The Basque Jew, Catalan King and Shoemaker's Adviser

Adar Primor
Adar Primor
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Adar Primor
Adar Primor

The polished, silver-haired, broad-shouldered man whose 75 years are belied by his tremendous energy, made the long trip from Madrid to Haruvit in the Jerusalem hills last week to dedicate a new forest.

This impressive man, a former justice minister in Spain and currently its ombudsman, is not only a Spaniard. He is Basque. If we add his religion to the other elements of his identity, we get a unique triangle comprising the Iberian country, the Basque region and the religion of Moses and Israel.

The forest that Spanish Ombudsman Enrique Mugica Herzog dedicated will serve as a memorial to his brother, Fernando, who was assassinated in February 1996 by the Basque underground group, ETA, as he emerged from his home in the city of San Sebastian. Fernando Mugica Herzog was a well-known lawyer and a member of the Socialist Workers' Party. With his death, his brother Enrique remains the last Basque Jew - at least according to his own testimony.

Mugica, who is proud to be a Jew and "part of a people always in search of freedom and wisdom," devoted his speech at the forest dedication to the values shared by the two countries in his heart. He ended his address emotionally: "Viva Espana, viva Israel!" ("Long live Spain, long live Israel!")

Spanish Ambassador to Israel Eudaldo Mirapeix delivered a speech in which he discussed the assassinated brother's contribution to the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and Spain: In 1986, Fernando Mugica Herzog played a crucial role in convincing the young socialist leadership (and especially then prime minister Felipe Gonzalez) of the importance of establishing relations with Israel.

The conversation with Enrique touches upon Judaism, socialism and questions concerning Basque terror, Palestinian terror and that of the Al-Qaida school, which he knows well from personal experience. He does not believe these forms of terrorism, the "anonymous, criminal and cowardly phenomenon," as he defines it, are on equal footing: "There are specificities in the examples you mention, be it in their objectives (territorial claims, religious fundamentalism, national aspirations based on myths or separatist ideologies, etc.) or their means (conventional weapons, suicide attacks, blackmailing and extortion etc.)." However, he adds, all these cases of terrorism require "a fight full of risks and perseverance."

Regarding the policy of rapprochement with ETA, which Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero pursued after his being elected in 2004 and which failed after the renewal of the attacks by the underground movement in December 2006, Mugica says: "I think that he was not advised well by some members of the socialist Basque group when he began, with good intentions, on a path that was not adopted. It is not a proper business to negotiate or talk with somebody who has not firmly given up violent methods."

Last week, the largest Islamic terror trial in Europe came to an end in Spain. The court handed down sentence on the suspects in the events of March 11, 2004, in which 191 people were killed and 1,800 injured in the attacks on trains in Madrid. Three of the 28 suspects were sentenced each to a total of thousands of years of imprisonment. However, the guilt of many of those responsible was defined as "secondary." Seven were acquitted. The court determined that the suspects had drawn inspiration from Al-Qaida but noted that none of them had any direct connection to the fundamentalist group. As opposed to the September 11 attacks, which helped unite Americans, the March 11 attacks exacerbated the existing split in Spain: Three days after the attacks, elections were held and many voters blamed the conservative right-wing government for their country's involvement in Iraq, making it a target for the Islamic attackers. Jose Maria Aznar's government tried to defend itself with the claim that it was ETA that had been responsible for the attacks. The electorate punished the conservatives for this deception and voted Socialist, who promised to bring the 1,300 soldiers in Iraq home. The right's attempts to revive the Basque conspiracy theory in the course of the trial ultimately failed with the reading of the verdicts. The results of the trial are likely to strengthen Zapatero's Socialists ahead of the elections in March and the conservative People's Party is likely to be punished again.

Mugica, the socialist, prefers not to say much about this split. He makes do with expressing his satisfaction with the "adequate functioning of the constitutional system of division of powers, of which we must be proud. The statements and interpretations voiced by those concerned (victims, political parties, etc.) do confirm a basic agreement about the substance of the judicial decision, and the health of the democratic system, in as much as it upholds the freedom of expression of all Spaniards." Possibly he does have reason to be optimistic but the picture could well change if prior to the elections, ETA carries out the "quality terror attack" that many believe is already in the planning stages. This would be an "electoral gift" from the Basque underground to the conservative right.

One can find much of the same in Spain and Israel, right and left, when it come to politics and terror.

A 'king' in Israel

Though the Basques might determine the outcome of the coming elections, the headlines in recent weeks in Spain have been taken up by their Catalan brethren.

The diplomatic crisis that was sparked last week by King Juan Carlos during his visit to the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in Morocco could not have erased the memory of a no-less tempestuous visit he recently made at home, in Catalonia. Hundreds of separatists demonstrated against him. Some set fire to his portrait. The separatist ferment has joined an equally stormy affair; last July, the satirical weekly El Juevos published a cartoon of the princely couple, Felipe and Laetitia, making love. As if all that were not enough, Catholic and conservative elements have come out with a call to eliminate the institution of the monarchy. The taboo has been broken. The monarchy has become an explicit political target. Suddenly the future of the kingdom looks cloudy.

One person who is not in the least disturbed by all of this is Jordi Pujol, "King Pujol," as he is called in Catalonia, who served for about a quarter of a century as head of the autonomous community and transformed it from a depressed region that had been crushed by the Francoist regime into the most prosperous in the country. "The father of the Catalan people," 77, who retired from the presidency of the Autonomous Community of Catalonia in 2003, visited Israel last week to award the Shmuel Toledano Prize, the purpose of which is to strengthen the relations between Israel and Spain. In a conversation with Haaretz, he defines himself as a "devout Catholic, a Catalan nationalist but also a sworn European and a Zionist who feels a profound affinity for Judaism and Israel."

