The Law of Sephardic Return

Last week, Spain approved a law granting an eased pathway to citizenship for the descendants of Sephardic Jews who were expelled from the country in 1492 after the completion of the Catholic Reconquitsa of the Iberian Peninsula.

The blogger Elder of Ziyon reported that news of such a law was greeted with anger by many Muslims, especially those in Morocco, due to what they view as a double standard: Muslims as well as Jews also faced the choice of conversion or expulsion, with many New-Christian, crypto-Muslims (known as Moriscos) facing torture and death alongside Anusim during the Inquisition. Why then should Sephardic Jews get a law helping them return to Spain, while Muslims do not? Isn’t this Islamophobic discrimination?

When we pointed out one notable difference between the two communities:

we were quickly attacked for daring to say there was a clear difference between the two communities and therefore an acceptable distinction for how the modern state of Spain relates to them. This is not to say that we would oppose a similar law for the descendants of Muslims who were expelled from Spain, only that the law in question now is not discriminatory for only dealing with Sephardim.

Unfortunately, the JPF sustained this onslaught on Erev Shabbat and was forced to retreat into the pre-modern world where Twitter and blogs are unusable. We did however promise to emerge from our rest with responses to each of the “points” addressed to us and since we are Jews of our Word, rather than attempt to fit them into 140 characters, we will take them on one by one here.

###Questions of Indigeneity - Visigoths v. Moors

Our opponents quickly pointed out that at the time of the Muslim invasion of the Eighth Century, the Iberian Peninsula was ruled by the Visigothic Kingdom of Hispania. They argued that since the Visigoths were “Germanic invaders,” they were had no greater claim to Spain than the Moors.

This is incredibly disingenuous to say the least. While this was technically a Visigothic Kingdom, by the time of the Muslim invasion the Iberian Visigoths had so completely assimilated with the native HIspano-Roman population that they were virtually indistinguishable. Even the Gothic language had been lost centuries earlier. Rather than dominating as an outside force, the Visigoths mixed into the indigenous population in a process that saw them become one in the same, losing their own distinct identity, ethnicity, culture and language over the centuries. It is only in this extremely rare model that a colonial people can become indigenous.

The Moorish Invasion and domination was the polar opposite. While the Visigoths assimilated into local Spanish culture at the expense of their own identity, the Moors maintained their colonial identities and encouraged the local Spaniards to assimilate into Muslim al-Andalus. As they accepted the new Muladi identity, these former Spaniards rejected their indigenous heritage in favor of that of the colonial power, so even though the Muladies became the majority population by 1100 CE, they ceased being a part of the indigenous community. They had a new religion, language, and culture, and, as Ryan Bellerose makes clear, “Blood quantum alone is insufficient to transmit indigenous status.” Had the Moors acted like the Visigoths in every way but religion, then perhaps they could have merged with the indigenous population as well, but that was not what happened. Instead of the Moors abandoning their foreign identity in favor of the indigenous Iberian, Iberians abandoned their identities in favor of the colonial Moors, thereby forfeiting their indigenous status.

As we said, it was not only a change in religion. Native Americans are almost 100% Christian today. However, these communities maintain their ancestral lands (or at least their ties to lands currently out of their control), their culture, history and languages (though these are sadly dying out as time passes). By retaining these characteristics and their distinct identity, they were able to remain true to themselves while adopting a new religion. The same was not the case with the Muladies.

We now return to our original point that Jews were the descendants of immigrants and local converts, while Muslims were the descendants of colonists and locals who joined them. Not only were the Sephardic Jews migrants as opposed to invaders, they remained a distinct community even after the Muslim invasion and their subsequent expulsion. Many Sephardic Jews even appended ס”ט to their names, an abbreviation for “ספרדי טהור,” or “Pure Sephardic” indicating that regardless of who was ruling Spain or where the Sephardic Jews were living, they and their community traced their lineage back to Spain (though ultimately back to Israel).

###Golden Age of Spanish Jewry

We were then reminded that the Jews of al-Andalus were treated much better than they were under Christian rule and that had it not been for the Reconquista, Sephardic Jewry would never have been ethnically cleansed from the area.

This is as true as it is irrelevant. First, we never claimed Jews had it better off in Christian Europe than under Muslim rule. Given that the first act of the Christian Monarchs was to expel all the Jews and then persecute the Conversos, clearly this was not the case (most of the time).

Second, it is possible to recognize a just cause while admitting it was carried out with unjust means. We can recognize that it was just for the Spanish to retake their homeland from the colonial Moors while still asserting that many actions that accompanied it were unjust - jus ad bellum does not equal jus in bello. The law in question itself was drafted to make amends for the historic injustice of the Order of Expulsion.

A Spanish Muslim then chimed in and we would want him to feel left out let’s examine his arguments as well (English is clearly his second language, all spelling errors are in the original):

As for my views on the [EoZ] “article” is just absolutely disgusting bringing Israel-Palestinian conflict on every Muslim/Jewish issue. This has nothing to with that.

