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Herzog, Visiting Madrid, Salutes Spain and Israel’s Common Culture

Israeli President Chaim Herzog described his official visit here on the eve of the 500th anniversary of the expulsion of Spain’s Jews as a dream.

“I wonder if all those great immortals– Maimonides, Ibn Gvirol, Nachmanides, Shmuel Hanagid, Yehuda Levy to name a few — ever dreamt for one moment that the president of an independent State of Israel would stand here, in the royal palace of the Kingdom of Spain and recall their great and significant traditions and contributions to our common culture,” he said at a dinner hosted by King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia.

Herzog arrived Monday, in the midst of a barrage of publicity marking Sepharad ’92, the commemoration of the expulsion of Spain’s Jews.

“We are experiencing a new era of tolerance, and re-encounter between Spain and the Jews,” Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez said after meeting with Herzog.

Though diplomatic relations with Israel were established in 1986, it was only last December that Gonzalez first visited Israel.

King Juan Carlos — who by Spanish tradition is also king of Jerusalem — has expressed his desire to visit Israel but has not set a date.

At a news conference, Herzog said he hoped the king would establish a visiting date before his own visit here ends Wednesday.

“Surely it is fitting,” he told the king during dinner, “that the king of Jerusalem should visit our capital city which, in four years’ time, will celebrate the 3,000th anniversary of its establishment by King David as the capital city of the Jewish people.”

DISPUTE OVER NEW STATUE

Juan Carlos, in his reply, reminded Herzog of the warm feeling Spaniards have toward Sephardim. When his son, Felipe, presented an award from the foundation that bears his name to the Sephardic community in 1990, “there was a moment charged with deep emotion,” the king said.

“The words spoken by the heir to the Crown of Spain, and those by the person who received it (the Haham Salomon Gaon) on behalf of the communities, placed the seal on a spiritual embrace whose extraordinary feeling and significance for both parties were clearly felt,” he added.

Herzog’s trip has not been trouble-free. Tensions among Spanish Jewish groups have placed the president of Israel in the uncomfortable position of having to choose between events organized by two rival Sepharad ’92 committees, the national and the international.

The international organization, which once was headed by local businessman Mauricio Hatch-well and the former Israeli ambassador to Spain, Shlomo Ben-Ami — both of whom have since resigned — plans to unveil a controversial statue by the renowned Basque artist Eduardo Chillida. The statue, called the “Monument to Tolerance,” portrays a man turning his back on the former Inquisition headquarters in Seville.

But members of the national committee object to the statue, saying Jews should not put up statues of tolerance when it was the Spaniards who expelled them, not the other way around.

Herzog, who will visit the statue in Seville, said that these wrinkles are normal and that they are in the process of being ironed out.

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