This past week, the Spanish government approved a bill which will enable the descendants of Jewish victims of the Spanish Inquisition of 1492 to apply for Spanish citizenship while retaining their current citizenship. News sites have published what is said to be an official list of approximately 5,220 surnames which may qualify for such application.
On September 10th, 1952 Israel signed an agreement which obliged West Germany to pay reparations to Israel for the damages caused by Germany and for the property which was stolen from Jews by the Nazis during their reign. In Germany, this agreement was termed “Wiedergutmachung” – the German word for reparations for the injustice caused during the war.
In opposition at the time, Menachem Begin staunchly opposed accepting such an arrangement for a number of reasons. Firstly, Begin believed that the name itself represented a mockery as no amount of reparations could ever correct the injustices and crimes committed. Money, whatever the amount, could never be a substitute for the value of those slain during the Nazi persecution.
Secondly, Begin understood how the agreement would be interpreted by those who continued to hold the view that there are no depths to which avaricious Jews will not sink for money. Finally, he recognized that such gestures would signify an effortless exoneration for German guilt since they had demonstrated their remorse and even contributed to the growth of the newly born Jewish State of Israel. Indeed, it would even carry the imprimatur of the Jews themselves.
With a full grasp of these facts, Begin wanted no part of it. He would not be bribed or sanction any overtures which could henceforth be used against his people. He would not allow injustices to be inverted as a mechanism to compel the Jews to forgive and forget and cast their recent plight into the dusty confines of history.
When discussing the Arab-Israeli conflict, the correlation is often drawn between Palestinians and Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Israelis are ensnared within moral parameters which they dare not breach so as not to incur the accusation that is used as a weapon against supporters of Israel. Indeed it seems that each time the Jewish people survive or avert any tragedy, there is always a price. Nothing is ever free.
Thus when Jews endure the pre-1948 violence of anti-Semitism, they are emotionally blackmailed into levels of restraint which exceeds the standards of the laws of armed conflict, sometimes teetering on illogical sacrifice of their soldiers when facing enemies, lest they themselves be branded as Nazi ghosts. When Israel acquires nuclear weapons, the world asks, as if there is any parallel whatsoever, why a religiously fanatical regime such as Iran should not also be armed with the same weapons even though it frequently calls for Israel’s eradication. When Jews finally fight for a state of their own, (as the world failed to oversee its own resolution), and later destroy the armies poised to conclude the business of the Third Reich, it falls upon Israel’s shoulders to solve not only the Arab-Israeli conflict, but the instability in its entirety which sweeps through the world by way of terror attacks. Seldom do the events which history presents to Jews come without strings attached. Nothing seems to come free of moral blackmail which forces Israel to pay for the crimes which were committed against her people.
Following in this tradition, as Spain now prepares to vote upon the bill which will enable a few thousand descendants of the Jewish expulsion to return, we should not be surprised if this is brandished as a tool against Israel in a similarly cynical fashion. Israel’s opponents will already have spotted the fallacious analogy between these Jews and the Palestinian refugee problem – the equation being that if after over 500 years the Spanish can agree to grant a “right of return” to those expelled during their cruel inquisition, then Israel should surely extend the same offer to the Palestinians who were forced to leave or left for various other reasons during the Israeli War of Independence.
Yet while the war of Independence led to many tragedies and acts of misconduct, as all wars inevitably do, the Palestinians were not victims of wholesale robbery, tens of thousands were not bound and burned alive, they were not forced to endure the most humiliating and cruel deaths by way of sadistic torture.
When the false comparison is drawn, as it surely will be, Israel’s supporters should not be fooled. Indeed, if the number of descendants of the expelled Spanish refugees equated to the number of those Israel is expected to absorb or threatened to transform the demographic makeup of the nation, would the Spanish still necessarily grant them a right of return? It is safe to surmise that the potential consequences would arouse greater hesitation, to phrase it mildly.
Yet while some eligible Jews will no doubt accept the Spanish offer and apply for citizenship, what is the likelihood of the total number of legitimate applications amounting to over a million? Such calculations have already been made by the authors of the bill.
To be sure, the gesture is a positive one but the ramifications of such minimal proportion which the Spanish understand will realistically emanate from such an initiative should place Israelis and Jews under no illusions that Israel should learn here from the Spanish, for this bill does not represent the any kind of moral rectitude which Israel should now be expected to emulate.
It deserves absolutely no citation in the subject of Arab-Israeli conflict resolution. The bill represents nothing more than precisely that which it is – a noble gesture of goodwill which will have extremely limited consequences. If it does in any way constitute a correction de la injusticia, this should not come at any cost. It certainly bears no comparison with the current Palestinian refugee problem. Thus it can never afford either the Spanish or anybody else the grossly inappropriate tool to further manipulate Israel and exhort her to take decisions inimical to her own demographic interests.
Hopefully, the Jewish descendants of a horrific crime will receive this gesture without the moral blackmail and conditions which tend so frequently to go hand in hand but no one need be too surprised if such optimism proves to be unfounded.