NEW YORK (Jul. 15)
The head of Spain’s Jewish community disclosed here that final details are being concluded on an historic agreement, a “concordat” between the government of Spain and the Jewish community, defining and protecting the civil and religious status of the Jewish community in Spain.
Samuel Toledano, secretary-general of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain, the representative body of Spanish Jewry, made this disclosure at a meeting Friday with leaders of 30 national Jewish organizations. The meeting was called by the WJCongress-American Section and was chaired by Frieda Lewis, president of Hadassah.
Toledano said that the Spanish Jewish community, numbering some 12,000 persons, is striving to preserve Jewish life with “dignity and pride” in a country where Jewish life has been absent for five centuries.
He reported that, with the help of the WJCongress legal office in Geneva, agreement with the Spanish government on the concordat will finally give legal sanction and protection to Jewish communal concerns. Among the important provisions agreed upon are that:
Jewish communal property like that of the Catholic Church will be tax exempt; the Federation will formally be given official status as the Jewish representative to the government on a par with other faiths; students will be given the right not to take exams on Jewish holidays nor will Jewish soldiers be obligated to serve on such days (services would be “made up” on Sundays and Christian holidays); the Jewish community will have access to state television and a regular weekly Jewish program is to be initiated; and protection of Jewish cultural patrimony is to be guaranteed.
TWO OBSERVANCES SCHEDULED
Toledano told the Jewish leaders that the Spanish government had appointed him a member of the commission organizing the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s discovery of America in 1492. When he pointed out to the government that the year had significance “for another event” (the expulsion of Spanish Jewry) it was decided that this anniversary also would be marked by an appropriate commemoration.
In addition, the Spanish government, jointly with the WJCongress, is undertaking to organize observances in connection with the 850th anniversary of the birth of Maimonides, the medieval Jewish scholar and physician, at his birthplace in Cordoba, Toledano said.
SUPPORT GROWING FOR DIPLOMATIC TIES
Toledano reported that there was a general groundswell of support within the country for the establishment of diplomatic relations between Spain and Israel. “If a referendum were to be held today,” he said, “it is likely that more than eighty percent of the population would be in favor.”
Although formal diplomatic relations between the two countries are not maintained, there is in fact an “Israeli Ambassador” in Madrid who, while technically accredited to the world tourist organization headquartered in the city, is received by the Spanish government and treated on a de facto basis with full diplomatic protocol. Moreover, Toledano noted, that, in other spheres, particularly trade, culture, and technology, there are increasingly strong relations between the two countries.
He praised the efforts of WJCongress president Edgar Bronfman in his involvement in the delicate negotiations to bring about Spanish diplomatic recognition of Israel and briefed the Jewish leadership on the stage of the negotiations. He singled out the unrelenting pressure of Arab countries as the single most important obstacle to be overcome on this issue.