The Spanish government abruptly cancelled the official welcome it was to have extended to the opening of he World Jewish Congress European Executive meeting here last night without explanation. As a result of the unexpected move, official sources expressed doubt today that King Juan Carlos I would receive the delegation of WJC leaders to whom an audience was to have been granted at the Royal Palace Tuesday morning.
These developments seriously marred the first international Jewish gathering ever to be held in Spain, an event that Jewish leaders had hailed as the beginning of an historic reconciliation between Spain and the Jewish, people. The meeting is being attended by 13 delegations from Western European countries, Rumania and Yugoslavia and, for the first time, observers representing the Jewish communities of East Germany Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary.
The last minute snub is attributed to heavy pressure from the Arab states. Deputy Minister of Justice, Rafael Mendizabal was to have greeted the Jewish delegations on behalf of the Spanish government. Two hours before the opening of the meeting, he telephoned Philip Huevas, president of the Madrid Jewish community, to say he would not be able to attend because he was “otherwise engaged.” Mendizabal gave no other explanation and expressed no regrets.
Lord Fisher of Camden, chairman of the European Executive of the WJC and president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, voiced “deep regrets” in his address to the opening session last night. He stressed that “countries, as we can testify, can have friendly relations with both the Arabs and the Jews.” He expressed hope that the “new Spain” now emerging will establish diplomatic relations with Israel and will “not cast its vote at the UN or at UNESCO against the vital interests of the Jewish people.”
ARAB, RIGHT-WING PRESSURE SEEN
Spanish officials said privately today that Mendizabal’s attendance at the WJC meeting was cancelled because of the widespread advance publicity surrounding the event and the political implications attributed to it by the press and other sources. However, the decision was taken by Foreign Minister Marcellino Orega after a meeting yesterday with Arab envoys who protested plans for an official welcome.
The Arabs claimed that such an act “could be the start of Spain’s recognition of Israel.” The Arab diplomats told newsmen later that they had called on Orega to express “their surprise and disgust.” Some Spanish circles associated with the right-wing Phalange also reportedly asked ? representative to the WJC meeting.
The government’s sudden coolness toward the gathering was evident from the lack of police intervention when some 50 Arab demonstrators assembled outside the hotel where the meeting was being held to chain anti-Israel slogans. Plainclothesmen were on hand but waited 30 minutes before asking the demonstrators to disperse.
Apart from-Lord Fisher’s expression of regret. WJC leaders refused to comment on the government’s action, apparently in hope of salvaging the audience with the King. But observers here said that after cancelling a greeting by a relatively junior minister, the government could be expected to shelve the audience. Juan Carlos I met a number of American Jewish leaders in Washington last June while on an official visit to the U.S. Dr. Nahum Goldmann, president of the WJC. told a press conference here Friday that the 500-year rift between Spain and the Jews was about to be healed.
He also paid tribute to the late Gen. Francisco Franco who, despite Nazi pressure, refused to apply the Nuremburg laws to Spain and helped save thousands of Jewish refugees during World War II. Goldmann stressed that although the WJC takes no sides in any country’s political affairs, Jews traditionally have supported democratic regimes. He intimated that Jews felt more comfortable with the new Spanish regime in which they saw signs of emerging democratic institutions.
The WJC delegates attended Sabbath services at the Madrid Synagogue Friday night. Three rabbis, two from Eastern Europe and the third from Spain, conducted the services.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.