Spanish government rejects claims it financed antisemitic conference

Simon Wiesenthal Center makes accusation a week before foreign minister's visit to Israel

Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo.
Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo.Uly Martín

The Spanish Foreign Ministry on Wednesday rejected claims by Jewish human rights organization the Simon Wiesenthal Center that it funded an antisemitic event last year that called for the boycotting of Israel.

Jesús Gracia, the secretary of state for international cooperation, said the charges made by the center were “intolerable.”

On Monday, the Simon Wiesenthal Center complained on its website that the Spanish government had indirectly funded the conference through the ministry’s Agency for International Cooperation (AECID).

“Is it Spanish policy to promote the deletion of the Jewish State of Israel to be replaced by a State of Palestine?” asks a statement published on the website.

The International Conference of Local Government and Civil Society Organizations in Support of Palestine was held in Málaga and Seville from November 29 to December 3. It was coordinated by FAMSI (the Andalusian Fund of Municipalities for International Solidarity, which is subsidized by AECID), the UN Division for Palestinian Rights, and the Al Quds Association, according to the center.

The conference reportedly supported the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel

In an EL PAÍS interview on Tuesday, Shimon Samuels, international relations director at the Wiesenthal center, accused the Mariano Rajoy government of contributing an important amount of money to the conference, “which supported the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.”

Without going into detail, Gracia denied that the Foreign Ministry helped subsidize the event. He explained that the president of the Federation of Spanish Jewish Communities, Isaac Querub, complained on December 4 about ministry funding for Sodepaz, an NGO that was reportedly involved with the event.

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The Simon Wiesenthal Center also accused Sodepaz of organizing a photo exhibition at the Madrid Autónoma University (UAM) that included a map of Israel with a stylized Nazi swastika covering the country, as well as an image of late Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and a quote falsely attributed to him: “I don’t recognize any international laws. I swear I will burn every Palestinian child that is born in this zone.”

According to Gracia, Gonzalo Robles, the Spanish secretary general for international cooperation, explained to Querub that Sodepaz received official aid in 2010, under the previous government of Socialist Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. The money was to fund a Palestinian irrigation project that was completed in 2012. Robles also asked Sodepaz to remove the AECID logo from all its advertising.

As for FAMSI, which allegedly helped coordinate the conference, Gracia said the organization only received Foreign Ministry subsidies between 2000 and 2011.

Pro-Palestinian NGO Sodepaz received aid from the previous Socialist government, says ministry official

The controversy broke a week before Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo’s planned Middle East tour, which will take him to Israel, Jordan and Palestine.

For its part, Israel has asked the Spanish Foreign Ministry for a formal explanation. “Israel expresses a deep concern over the revelations made by the Simon Wiesenthal Center regarding the economic subsidies by the Spanish government to people and organizations who are anti-Israeli and anti-Semites,” said Emmanuel Nahshon, a spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry.

“We trust that Minister Garcia-Margallo, who will arrive in this country in the coming days, was not aware of the abusive and criminal use of Spanish taxpayers’ money and we are confident he will act quickly to resolve this situation.”

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