Law to commemorate victims of Spanish Inquisition submitted to Knesset

AUTO-DA-FE ON Plaza Mayor, Madrid,’ by Francisco Rizi, 1680, illustrates the Spanish Inquisition-era ritual of public penance of condemned heretics. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Beyond recognition of the day, activities will be held by the Education Ministry to help teach Israelis and provide resources on the history of the Spanish Inquisition.

By CODY LEVINE   NOVEMBER 27, 2020 09:53

A law to commemorate the victims of the Spanish Inquisition in 1478 (and expulsion of Jews in 1492) was submitted to the Knesset for approval on Thursday by Blue and White MK Michal Cotler-Wunsh, proposing to establish November 1 as the date of commemoration. 

Co-signatories to the bill include MK Tzvi Hauser (Derech Eretz), Chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, MK Oded Forer (Yisrael Beytenu), Chairman of the Knesset Caucus for Renewing the Relations With the Descendants of the Jewish Communities in Spain and Portugal, MKs Amit Halevi and Michal Shir (Likud), MKs Michael Malchieli and Yosef Taieb (Shas), and MK Tehila Friedman (Blue and White).

Beyond recognition of the day, activities will be held by the Education Ministry to help teach Israelis and provide them with resources on the history of the Spanish Inquisition, the forcible conversion of Jews (conversos), the descendants of whom are called Anusim, and the expulsion from Spain and Portugal. 

Diaspora Affairs Minister Omer Yankelvich will also promote a report on building greater ties with the Anusim, many of whom share a strong affinity with Israel, and provide recommendations as to their role in national and Jewish organizations. 

Cotler-Wunsh noted the importance of the day in a  webinar hosted by the Board of the Fundación Hispanojudía (Hispanic-Jewish Foundation), which focuses on building greater ties between Spanish-speaking countries and the Jewish people via outreach and promotion of Jewish culture. 

Cotler-Wunsh, who is also the Chair of the Subcommittee on Israel-Diaspora Relations, highlighted the significance of the law by saying that “This bill will create a day of memory and reminder in the Knesset for us to recognize this tragic event in our collective history and learn from it, in order to ensure ‘never again’ in a world of ‘again and again.’”

“It also provides us with an opportunity to connect with the descendants of those affected by the Spanish Inquisition, in Israel and in the diaspora, based on our shared history and values,” the MK added. 

President of the Fundación David Hatchwell also spoke of the law’s importance, which will increase interest in the Spanish-speaking world on Jewish heritage. 

“The Spanish-speaking world, whether in Spain or in Latin America, is gaining a greater understanding of its common roots, culture and traditions with the Jewish People,” Hatchwell said.

“The Inquisition was a dark chapter for humanity and in both of our peoples’ history. It should be remembered as pure religious fanaticism and intolerance. Nevertheless, we should also use these historic events to chart a more positive future between the Spanish-speaking world and the Jewish people based on respecting diversity emulating the modern State of Israel,” he added. 

At the moment, the Fundación is working on establishing a museum in Madrid, focusing on the thousands of years of Jewish history in Spain and Latin America, and the unique identity of the Sephardim. 

Ashley Perry (Perez), President of Reconectar and advisor to the Fundación, said that the law is historic, praising it as an important step towards recognition of Spanish Jewish history and particularly the Anusim. 

“There are tens, if not hundreds, of millions of people around the world who have both Jewish and Hispanic ancestry, and the Inquisition played a major role in the disconnection of our peoples,” Perry said. 

“This law is a vital recognition of a reign of terror which still has such a great effect on so many people even today, many without knowing. This Day of Commemoration will hopefully not just be for Israelis, or even just for Jews, but for all those whose ancestors were hunted, tortured or prosecuted by the Inquisition.”

Recent academic research has found that the descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jews may number around 200 million, consisting of nearly one in four Hispanics and Latinos. A potential reconnection with these communities may have significant diplomatic, demographic, political and economic advantages for Israel, the press release noted.