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Commemoration of the day when the Inquisition was established fails to contextualise the scope of it properly

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At the Feet of the Savior, massacre of Jews in Toledo, oil on canvas by Vicente Cutanda (1887)

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A draft legislation submitted by MK Michal Cotler-Wunsh proposes to establish a Day to commemorate the victims of the Spanish Inquisition in Israel. This sounds fine, as far as it goes, and it is long – very long – overdue, since 1953 when Yad Vashem was established.

I say, as far as it goes, because it is hard to figure out why the memorial is limited to the Spanish Inquisition since it was not the only one on the Iberian Peninsula or in the overseas colonies. Spain’s overseas Inquisitions,  albeit not exclusively of Jews) were held in Mexico, Cartagena de Indias (Colombia) The Mexican headquarters also administered the Inquisitions in Guatemala, Chiapas, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica while the Peruvian inquisition administered all the Spanish territories in Panama and South America.

On the other hand, unlike the Spaniards, Portugal did not give the Jews, including those that fled Spain to take refuge in Portugal, the option of converting or being expelled. Instead, the King forcibly converted its entire Jewish population in 1497.

After giving the freshly converted Jewish community a period of respite of about 24 years, the Portuguese Inquisition was established in 1521 and at times turned out to be harsher than the Spanish one. In due course, the Portuguese Inquisition expanded its territorial scope into its overseas colonies with the one at Goa believed to be the most vicious one of all.

The commemoration of the day when the Inquisition was established further fails to contextualise properly the Spanish Inquisition in that it is, by any means, not a stand apart enterprise, but one responsive to the turn of events in the treatment of the Jews of Spain and the successive diasporas which this treatment generated.

Hence, in order to fully understand what the Inquisition was about it is necessary to go back to the popular persecutions, the killings and forced conversions of Spanish Jews and the looting of their property in 1348 and 1391, all of which continued during the further period of violence between 1391 and 1492.

Catholic Monarchs who intended to make Spain a country inhabited exclusively by Catholics soon became convinced that the converted Jewish population living in close proximity to the Jewish community was at risk of returning to Judaism and that this would defeat their design.

It was that conviction that led them to the decision in 1492 to give the remaining Jewish population the option to convert or to be expelled practically with nothing but the clothes they were going to be wearing on the day of their expulsion.

Consequently, the Spanish Inquisition did not really get its wings until after the expulsion, to keep a close watch on the converts and to prevent them from returning to their true faith. Hence, the ensuing rapid increase in arrests effected on the slightest suspicion; torture- guilty or innocent, to obtain confessions, confiscation of the offenders’ entire property and burnings at the stake, auto-da- fé, while those who could, fled the country at practically and returned to Judaism.

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Just as importantly, the proposed Commemoration misses the celebratory end of the history when about 500 years later, the descendants of the Jews who were expelled from or fled Spain, Sardinia, Sicily and Portugal and settled in North Africa and in other Arab countries were yet again dispossessed and expelled, returned to their ancestral home, instead of to just another country and trade their dhimmi status for the full citizenship of Israel.

The fact that they continued to be discriminated against by their Ashkenazi brethren is another story for another time.

Likewise, after spending pretty horrendous 15 years from the rise of the Nazis, starting in 1948, the descendants of the Spanish, Portuguese and Italian Jews who took refuge in the Ottoman Empire that became Turkey, enjoyed what their forefathers did not have in the preceding 500 years, and cherished the option of returning to their ancestral home and lands.

Finally, the story would not be complete without reference for those expelled from Spain and Sicily and Sardinia who re-established themselves in the Kingdom of Naples only to be re-expelled again in and between 1510 and 1540, along with their forcibly or voluntarily converted brethren native to the region, by the very same Spanish King Ferdinand II of Aragon who in 1503 acquired the title of King of Naples. Those among them who took refuge in the Ottoman Empire joined their Sephardic brethren. And again, a number of their descendants joined the self-expulsion movement back to their ancestral home.

It so happens that while my paternal forefathers who bore and passed on a surname that could be traced to 12th century Spain, and yet had to be abandoned in 1943 for some of the usual reasons were expelled from Spain; my maternal forefathers originated from the Puglia region of the Kingdom of Naples and bore as surname, name of the City of Taranto in keeping with an old Sephardic practice.

To me, to reduce this painful, poignant and rich history of multiple, inter-related inquisitions and the geographic trajectories of those who chose freedom of religion and were expelled; those who anticipated the inhumanity of the events between 1348 and 1492 and of the Inquisition and fled them and their descendants who in the end, self-expelled themselves back to their ancestral home, to the commemoration of one inquisition in one single country does not commensurate with and does not properly serve the noble intentions of the initiator and of the sponsors of the legislation.

Doğan D. Akman is an independent researcher and commentator. He holds a B.Sc. in sociology, an M.A. in sociology/criminology and an LL.B in law. He held academic appointments in sociology, criminology and social policy; served as a Judge of the Provincial Court of Newfoundland and Labrador, and occupied the positions of Crown Counsel in criminal prosecutions and in civil litigation at the Federal Department of Justice. His academic work is published in peer-reviewed professional journals, while his opinion pieces and other writings are to be found in various publications and in blogs.  

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

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