Saturday, February 14, 2009

Reader Ana has kindly responded to my query about the Spanish genetic make-up by citing a recent American Journal of Human genetics study which found that “20% of Spanish and Portuguese men have Sephardic Jewish ancestry and 11% have DNA which reflects Moorish ancestors”. These are treacherous waters so I’ll just quote this sentence from a Wikipedia article which refers to this study:– “The Sephardic result is in contradiction to or not replicated in all the body of genetic studies done in Iberia and conflicts with mainstream historiography.”

Coincidentally, I’ve been meaning to refer to this El País article on Spanish attitudes towards Israel, which opens with this paragraph:- It’s five centuries since the Jews were expelled from Spain but, at times, it seems there still circulates in Spain the ghost of the Jews, not in Gerona’s streets or in Toledo’s synagogues, but in the soul of some Spaniards in whom there persists – buried and shameful – the ancient anti-Semitic prejudice.

Even more coincidentally, in his book "The Disinherited", Henry Kamen makes the point that, in 2006, there were only 20,000 Jews in Spain. Which compares with 4.7 million in Israel, 5.6 million in the USA and 600,000 in next-door France.

I think I’ll just leave it at that for today. And wait for the flak from the troll who trawls the web by the hour to see whether any imbecile is having the temerity to say or imply that anyone in Spain has Arab blood.


ANA said...

The first time I heard somebody say that someone else was 'un Judio' I didn't realise they were saying he was tight with money.I have heard this word used to describe someone and their attitude towards money several times since and always said with the same kind of spite.I do my best to educate but am often left wondering why I bother.Most Spanish people have never met a Jew and know nothing about them or maybe it's just where I live that they have lead sheltered and unriching lives.I have also heard that the spyhole on most Spanish doors is sometimes referred to as a Judas but I haven't heard anyone use it. Franco and the Catholic Church must play a part in all this.

Midnight Golfer said...

Genetics strike me as pretty useless in determining what someone thought about themselves, how they would discern their own identity, and even less about how they would have been classified by their society 500 years ago. It would be more convincing if DNA had been understood since then, but I think it does shed some light on how all humans are more inter-related than they might want to admit. And, many of the groups we use to divide ourselves up, and to provide ourselves with distint identities, are actually arbitrary and contrived.
Even the national boundaries that demarcate our lives, the languages we call our own, and for all that, the very surnames we use, are based on a mish-mash of rules and incongruent guidelines, varying vastly from people to people; none of which withstands more than a couple of centuries.

I also have observed the common usage in Spain of the word "Judio" as a derogatory term for 'penny-pincher.' In the U.S. I did encounter the similar idea that Jews only care about money, but never observed it expressed so frequently and so unashamedly as it is here in Spain. Although, Spaniards do joke about Catalans in a similar way,
and many Americans don't think twice about using "to gyp someone" to mean "to cheat someone." Essentially inferring through language that Gypsies are crooks, the way Spaniards infer that Jews are tightwads.

Due to simple lack of numbers, it is to be expected that the vast majority of Spaniards would never have met a Jew, nor known whether or not if they had.

This is no excuse for the generally accepted cultural norm against Jews, though. The bias we have noticed is certainly even more inappropriate due to the reality that "Jewish" actually encompasses such a diverse array of differing people as to make it impossible to apply a single cliché to them all.

(On a side note; it seems no two Jews can even agree on how to define what's "Jewish")

I have heard the term 'Judas' for peephole, but not often. However, with such a lack of knowledge about Jews, and the connotation of "betrayer" from Judas Iscariot in the New Testament, it is extremely improbable that it has anything to do with Judaism, nor would any Spaniard even equate Judas with Jewish on any occasion. But, you got to the blunt truth of the matter: Spaniards that have adopted anti-semitism have most certainly been sheltered from reality.

The real part that was played in "all of this" is most definitely the order decreed by the "Catholic King and Queen" of Spain, Ferdinand and Isabela, in 1492, to expel all Jews (and anyone else who wouldn't denounce their beliefs and accept Catholicism) from the entire country. Which essentially lasted until the Glorious Revolution of 1858, that set up the first government to say that the Jews (and others) could be invited back.
So yes, leaders using Catholicism as their prime directive, did actively persecute Jews, and then decedents of their 'royal subjects' eventually undid those policies, leaving it as a difference of religious opinion, rather than an official political practice, a century before Hitler made it a government program again.

