary of his desire to join the forces of jihad against non-Muslims.

As Kern notes, Martinez’s journal confessions were entered into court documents in 2016 after Martinez was arrested the previous year. He was charged for leading a jihadist terrorist cell.

The Martinez cell intended to carry out multiple kidnappings of random civilians, dress them in orange jumpsuits and behead them in front of video cameras. They also intended to blow up a Jewish bookstore in Barcelona.

Another Muslim convert, Gonzalo Cabezas, was also a member of Martinez’s group. Cabezas was arrested after he was seen taking pictures of tourist sites in Barcelona.

The fact that the Martinez cell picked specifically intended to attack Jewish institutions is notable. It shows that like jihadists from Mumbai, Paris and across the world, Islamic terrorists in Spain target Jews specifically.

And this brings us to Bar-Hen’s foreboding about the future that awaits Spanish Jewry.

The problem for Spain’s Jews is that to a large degree, the general public shares the radical Islamists’ hatred for Jews. A 2014 survey of European antisemitism by the Anti-Defamation League found that Spain is the third most antisemitic country in Europe, behind Greece and France.

A Spanish Foreign Ministry-commissioned survey from the same period found that 58.4% of Spaniards believe “Jews are powerful because they control the economy and the mass media.”

The number rose to 62.2% among university students and 70.5% among those who are “interested in politics.”

The data also showed that levels of Jew-hatred rose with education levels and that Spaniards who identify themselves as leftists are more antisemitic than Spaniards who identify themselves with the Right.

The survey findings revealed that hostility toward Israel was not a major cause of Jew hatred. Most of Spain’s self-described antisemites cited the Jewish religion or customs or no reason at all for their hatred of Jews. Only 17% said they hate Jews because of Israel.

For its part, the Spanish government is doing everything it can to make its Muslim community feel at home. This is particularly the case in the separatist regions of Catalonia, the Basque region and Andalusia, where the largest concentration of Salafist Muslims is located.

For instance, in June The Wall Street Journal published an article titled, “The Spanish Left dreams of a deconquista.” The article chronicled the efforts of leftists in Andalusia to transform the Cordoba Cathedral into a mosque, out of respect for its Muslim roots.

The article notes that after being built by the Visigoths in the 5th century, with the 8th century Moorish conquest the cathedral was transformed into a mosque. Following the “Reconquista” of Catalonia from the Moors by King Ferdinand III in 1236, the mosque was reconsecrated as a church and has served as a cathedral ever since.

Efforts to seize the cathedral from the Catholic diocese have gathered force since 2013, as the leftists, who control the Andalusian regional government, have worked with Muslim groups to have the local government seize the cathedral from the Catholic church.

According to the Wall Street Journal report, “In March the city council issued a report arguing that the diocese does not legally own the cathedral. ‘Religious consecration is not the way to acquire property,’ it said. The site’s true owners ‘are each and every citizen of the world from whatever epoch and regardless of people, nation, culture or race.’”

These efforts by Spain’s leftists, and in particular separatists in the Basque, Catalonian and Andalusian regions, to embrace Spain’s Islamic past, have gone hand in hand with ever increasing efforts to demonize Israel through both antisemitic characterizations of Israel and lavish funding of anti-Israel NGOs, including groups directly associated with terrorist organizations. In other words, hostility toward Israel is not merely a staple of Spain’s foreign policy, but has become a salient issue in its domestic and local politics as well. And much of this vitriol merges with an underlying, deeply held hatred of Jews.

In that vein, last month NGO Monitor released a startling report on Spanish funding of radical anti-Israel NGOs. In 2015, Spain provided 5.1 million euros to such groups, including groups associated with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine terrorist organization.

But whereas 26% of the funds came from Spain’s central government, 29% came from the Andalusian regional government. And 10% came from local city councils. Barcelona’s city council provided more than 5% of the total.

This brings us back to Rabbi Bar-Hen’s warning to his fellow Spanish Jews. It is true that today, Jewish life continues on in Spain. Barcelona’s Jewish quarter, across from the site of last week’s terrorist rampage, is filled with tourists and community members. The two kosher restaurants across from where the terrorist in the van mowed down pedestrians were left unscathed.

But the trajectory of Spanish demography, culture and politics all point to a far different future. And it is hard, if not as a practical matter impossible, to think of what Spain’s 40,000 Jews can do to change anything that is happening.

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