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Friends, Indeed

Former Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar takes sides—and chooses Israel

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José María Aznar at a National Council of Resistance of Iran rally outside Paris organized in June 26, 2010. (Alexander Klein/AFP/Getty Images)

Three days before Spain’s 2004 general election, a massive bomb attack on the Madrid subway killed 191 people. When then-Prime Minister José María Aznar and his government initially pointed the finger at Basque terrorists, the public believed his government was covering up the fact that Islamist militants had exacted revenge for Spain’s decision to send troops to fight alongside the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Spanish voted against Aznar’s party—in the apparent hope of appeasing Islamic terror.

Given his first-hand experience with how terrorism can shape political reality, Aznar more than any other European official is capable of deep sympathy with Israel. This partly explains why he is now using his name and reputation to found the Friends of Israel Initiative, which includes includes other world leaders, like Alejandro Toledo, the former president of Peru, and Czech playwright and one-time President Vaclav Havel, as founding members. “My conviction,” Aznar told me in a phone interview this week, “is that the best strategy to defend the West is to defend Israel.”

Israel, Aznar said, is not a Middle Eastern country but a Western country in the Middle East—the West’s first line of defense in the battle with Islamist radicals who seek to destroy Western freedom and terrorize whomever tries to stand in their way. “The harm done to Israel is damage done to the West,” Aznar said. “And delegitimizing Israel is a delegitimization of the West.”

While Aznar’s pro-U.S. sentiment was obvious to Spanish voters, his support of Israel was more muted. “There wasn’t that much opportunity to express this conviction in government,” Aznar told me. “But now I’m involved in a battle of ideas.” To express unequivocal support for the Jewish state is not the soundest political move in a country that historically has not been particularly friendly to Jews, from the Spanish Inquisition to the present day, when it has played host to massive public rallies in support of Hamas and Hezbollah.

Aznar admitted that “the majority of Spanish are extremely critical of Israel.” Radical Muslims, he explained, “help shape public opinion of Israel in Spain. And Europe is a kingdom of relativism. Our work is in convincing both the people of Europe as well as some of its leaders—and this is true even in the U.S. We are aware that there’s a long way to go, we’re at the beginning, but it’s a conviction we share with different people across the world.”

In the last few months, Aznar’s work has taken him to Israel, throughout Europe, and to the United States, where he also teaches at Georgetown University. In this full schedule of travel, he raises support for his international lobbying campaign to combat the global effort to delegitimize Israel.

The point of his organization, Aznar explained, is that it rallies the support, and solicits the membership, of non-Jews. His members are those who care deeply for both the living Israel and the biblical nation on which Western civilization was built. Unless one understands the history of the Jews and Judeo-Christian values, he said, “it’s impossible to understand the history of the Western world and Europe and where we come from.”

If many European (and American) elites believe that the world has moved beyond nationalism and toward a post-modern, multicultural utopia in which Jewish nationalism is a dangerous anachronism, Aznar will have nothing of it. For him, the evil that befalls Israel will eventually happen to the rest of us. Failure to defend Israel will only make all Western democracies more vulnerable.

The global left has shaped the debate on Israel in its efforts to delegitimize the Jewish state, leaving American liberals with a center that is skewed toward Israel’s murderous adversaries. Today’s Democratic party mainstream believes that the failure of Oslo is the exclusive responsibility of the Israeli right and has nothing to do with Arab terror, because that’s the political spectrum that the Western far-left and its Arab comrades-in-arms have framed for them—the same way that extremist groups in the Middle East regularly skew the regional political debate in the direction of their mad ideas.

Over the last decade, few have played a more public role in tilting polite opinion against Israel than George Soros. So, perhaps last week’s news that Soros is one of the main financial sponsors of J-Street shouldn’t come as a surprise—even though he and J-Street founder and director Jeremy Ben-Ami have denied since the group’s inception two years ago that the billionaire had provided any backing whatsoever. Soros, a Hungarian-born Jew, is considered by many in the Jewish community to be toxic, not least for arguing that anti-Semitism is the effect of Israel’s policies, rather than the polluted mental state of anti-Semites. Nonetheless, Soros has in the past funded some Jewish organizations, while others have said they’d be happy to have his support. J-Street’s leaders could have explained their decision to take money from Soros—or simply stated that they do not reveal the identities of their benefactors. Instead, Ben-Ami and his organization lied. Why J-Street chooses to operate in the shadows is perhaps less important than the fact that it does.

It is hard to see what credibility J-Street has left in light of the clear evidence that the organization consciously intended to manipulate and deceive the public, the press, and its own members to advance an agenda that was quite different than the one that it promoted in public statements. The fact that J-Street made Soros’ foreign policy guru Mort Halperin, an uncompromising opponent of Israel and vice president of the Open Society Institute, one of its five officers and directors suggests that the organization was not just taking the billionaire’s money but also following his political line.

