Amidst rising anti-Semitism, there appears to be a somewhat surprising parallel move towards repentance by some European nations for the many shameful actions taken against Jews over the centuries. The latest comes from Spain which, having expelled some 300,000 Jews in 1492, now appears ready to invite their descendants back!
The Sephardic Ancestry Bill, which is expected to pass through the Spanish Senate this month, aims to correct an “historic mistake” by offering citizenship to as many as 3.5 million Sephardic Jews around the world whose ancestors were forced out by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella.
Neighbouring Portugal has in recent years passed a similar ‘Law of Return’ offering citizenship to the many Sephardic Jews they persecuted, including my own ancestors who were forced to flee to America in the 19th century. So I guess that entitles me to Portuguese citizenship!
These are welcome moves which contrast sharply with the growing hostility towards Jewish communities being demonstrated in Europe generally, not only in the desecration of synagogues and personal attacks, but in the calls for boycotts and condemnation in the political and economic sphere.
No doubt Spain has been influenced by their former Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar who, in a Times article almost exactly five years ago, urged support for Israel on the basis that “if it goes down, we all go down.”
Aznar argued that the Jewish state is at the cutting edge of the battle between militant Islam and the West and concluded: “Israel is a fundamental part of the West which is what it is thanks to its Judeo-Christian roots. If the Jewish element of those roots is upturned and Israel lost, then we are lost too. Whether we like it or not our fate is inextricably intertwined.”
And in 2008 a Spanish newspaper is said to have published a hard-hitting article expressing similar sentiments – regretting the part Europe had played in an attempt to destroy a people who had pursued nothing but life and peace, while at the same time welcoming Muslims whose extremist ranks blew up trains and hijacked planes.
It does at least continue to demonstrate the potential power for good inherent in the printed word in a world where there is an ever-intensifying battle between truth and propaganda.
Meanwhile, a group of nearly 200 British Christians want to apologize and make amends for the way in which their government turned back Jewish refugees fleeing war-torn Europe 70 years ago, preventing tens of thousands from landing in their biblical homeland apparently because they exceeded a quota on immigration.
In doing so, Britain reneged on its own Balfour Declaration of 1917 promising to do all in its power to establish a home for the Jewish people. Shortly after making the promise, penned by Foreign Secretary Lord Balfour, Britain was awarded the mandate to rule the area following the fall of the Ottoman Empire.
They were thus presented with an obvious opportunity of fulfilling their pledge. But from 1938 to 1948 the British prevented more than 90 ships from landing at Haifa, according to Julie Stahl and Chris Mitchell in an article for CBN News.
“I’m here to commemorate those Jews…who suffered or died as a result of the shameful policies of the British government of the day,” Col Richard Kemp, former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, is reported as saying.
Rosie Ross, who organized the day of repentance, said: “We turned them away and put them in camps in Cyprus and Mauritius, and some were even returned to deportation camps in Germany.”
Others were locked up in a detention camp in Atlit, south of Haifa.
Lord Simon Isaacs, speaking at the event, said the quota on immigration breached Britain’s contract with the Jewish people ratified at the treaties of San Remo (1920) and Versailles (1923). And he said there were two reasons behind their behaviour: appeasing the Arabs and a Labour government that was essentially anti-Jewish.
He hopes the British government admits its mistake in time for the 2017 centenary of the Balfour Declaration. Modern Israel was re-born in 1948 despite Britain’s obstructive tactics.
PHOTO: Scene depicting the expulsion of the Jews from Spain