Sephardi heritage center honors Spanish politician who said Israel massacres children


(JTA) — A prominent Spanish organization that is dedicated to preserving the country’s Jewish heritage awarded a prize to a local politician who had accused Israel of “massacring” Palestinian children.

The Centro Sefarad-Israel, which was created with government funding in 2006 and based in Madrid, awarded its Crown of Esther prize on Thursday to Maite Pagazaurtundua, a Spanish lawmaker serving at the European Parliament, Europa Press reported. She received the award for her “defense of justice and freedom,” the report said.

In 2014, Pagazaurtundúa co-signed a letter with several other members of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats — the parliamentary bloc to which Pagazaurtundúa’s Union of Progress and Democracy belongs — condemning Israel’s actions against Hamas in Gaza. It was addressed to Martin Schulz, then the president of the European Parliament.

“An immediate ceasefire is needed to put an end to the massacre and the suffering of the civilian population, many of them children,” the letter read.

The letter co-signed by Pagazaurtundúa, a Basque politician who is known in Spain for denouncing the terrorist activities of the ETA Basque nationalist militia, did not mention Hamas or Palestinian terrorism.

The Spanish Foreign Ministry and the Madrid municipality set up Centro Sefarad-Israel in the framework of efforts to restore sites connected with the Jewish Sephardi presence in Spain that ended in 1492 with the start of the Spanish Inquisition.

Spain and Portugal, which began implementing its own Inquisition in 1536, passed laws in 2013 granting citizenship to descendants of Sephardic Jews. At least 4,500 people have received Spanish nationality, and hundreds more received the Portuguese one. Leaders from both countries said the laws affording nationality to Sephardim were meant to atone for the persecution.

On Tuesday, the SAPO broadcaster in Portugal reported that the French-Israel media mogul Patrick Drahi, who founded the international Israel-based news channel i24news, received the Portuguese nationality.

Municipalities in Portugal and Spain in recent years began investing in preserving their Jewish heritage sites and relevant treasures.

The town of Covilha in Portugal last year placed in City Hall a 400-year-old Torah scroll that had been discovered during renovations, and may have been concealed by Jews practicing Judaism in secret during the inquisition.

On Tuesday, the municipality said it would keep the scroll there indefinitely following the defeat in court of a claim of ownership of the scroll by a local businessman who said he bought the scroll from one of the construction workers who discovered the object, the Lusa news agency reported.

Separately, dozens of Portuguese historians gathered Monday at the southern Portuguese city of Faro for a symposium marking 530 years since the completion of the first book ever printed in Portugal, a Hebrew Bible. A copy of the Bible, known in Portugal as the Pentateuco, was completed in Faro on July 30, 1487, by the Jewish publisher Samuel Gacon.

The book is on display at an Oxford University library. It is believed to have been captured in battle and brought to England following a skirmish between British and Portuguese troops in 1596.

But a researcher speaking at the seminar, Rui Loureiro of the Manuel Teixeira Gomes Superior Institute, a prestigious university based in the town of Portimão near Faro, disputed this theory, the sul Informacao website reported. Citing a paucity of records of the book’s transfer, Loureiro argued the book was “taken by a Jewish person who emigrated” because of the Inquisition.

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