Yet for these self-proclaimed friends of Israel it was rarely about Israel anyway. For them, Israel is a mirror image of those aspects of American culture that make them uncomfortable: nationalism, exceptionalism, and a muscular foreign policy. Scarier yet, Israel’s most uncomplicated supporters are Evangelical Christians and those American Jews who believe strongly in both American and Jewish nationalism, and among those who are strongly attached to religious practice. However little some self-conscious liberals may know about the particulars of the Middle East conflict, they know what side their domestic enemies are on.

The other side gets it, too: The Israeli flag Sarah Palin kept prominently displayed in her office as governor was not intended to secure Alaska’s Jewish vote but to fly her colors in the U.S. culture wars. Support for Israel can mean many things, some of which are affiliated, and others contradictory—saying no to terrorists and bullies, believing in Western values, accepting the truth of God’s promises in the Bible, feeling affinity for Jews, or just showing loyalty to allies. Israel is a cultural signifier of great power among all sorts of people, even in congressional districts where there are very few Jews and where Israel is only a tiny abstract fleck on a map.

However, as the former Spanish prime minister understands, this is not just a war of symbols. It’s a real war in which the fate of families and entire peoples is at stake, not just Israel but Europe, too—which is why he has chosen to take a stand. Jeremy Ben-Ami also has an inkling that the conflict is larger than policy debates in Washington and Jerusalem, that it’s a real war, which will shape the politics of the West for the next generation—and that’s why he lied.

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I suppose you don’t notice the ridiculous irony of wailing about “islamic terrorism” while posting a photo of Aznar at a “National Council of Resistance of Iran rally — when the National Council of Resistance of Iran is actually an Islamist-Marxist terrorist group that was backed and supported by Saddam Hussein.

The last sentence of the first graph (“The Spanish voted against Aznar’s party—in the apparent hope of appeasing Islamic terror.”) is absurdly presumptive and overly generalizing. Tablet, does Lee Smith have something on you guys? Why are you still publishing his neocon drivel? This site seems too intelligent and even-handed for the crap he’s peddling.

brooklyn says:

people just don’t understand the goal of the islamic radicals. it is to eliminate all of the west. If you believe that the people who support islamic terror are a small percentage in these muslim countries, then you are one naive person, just look at the polls. These countries want israel destroyed but they cant accept the fact that G-D gave him the land. Just read the bible, it says israel will be restored the jews for a third time and will never be taken away. Those words are actually written. But you know its all a coincidence, lol. This is the bible that does not promote hatred or terror or death to all non-muslims. but just peace with its neighbors which Israel aches for. But what people just don’t understand is Israel does not need any other countries help. Not America’s or Europes. No one helped them in 1948 or 1967 when they were barely a standing country and the youngest country and they single-handedly destroyed surrounded arab armies when they were outnumbered by soldiers, gun, tanks, and they were fighting on the defense. If thats not some miracle, then you try to explain it. Long Live Israel

“The Spanish voted against Aznar’s party—in the apparent hope of appeasing Islamic terror.”

No, they did not!

They voted for Zapatero because they suspected that Aznar was lying for political purposes.

Which proved to be the case.

John Doe says:

Israel, Aznar said, is not a Middle Eastern country but a Western country in the Middle East—the West’s first line of defense in the battle with Islamist radicals who seek to destroy Western freedom and terrorize whomever tries to stand in their way.

Sounds like Paul Wolfowitz.

jzsnake says:

Come on guys, Aznar was leading in the polls until the terrorist bomb.

PostMaster says:

Other right wing organizations have survived worse scandals with little trouble, some recent as you know. It’s only because J Street is a for ideological reasons that people are saying this will lead to it’s demise.

PostMaster says:

I mean it’s only because of ideological reasons people are calling for it’s demise.

PostMaster says:

J Street has a moderate middle east policy and I see no evidence it’s taking direction from Soros who by the way only provided 7 percent of their donations. It takes much more money then that to get your foot in the door in politics my friend.

When it comes to Israel and the Arabs, the Left simply lost touch with any sense of balance and truth. A perfect example is the recent vilification of Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs Avigdor Liberman. In his recent UN speech (which you can read here: ), Mr. Leiberman put forth a suggestion for re-drawing of borders according to population concentrations – mind you, not an annexation, not an evacuation, but a more reasonable re-drawing of borders according to the realities on the ground, as part of a peace plan – and for that he was widely denounced. At the same time the Arab demand for a Judenrein in future Palestine – mind you, forcible evacuation of hundred of thousands of people – is tolerated. Israeli parliament member, Hanin Zuabi, the “heroine” of the Gaza Flotilla, called Leiberman an “ethnic cleanser.” How many Jews Does Mahmud Abbas plans to have in the future Palestinian Parliament? Obviously none, since he demands an end to Jewish presence in Palestine (while also demanding the “right or return” of Palestinians into Israel).
Where are the Jews of Egypt? Of Iraq? Of Syria? – Communities which thrived for thousands of years have been decimated. The Palestinians demand nothing less. But for Liberal, Jewish, America, it’s Avigdor Liberman who is the bully.

stan nadel says:

“The Spanish voted against Aznar’s party”in the apparent hope of appeasing Islamic terror.” No, this is his slant on what happened and an attempt to restore his reputation. In fact they didn’t do so in hope of appeasing the terrorists, they voted him out for lying to them about what had happened in order to try and capitalize on it in the election

Tablet readers might also be interested in reading the articles of the Catalán journalist Pilar Rahuela (Google her). She has an excellent take on the anti-Israel European left.


