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Spain: some justice for Jews; Moors have to wait


After years of debate and a 2014 referendum, the Spanish town of Castrillo Matajudíos—yeah, that's right, "Fort Kill the Jews"—has officially changed back to its original name of Castrillo Mota de Judíos, or "Jew's Hill Fort." It's believed that the town, in Burgos province of Castile and León region, was originally a Jewish town. Residents had to convert under threat of death (generally being burned at the stake) or exile under the 1492 Edict of Expulsion, and adopted the new name as a way of proving their loyalty to the Catholic kings. No self-identified Jews live in the town today, but many residents have Jewish roots and the town's official shieldincludes the Star of David. The city's mayor Lorenzo Rodríguez led the initiative, saying that the name was offensive to many. (No, ya think?) (NPR)

Alarmingly, the right-wing Burgos Social Republican Movement opposed the change, and raised banners in the town reading, "Our history is not up for a vote, Hands off Castrillo Matajudíos" (which rhymes in Spanish). More encouragingly, the Spanish BDS movement(that's for boycott, divestment and sanctions on Israel) notes that the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network (IJAN) celebrated the change. This is exactly what anti-Zionist Jews should be striving for: recovering Jewish history, dignity and identity in the diaspora, rather than rallying around an oppressive settler state in Palestine.

This is part of an historical reckoning with the Expulsion now underway in Spain. Earlier this month, a national law was approved that entitles descendants of expelled Jews to apply for citizenship. The ruling goes into effect Oct. 1 and lasts three years. The Spanish government expects up to 200,000 Sephardic Jews to apply. Said Isaac Querub, president of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Spain (FDJE): "It amends an important mistake or injustice that was made 500 years ago. All the political forces, all the political parties...have been voting in favor of this bill or abstained.... There is consensus of this issue." Querub says he anticipates people to apply from Turkey, Latin America—and Israel. (Newsweek, June 15)

All this is most welcome. But it is deeply disturbing that there is no similar justice for the Moors—Arabs and Berbers of Muslim faith who were also expelled from Spain in that same fateful year of 1492. The BBC reminds us that another city in Spain is called Valle de Matamoros—"Kill the Moors Valley." That city (in Badajoz province, Extremadura region)  has no plans to change its name. Mexico also has a sizable city named Matamoros. And as we've noted, there has been no response to Muslim appeals for prayers in Spain's Cordoba Cathedral, which for hundreds of years had been a mosque.

A part of the double standard may be that Spaniards still view the Moors as invaders and conquerors—despite the fact that they'd been in Spain for over 700 years and oversaw the flower of its medieval civilization. (Despite much revisionism and denial about this in the right-wing pseudo-intelligentsia.) But even in the US Southwest, where former "crypto-Jews" are now starting to boogie in public, crypto-Muslims remain subaltern.

The 1492 expulsion resulted in an Iberian Moorish diaspora across North Africa and beyond, just as it resulted in a Sephardic Jewish diaspra across the Mediterranean and beyond. Some of the historic manuscripts narrowly saved from the torching of the Timbuktu library by jihadists two years ago (the curators smuggled most of the texts out before the burning) originated in Spain and had 500 years earlier narrowly escaped the fires of the Inquisition. There is even a Timbuktu Andalusian Library dedicated to preserving such texts. 

Until there is a recovery and embrace of Moorish identity in Spain and the wider Hispanic world, the double standard will entrench the perception of Jews as uniquely powerful and privileged. The renaissance of Jewish culture in Spain is a good thing for the Jews. The double standard that continues to exclude the Moors is good for neither.

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