Given that pro-Palestinians hijack any cause or event for their own ends, no matter how disconnected, for their own ends, this comment is beyond hypocritical. Also, had our friend bothered to actually read the article in question, he would have noticed the only time Israel is brought up is in reference to another article explaining that just as many leading Muslims see all of Israel as an Islamic Waqf that can never be renounced, so too is Spain.

In Islamic terms, waqf refers to a religious endowment i.e a voluntary an irrevocable dedication of one’s wealth or a portion of it – in cash or kind (such as a house or a garden) and it’s disbursement for shariah compliant projects (such as mosques or religious schools…) In Ottoman Turkish law, and later under the British Mandate of Palestine, the waqf was defined as usufruct State land (or property) of which the State revenues are assured to pious foundations. [this is a quote from Wikipedia] Nothing about Spain.

This is all true. However, any land that has come under Islamic control is often referred to as Waqf as well. Whether this is true to the original meaning of the word or not is irrelevant as it regularly used and thought of in this way both by Muslim leaders and laity. By this definition, both Iberia and Israel would qualify as Waqf making it haram for believing Muslims to surrender their claims to said territories.

Has been told many times: Muslims , following the teachings of the Koran , believed that Christians and Jews as a “ people of the Book “ , not to be forcibly converted to Islam nor killed.

This is also irrelevant to the discussion at hand and not entirely accurate either. First, despite the injunction not to kill or forcibly convert Jews and Christians, this still happened many times in Islamic history. Second, this did not prevent Muslims from killing Christians or Jews in battle.

Our friend then reminds us that Jihad actually means “effort” or “striving,” as one would make toward being a better and more righteous Muslim. He admits that it also means “holy war,” but quickly counters “that kind of war requires to be applied under certain conditions and rules, as happens with waqf.” This is also true, however, he dismisses the fact that those conditions and rules are said to be met by extremists like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. But given that he says “As many know, Al-Qaeda was made by U.S.A.” it’s clear he isn’t able to recognize this from under his tinfoil hat.

Muslims are not planning to take over any party of Spain, because those who claim that aren’t.

“The Muslims” are certainly not planning this. However, specific Muslims, like those that carried out the 2004 Madrid terror attacks, clearly are. It is unfair and wrong to ascribe collective guilt to all Muslims for such acts. It is just as wrong to say that because most Muslims didn’t support the attacks, those who carried them out were therefore not Muslims.

Stating the arriving of Muslims to the Peninsula as occupation comming from a “Jew” is ,in fact, ridiculous. Actually, Jews were liberated from the persecution they suffered from Catholics and Visigoths.

Occupation is a legal term and the fact that it was mostly beneficial for the local Jews who were already living there is irrelevant.

Not need to say that law has to be applied for all and equally as Jews are not better than Muslims or Muslims better than Jews. Same rights for all.

We have already shown that there is a difference between the Jewish and Muslim Spanish communities, so saying that they must be treated the same way would ignore that history. The two communities are also marked by a very important difference today as well: numbers. There are said to be roughly 1.7 million Muslims in Spain or 3-4% of the population while the highest estimates put Jews at 50,000 or as low as 12,000 (well below 1% of the population). So while Islam is the second largest (and growing) religion in Spain, Judaism is continuing to decline. Given its history of expulsion and persecution, it is understandable that the Spanish government would single out the Jews for special reparative treatment.

Yes, Jews lived before Muslims here. What he [the JPF] calls occupation in Spanish History books it’s taught as Muslim Conquest and sometimes invasion. So for over 800 years Muslims lived in the Peninsula what makes them locals too.

As indigenous expert Ryan Bellerose explains, “no group can become indigenous through subsuming indigenous peoples.” While Muslims in Spain may have had “rights of longstanding presence” that is not the same as being indigenous or local and it is offensive to say otherwise.

Finally, I would like to add that there’s a privileged procedure for the acquisition of the Spanish nationality for countries that once belonged to Spain or where under it’s rule…[but] Saharawi people are not granted with this special condition, despite they have the same rights or even more.

We are actually impressed that the Saharawi people are brought up at all. This is actually a very good point. The Saharawi people have been under occupation for the past 40 years, but since that occupation is done by Morocco and not Israel, it is completely ignored by the rest of the world. This was highlighted recently by Gérard Araud, France’s ambassador to the US. After asserting (wrongly) that any commercial activity in occupied territory is illegal, he was completely caught off guard when Eugene Kontorovich, an expert in International law and a professor at Northwestern University School of Law, pointed out that French oil companies were working in Western Sahara. He was forced to admit his double standard by saying, “I speak of one occupied territory. I am answered on other territories,” meaning of course that he only cares about his interpretation of International Law when it comes to Israel, making it neither international or law.

###Zionists are Invading Settlers

Of course no discussion about indigeneity would be complete without an anti-Israel activist saying Jews are foreign colonial settlers:

I would urge this “activist” to read Ryan Bellerose’s article explaining how and why the Jews are indigenous to Israel. He explains the fault in this argument better than we ever could. If our friend bothers to read it (which he should), he will either have an open-mind and recognize the merits of the arguments or accuse me of “red-washing.” Given his passionate and self-righteous nature, we’re not expecting any miracles.