Dani Levi says:

The fact is Islamofascists murdered/ tore to pieces 191 ( one hundred and ninety two ) commuters leaving the station platform on the way to work, and 1800 were injured in the Madrid bombing. What was said and done afterwards is neither here nor there. It is interesting how the discussion somehow gets side tracked later. The murder – or to use a favored Palestinian expression “massacre” of people who have nothing to do with anything – is somehow sidelined and the EU-left manages to steer the discourse away from urban warfare in west European capitals and towards pro Hamas and Hezb statements. And this in a nation that castrated itself in 1492. The Spanish are not the sharpest tool in the box in my humble opinion.

llevo 11 años en españa en murcia. ansar es un politico pero tambien humano.normalmente los politicos digan y hagan lo que sea para la seleccion.En españa hay pocos judios solo 78000. Aunque hay un lobby catolica y un lobby de muselman no hay un lobby judio..Ademas la enquesta dice que 61% de españoles no estan a favor de israel.Entonces quizas aznar queria comitir suicido politico.
.Su decision es hoy basado en entender los hechos.entender europa y españa.No hablo de sus vida en genral en la politica. solo de su apoyo a israel.
Mas politicos con mas vision.

Aznar is a good man, a democratic, and a person who believes in freedom, not capitulation. I am honored to have him on our side. Meanwhile is anyone really surprised that JStreet is so slimy?

ThrueToHistory says:

Bravo Tablet.

End Antisemitism says:

The comments above confirm the point of this article. Lee Smith appears to be pointing out that the anti-Israel sentiment that began as mainstream Islamist ideology, along with its virulent antisemitism and hatred of the US and Israel, has in about 10 years’ time become mainstream left wing liberal and accepted ways to think and speak.

Not only has the left apparently forgotten the Holocaust, they are unknowningly helping to make possible the next genocide against the Jews by vilifying Israel, tolerating antisemitic statements to be made in public by those in high office, supporting the boycott,divestment, and sanctions of Jewish businesses, just as was done in Nazi Germany.

The first step in the proces of genocide is to devalue, dehumanize, and vilify Jews and the Jewish State itself. The left appears ready to delegitimize Israel by first branding the feeling of pride Israelis feel in their country as if somehow it is the same as pre-World War II German nationalism. There is no equivalence between the two, but that doesn’t stop those who just want to see Israel and/or Jews as if they are the main aggressors in the world.

The comments above, like the one that indicated the author sounded like “Paul Wolfowitz” implying that to be a friend of Israel is the equivalent of being some kind of evil person is an example of villifying anything written that is pro-Israel. The author is speaking exactly about this and the effects these attitudes are having by fanning the flames of Islamic extremists who want to destroy Israel. Sooner or later the left will have to reap the consequences of the anti-Israel and antisemitic sentiment they are sowing under the guise of “humanitarianism.”

laurie says:

It amazes me that so many people in so many countries have yet to learn the lesson that if one is not careful..history tends to repeat itself. Keep doing things in the same old way and you can expect the same old results. As the author stated so eloquently, “The first step in the process of genocide is to devalue, dehumanize, and vilify Jews and the Jewish State itself. The left appears ready to delegitimize Israel by first branding the feeling of pride Israelis feel in their country as if somehow it is the same as pre-World War II German nationalism”.

That Israel herself has fallen prey to the very philosophy that Obama spews…to play down nationalism, pride and creed….is a very shortsighted and most likely deadly. I only hope and pray that the people of Israel are able to retrieve their sense of “Israelness”…that very idea that has allowed them to prosper, grow and be the envy of many — accounting for, and in spite of, hatred.

One has to have self confidence, and a feeling of pride to look like a winner and to win. To cower, relent, turn your back and grovel is hardly the makings of the victor!


Interested in reading more about the Basque country? Check out “ETA-Estimated Time of Arrest”, a fast-paced political thriller by author Delphine Pontvieux. Visit for more information

i dont know if europe stands with israel but in murcia we have improved the standing. In 2003 we started our campaign ro find out.We wanted to find out what people think of jews and israel and why. This led our community to get more involved .We joined the parents assoc. were our children go.We started attend local meetings for PP PSOE IU.We joined the prestigious club de tenis to get to know the people and to be known.We celebrated our festivals in the plazas en restaurants .We connected wit local tv press radio.we discovered that most antiisraeli types have never had any directo contact with a jew. never!!.thier antisemtism is like dna.It can be altered by having direct personal contact with a jew.Jews dont have to do anything extra to be fact the opposite.Just be ourselves and wear your jcc t shirt and people see we are just like them.
Today in murcia the antiisraeli rate is down compared to even verona wisconsin( vahs study 2010) which as more antisemitism than murcia spain.

I found this post earlier today while at work. Very helpful. Sent the url to myself and will possibly bookmark it when I get home.


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Friends, Indeed

Former Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar takes sides—and chooses Israel

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