He dismisses the Catalan demonstrations as no more than a sense of malaise associated with the general political situation in Spain. Most commentators have been attributing this to the social revolution, "the social tsunami," as they define it, led by Zapatero. It has forced on a conservative Catholic society an ultra-liberal legislation that cuts itself off from the Church and permits, among other things, homosexual marriage.

Pujol's take is different: The Catalans are simply fed up with the alienating attitude of the central government, with the fact that the infrastructures in Catalonia are outdated and with the difficulties that the central government is posing for the Catalans who want to expand the basis for their autonomy (which in any case is very broad, it must be said).

As someone who has always preached and acted to stress the uniqueness of the Catalans but at the same time opposed an independent state, which he saw as an absurd dream, Pujol is convinced that the Spanish kingdom, as a whole, is not in any danger. Not now and not 50 years from now. Paradoxically, the EU could spur separatist movements on the Continent. "It has been proven," he says, "that small countries like Ireland, Finland, Greece and now Slovenia as well are flourishing the most in the EU. This disproves the theory that small entities cannot exist without the umbrella support of their nation-state." Nevertheless, he adds, the EU is strongly opposed to the breakup of national structures.

Our domestic relations in Spain are good and close, the Spanish economy is growing and Catalonia, which exports more than any other region in the country, is flourishing. There is no reason to embark on an independent path. When Pujol talks about Israel, his face takes on a concerned expression. His long wrinkles deepen. He takes off his jacket, revealing a light blue shirt monogrammed with his initials. Pujol says that these days it is not easy to be a friend of Israel in Spain- one always has to be on the defensive.

Sources in Jerusalem also present a chilling picture of the situation: They note that since the change of government in Madrid in 2004, relations with Israel have reached a new low. If French President Nicolas Sarkozy is being called "the American," the Spanish prime minister could be dubbed "the anti-American." If Sarkozy has turned his back on former president Jacques Chirac's pro-Arab policy, Zapatero has done everything in his power to renew traditional relations with the Arab world.

Since his election, the sources add, Zapatero has not bothered to visit Israel, even when the two countries marked the establishment of diplomatic relations last year. When he met Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni about six months ago, he related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a malignant cancer that is metastasizing on all the other conflicts in the region; and during the Second Lebanon War, the ruling Socialist Workers' Party youth initiated an anti-Israeli rally where Zapatero appeared wearing a kaffiyeh.

In Jerusalem they also note the problematic standing of Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos who, back in the days when he served as the EU envoy to the Middle East, was considered to have "sold his soul to Yasser Arafat." Nor do they forget here the incident in which Zapatero's foreign and defense adviser was heard whispering to the prime minister (to his regret the microphone was open) that the Israelis were "intractable."

The adviser and the microphone

Zapatero's adviser, Carles Casajuana, smiles constantly. It seems that he chooses smiles as a way of dealing with the abundance of complaints to which he is required to reply. Early one morning last week, in the quiet lobby of the Deborah Hotel in Tel Aviv, he tried to rebut the complaints one by one. A low point in relations? Not at all. It was the Socialists who established diplomatic relations with Israel in 1986; they recently declared an annual day commemorating the victims of the Holocaust. And it was the vilified Moratinos himself who initiated the establishment of Casa Sefarad in Madrid, "a cultural institution that testifies to our pride in the Jewish heritage that is part of our history and culture," he says.

Reflecting Sarkozy's recent statement, Casajuana says that both Zapatero and Moratinos see the establishment of Israel as one of the most important events of the 20th century and, if he is to be believed, they are no less than lovers of Zion who admire Israeli democracy. If Zapatero has not yet come to Israel, it is only because he has been concerned with domestic issues, says Casajuana, and "if he wins the coming election in March, without a doubt the prime minister will come for a visit to Israel and the region."

How does this concur with the anti-Israeli rally and the "kaffiyeh incident?" Here there are culprits: the security officials, for example, who were surprised and were not swift enough to stop the organizers from placing the kaffiyeh on the prime minister's shoulders and also a camera that - what a surprise - just happened to be at the demonstration site and is responsible for the marginal incident getting blown all out of proportion.

Then is it the microphone that is to blame for the "intractable" comment? Casajuana bursts out laughing and prefers to attribute his remark to a linguistic misunderstanding. He was not referring to the Israelis' character but rather to their toughness in specific negotiations - that is, this was a kind of compliment.

One might not be convinced by his answers, but it is quite impossible not to be impressed by the obvious effort Casajuana and his government are putting into finding a way out of the crisis and restoring good relations. His visit to Israel was aimed at establishing personal relations with his Israeli colleagues, Prime Minister Olmert's advisers Yoram Turbowicz and Shalom Turjeman, and examining ways Spain can harness its connections in the Arab world to help the peace wagon in Annapolis get on the right track. "It is very easy to give advice from an armchair in Madrid, but we thought it was appropriate to come and listen to the sides here," he says.

Casajuana does not confine himself to declarations of good intentions, but promises a significant contribution: "Spain is committed to maintaining peace in the world. This was the case in Kosovo and Bosnia and so it is in Afghanistan and Lebanon, where more than 1,000 Spanish soldiers are now stationed. If, to help along an Israeli-Palestinian agreement, we are asked to send troops - we will undoubtedly respond in the affirmative."

The conversation ends with a small revelation: It is said that after Israel, Spain is the country with the largest population of Jews, even if today they no longer belong to the Jewish religion. This is because only few of them really left at the time of the expulsion from Spain. Most converted to Christianity. Many of the Jewish Spaniards had surnames that indicated trades. Zapatero - "shoemaker" in Spanish - is apparently one of them.



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