It may be counter-intuitive, but it did happen that Primo de Rivera said Sephardic Jews should come back, and be made citizens, based on their heritage.
Other members of the fascist regime caused that many Jews were protected, throughout Europe during WWII, and as such, Franco could be said to have played a part in the increasing acceptance of Jews back into Spain, despite promoting a closed-culture and allowing for xenophobia to rule relatively unchecked. When you're dictating the people of your country, you have to take some responsibility for the way they end up, but he was by no means the source of any anti-semitism that that remains to this day.

I would also say that it is no longer realistic to infer that the Catholic Church itself is responsible for the cultural stereotypes that continue to demonize Jews. It certainly isn't the policy of any truly Christian church, and the Vatican is just an easy target for misguided rhetoric, as it has a centralized organization, and exists as an easily-definable organization.

One notable difference is that Christians, going all the way back to the fact they actively sought after the inclusion of Gentiles among their flock, as opposed to a doctrine against inter-marriage, have no cultural identity to fall back on, even as their structural hierarchies have fractured and reassembled. Moreover, Jews have been able to maintain a distinct, although complex, identity, even despite ancient fragmentation. This persistent ethnicity remains, despite modern relativistism, with its trend against religion in general. Even after generations of losing the religion, Jews still allow themselves to be recognized as Jews. This same process leaves those, otherwise united in Christ, to fall back to their multitude of tribes and autonomous communities for a "sense of self."

Most wouldn't have been surprised if this had led to new resentments from those Christians who remain religious, towards secular Jews, especially, but recently many have found that, for some apocalyptic reason, they can stand together with them, against the tyranny of totalitarianism, further provoked by islamo-fascists, in favor of a strong Israeli state. And, this even seems to lead to an inclusiveness and open tolerance for all things Jewish. Maybe I'm overstating the commonality of this infatuation, but their certainly seems to be a more united quality among westerners who practice religion, especially Christianity and Judaism, who are positive that they can live together, without anyone having to compromise the spiritual beliefs that would otherwise make them different.

It's worth acknowledging that the closest thing to what we would like to achieve throughout the world today, happened here on the Iberian Peninsula: That Jews, Christians, Muslims and 'none-of-the-aboves' all managed to historically maintain a decent level of prosperity, collectively and severally, under various different governments. We dream of it happening minus the bloody conflicts between regimes of the middle ages.

Couple that with the recent tradition of separation of government from religion, and I think Spain stands a great chance of returning to its legacy of overcoming the adverse aspects of social diversity, and making it an essential ingredient of a strong, modern nation, similar to how the U.S. became a force to be reckoned with, after it ended its own civil war, and reunited its separate states and racial backgrounds.

As long as immigrants come with the intention of inclusion, not just determined to overcome what they left behind, but active participants in an entity greater than what they found when they got here, Spain can continue to quickly adopt them, and be better for it. As contemporary Spaniards, we can make a strength from the inclination towards all things new, and refuse to live as colonists, with no vision other than past struggles, and reject the victim mentality.

But that requires that the government get out of the way, and for it to be "no respecter of persons." If it allows preferential treatment, instead of just enforcing the law across the board, such as trying say that one crime is worse because of 'hate speech' or allowing basic human rights, such as freedom of expression to be infringed upon, or turned away, because it might upset one group or the other, it will ultimately be perceived as favoritism, and will only lead to divisiveness, and fragmentation. As will inconsistent enforcement and unpredictable sentencing and punishment.

It also requires no tolerance for corruption, as it takes a lot of confidence that the system is fair for everyone, in order to instill the determination to progress and endure. Otherwise, people just shrug off the desire to perfect themselves and only make the minimal contribution possible, and instead [again] resort back to their factions and divisiveness. People have to feel that they will consistently be rewarded for success, so that they are free to break from their castes and cliques, instead of feeling that they must be a 'part of the club' or will never amount to anything, and have to depend on others to provide what they can't get on their own. Or worse, accept that the 'elites' get their way, or that being famous is a worthwhile end unto itself.

I would love to see the demise of government's recognition of monarchy, (the ultimate special interest group,) and a constitution and tax forms that don't mention the Catholic Church, but I would also like to see less graffiti and less kids peeing on the wall in the LIDL parking lot. These types of things can only be achieved when taught in the home, and properly rewarded later in life. The same for goes for recognizing and rejecting racism.

Finally, a huge THANK-YOU to Colin Davies for maintaining this interesting blog!!

mike the trike said...

When I was a youngster growing up in Canada it was quite common to say, when someone short changed you, "I was Jewed". Since coming to Spain I haven't been eating too many "Judías" like I used to when living in England. By the way I am Irish so my contribution is a little short.

Familytreeservice said...

