Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmit, who presides over the Conference of European Rabbis, responded to Spain’s offer of citizenship to Sephardic Jews – who are descended from Jews who lived in Spain until they were ejected 500 years ago by Spanish monarchs – and said that the offer came a “little late”. The influential religious leader, writing at the Ynetnews website, did say that Spain’s offer was “commendable” but an apology is long overdue. Rabbi Goldschmit wrote "King Juan Carlos (missed) a great opportunity to do so during a visit to a Madrid synagogue in 1992." The offer was made by the Popular Party government now in power. Mariano Rajoy is prime minister.
It is estimated that some 3.5 Sephardic Jews will apply for Spanish citizenship. The Swiss-born Rabbi Goldschmidt, who is the chief rabbi of Moscow, believes the figure will be lower. Writing on Feb. 16, "I find it hard to believe that hundreds of thousands of Israelis are seriously considering changing their country of residence from Israel to Spain.” Moreover, said the rabbi, "Many of them will be tempted to acquire a second (EU) passport to simplify their entry to countries that still curtail or limit entry of Israelis through visa requirements.”
Speaking to the many instances in which Jews have had to hastily leave the countries where they reside, Rabbi Goldschmidt wrote "As my grandfather used to say, a Jew should have at least three passports."
Rabbi Goldschmidt called upon the Spanish government to incorporate Judaic studies in public schools, and issue that Muslims have also raised. He also suggested that Spain should create a genealogical institute to help its citizens find their Jewish roots.
“As noble as the Spanish gesture might seem,” wrote Rabbi Goldschmidt, “we should not forget that the increased insular and religious Spain slowly descended from its prime place in the world as a super power to become a backwater entity, joining Europe and its democratic values on a very late stage, making it maybe itself the greatest victim of its own history.”
“How many Israelis with family names like Deri, Dahan and Abarbanel would want to leave their country in order to immigrate to Spain? If the offer would have come in 1938 for example, I believe that many Jews of Europe would have gladly taken on the Spanish offer. But as they say, banks usually are ready to give you money when you need it the least.”
It was in 1492 that the ‘Catholic Monarchs’, Isabella and Ferdinand demanded that Jews and Muslims convert to Christianity or leave the country. Jews, Christians, and Muslims lived in a contentious coexistence during the centuries that Islam predominated in Spain, especially in Andalucía and Valencia. Jews were prominent as physicians, courtiers, and composers. Jewish neighborhoods were prominent in Toledo and Sevilla and still draw tourists.
During the Second World War, dictator Francisco Franco drew up a list of Jews living in Spain and gave it to Germany’s National Socialist government. Members of Adolf Hitler’s SS closely monitored the Jewish community in Spain and expressed concern to the diminutive Spanish caudillo about what they viewed as the undue influence the Jewish community had. However, as the war progressed and an Allied victory appeared likely, Franco actually offered Spain as an escape route for Jews escaping the Holocaust. Later, in order to curry favor with the United States, the Franco government made much of Spain tardy assistance to Jews escaping annihilation.
Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. He is also a freelance translator.