By Marcus Dysch
December 8, 2009
So there I was, wandering around Madrid on the first night of my holiday with hardly a care in the world.
Then, as if from nowhere, my friend, Real Madrid TV presenter Kay Murray, and I stumbled upon a curious barrier of sorts and a small, but busy, group of protestors.
Closer inspection revealed the barrier to in fact be a rather flimsy mock Israeli security wall, made out of bits of cardboard stuck together and daubed with the words "Palestina Libre". International conflicts don't take holidays it seems, even if JC reporters occasionally do.
We watched the (admittedly peaceful) protest for a little while. People came and went, not a great deal happened, and, of course, there was no sign of a counter protest from pro-Israeli madrileños. We moved on.
But this was not, I’m sorry to report, the only example of anti-Israel feeling I came across in the Spanish capital. A good number of walls in the city’s old town carried the same graffiti symbol stating “Israel Asesinos” [Israel Murderers].
Dozens of the locals milling around doing their Christmas shopping and enjoying the scene in Plaza Mayor or the tourist centre Sol were proudly sporting keffiyeh scarves. And all of this was not just on one evening or in one part of Madrid. The scarves and graffiti were every day, all over town.
Perhaps then it was no surprise that during my entire five days in Madrid I saw not one single person that appeared even remotely Jewish. Not a single kippah, no hint of a black hat. Sure, I may have wandered past some secular Madrid Jews quietly going about their business, but I cannot recalling visiting any other major city, let alone a capital city, in which the presence of a Jewish community was so obviously absent. The guidebook had two entries under “Jewish”, both an hour away in Toledo.
Admittedly I did not look before I travelled to see what size community the city had, or while I was there attempt to visit a shul. Had I tried I’m sure I would have found a warm welcome.
But there is no getting away from the fact that as an outsider visiting the Spanish capital, every impression offered to me by the city was an anti-Israel one. Did I feel unsafe as a Jew, no, of course not. On the other hand, is it somewhere I would feel safe if I did choose to walk through the busy city centre wearing a kippah? That, of course, is a different question altogether.
I would welcome readers who have visited Madrid recently, or know of Spain’s current trends on antisemitism and anti-Israel action, to shed more light on this matter.
- I should point out that the welcome offered at Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu stadium on Saturday night, where officials were aware that I was a reporter for the Jewish Chronicle, could not have been warmer. At times literally. It was, I can safely say, the first ground I have visited anywhere in the world with heaters installed in the roof to keep the paying public toasty on a brisk winter evening. Remarkable.
- I can also report that Luton Airport is now doing a roaring trade with Jewish customers and could no doubt offer shacharit, minchah and ma’ariv services given the number of travellers waiting to board planes to Tel Aviv. FYI, there is also now kosher food available in the cafe in the departure lounge after passing through security.