Coming from the UK, this type of expression is commonly known although not so widely used now. However, I should point out that anyone from Scotland is also derided in the same way, as are people from Yorkshire (county in the North of England). As a Christian with Jewish ancestors, married to a Jew, with a Scottish mother and living in Yorkshire, I hear it a fair bit. The problem is one of ignorance (or so I used to think) - those saying it think its funny or don't think about it at all. Those who hear it laugh it off, be offended, or very upset. My wife calls it racist, and at first I disagreed. In reality it is no different to saying that people from a certain are in-bred, or rude, or smell, or have big ears or something. However, the difference is that this accusation of the Jewish people that they are tight has been used as a basis, time and time again, to persecute them and as such is racist.
Yes, many people are no doubt responsible in Spain but what about other countries? Personally I think a lot of does come from ignorance but with the dawning of free travel, the internet, better education, etc people will change and not use such horrible comments about people or groups of people.

mike the trike said...

An Englishman goes on a regular basis to his local which is an Irish pub. One day he tells his friends that he is going on holiday to Ireland. When he gets to Ireland he as a wonderful time and in one bar he mentions that the next day he is heading to Cavan. The barman tells him that people in Cavan eat their supper from the table drawer. So the Englishman asks why. The barman says because if they get visitors they can shut the drawer and don't have to share anything. He has a good laugh and on his return to England goes to his local again. Everyone asks how his holiday went and he said it was great and tells them the Irish joke. The barman tells him to leave as they don't like racists in their pub.

Anonymous said...


I am a Spaniard who found your blog surfing the net, and I didn't take offense to your remarks about how we are, au contraire, I do enjoy reading it. Every Spanish knows in his inner self that you are absolutely right, but the average Spaniard would rather chop his right hand, than admit it.Hey, wasn't that stating that I'm different and far better than the rest of my fellow countrymen? Or even better, just putting them down. How typical Spanish! Just kidding, indeed what you write applies to me too and I am perfectly aware of it.

About the nationalisms, I think that hatred for lo español and those attempts of differenciation are the most typical Spanish feature you can get. So here is the paradox: the harder they try not to be Spanish the more typical Spanish they are behaving. Of course it is just an opinion, as a part of the whole spanish mess I am not able to make an objective estatement, but I suspect I am not very far away from the truth.

Specifically talking about your neighbours, if they feel happy vindicating that they belong in the Bronze Age, good for them, I hope they have lot of fun with it. Meanwhile, in the 2 millenia that will take them to catch the rest of the human kind, they'll have plenty of time for realizing how stupid is the whole thing.

About the Jews, first of all my background is catholic atheistic (after a friend who -very smartly, I may say-, declared herself as a jewish atheist, first for her cultural background and second for her actual belief-, and I kind of stole it for myself) and I am proud of my catholic legacy, at least in the matters of arts, architecture, literature, the humanism etc., but I don't care of what the rest of the world believes, as long as it doesn't affect me.

It's a well known fact that the public opinion is artificially biased, and I think nowadays this matter has a lot more to do with leftwingers and antiamericanism than with religious stuff. As a matter of fact, it is the catholic radio station COPE the only one that supports Israel and its right to defend itself against terrorism. This prejudice is not only a Spanish affair, though. It is a widespread problem. In Cologne, Germany, the so-called antifascists lynched Jews who happened to be in the wrong place sporting these funny jewish caps of them during the anti-pro-Köln (sic) demonstrations.

It's weird that about 20% of the spanish population would prefer not to have a Jewish workmate when I reckon not even 5% has ever seen a Jew. Speaking for me, and I am afraid I am not representative of the average Spaniard, the only Jew I despise, as long as I know, is the 4 sides marrano (and Galician) Francisco Franco Bahamonde, and not because his sephardic descent but for other more obvious reasons.

Finally, hoping we are as good with excuses as you say, I will request your forgiveness for my English, but in my discharge, I must declare that my first language is Spanish, that I tried hardly to do my best and... ¿perdón?


Colin said...

My thanks to everyone for their observations. Mik'e Irish tale reminded me of when I used to listen to Irish friends telling dreadful jokes about Kerrymen. I wonder if they still do or whether this is now considered racist within Irleand.

My particular thanks for our anonymous Spanish reader for his/her honest, interesting and amusing comments. Please don't worry about or apologise for your English - it's fine. I recognise the "Catholic atheist" bit as I am one myself.

Finally, particular thanks also to MG for his magnum opus. Also very thought-provoking. I certainly hope your optimism is well-founded. But, short term and during a financial and economic crisis, things can only go in teh wrong direction, I fear. Many thanks, too, for your kind final comment. Very much appreciated.

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