CONTROVERSY IN MADRID CITY COUNCIL

New Madrid culture chief resigns over offensive Twitter messages

Guillermo Zapata, from new party Ahora Madrid, had only been in role 48 hours He became caught up in controversy over offensive jokes he had posted in 2011

Guillermo Zapata, the newly appointed culture councilor for the city of Madrid.
Guillermo Zapata, the newly appointed culture councilor for the city of Madrid.Claudio Alvarez / EL PAÍS

After just 48 hours in the role, the new culture chief for Madrid City Council, Guillermo Zapata, resigned from his job on Monday after offensive jokes he posted on micro-blogging site Twitter caused outrage on the social networks and among opposition politicians.

Zapata left the job of his own accord after meeting on Monday with the new mayor in the Spanish capital, Manuela Carmena. The former judge was voted in on Saturday after her party, Ahora Madrid, secured the support of the Socialists (PSOE) for her investiture. Just hours later, she was already dealing with her first crisis after the tweets from 2011 began to circulate. By Monday, she had accepted his resignation.

One of Zapata’s tweets said the following: “How would you fit five million Jews into a Fiat 600? In the ashtray”

“The first thing I want to do is to apologize for the tweets that I published that year,” Zapata told reporters at a press conference on Monday afternoon.

Zapata, who had assumed the role of culture and sports councilor, had tweeted jokes that made fun of the Holocaust and of victims of ETA terrorism. He later argued that the messages were posted in the context of a debate about the limits of humor, but the damage had already been done.

One of Zapata’s tweets said the following: “How would you fit five million Jews into a Fiat 600 [a tiny car popular in the 1960s and 70s]? Answer: in the ashtray.”

In another remark in the same vein, Zapata tweeted about the State of Israel, saying: “We don’t know why it needs so much space, if each person just takes up a pile of ash.”

During his press conference, Zapata sought to distance himself from the comments. “I’m not antisemitic,” he told reporters. “I reject all kinds of violence. I have never felt any attachment to any kind of terrorism.”

Zapata publicly apologized prior to resigning, but reiterated that the jokes had been taken out of context

The Socialists had demanded the councilor’s dismissal, with their national leader, Pedro Sánchez, on Monday calling on Carmena to remove Zapata for his “miserable statements,” which, he added, were “unbecoming of someone who wishes to be culture chief in an open and tolerant city.”

The conservative Popular Party (PP) also called for the councilor’s dismissal or resignation.

“No amount of apologizing is valid,” said Íñigo Henríquez de Luna, the Madrid PP’s number two official. “Those tweets are not black humor, they are glorifying antisemitism and terrorism. They show the moral stature of a radical and cruel figure.”

Jewish associations and the Victims of Terrorism Foundation also called for Zapata’s dismissal.

Zapata publicly apologized prior to resigning, but reiterated that the jokes had been taken out of context and defended his right to use black humor. He also closed his Twitter account.

“I think that humor has an enormous potential to heal wounds, but also to hurt,” he told EL PAÍS in a telephone conversation on Sunday. “And if you do something that hurts someone else, you must apologize for it, even if it falls within the bounds of your freedom of expression.”

Zapata is not the only new councilor to find himself embroiled in such a scandal. Pablo Soto, the councilor for Citizen Participation, once tweeted about the need to “torture” then-Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón.

But Mayor Carmena said that both cases are completely different because, while Zapata continues to defend his right to use black humor, “Pablo is completely repentant.”

Ahora Madrid is a bloc made up of the anti-austerity party Podemos, the social movement Ganemos, and breakaway members of the traditional left-wing party United Left. Of this group of 56 people, Carmena only personally selected one, Marta Higueras, who is now her deputy.

Guillermo Zapata, a novelist and screenwriter, was named by Ganemos, while Pablo Soto, a software developer, had the backing of Podemos.

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