The veteran Spanish journalist and commentator Iñaki Gabilondo devoted his broadcast slot last week to a dramatic attack on the “powerful Jewish lobby” in the United States. The pretext was the recent decision of The New York Times international print edition to stop the publication of political cartoons, following the much reported furor over the anti-Semitic caricature in its pages that showed a blind U.S. President Donald Trump, a black kipah on his head, being pulled along by a haughty-looking guide dog with the face of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
As anti-Semites often do, Gabilondo couched his attack upon the “powerful Jewish lobby” within a humanist, universalist imperative; in this case, the freedom of the press to engage in satire and lampoonery without fear of censorship. The binary opposites are established in a manner comforting to the liberal open mind: On the one side, an aware, engaged citizenry cognizant of its democratic rights; on the other, the censorious, sinister Jews and their lobby.
Having presented himself as the voice of this silent majority, a solemn Gabilondo then pronounced on the enormous weight carried by the “Jewish lobby,” regretting that the weakness of the print media today was one reason why the international edition had been so easily compelled to banish cartoons from its pages.
For what it’s worth, I’m also not entirely sure either why the Times’ management feels that banishing all cartoons from the international edition makes more sense than properly vetting them before publication, but that’s beside the point. The chief observation to be made is that arguments like Gabilondo’s can always find a peg to hang on; when Jews aren’t running the media, they are starting wars in the Middle East, or running the White House, or blasting Zionist propaganda at anyone in their path.
In Spain, as in other European countries, these conspiratorial fantasies about Jewish power have a long pedigree. One of the key locations where they have manifested has been the press, often fueled by the grotesqueries of Spain’s own cartoonists.
In many cases, the vitriol directed against Jews takes special care to aim at the Holocaust. In 2016, for example, the weekly El Jueves ran a vicious cartoon of Israeli soldiers with hooked noses urinating on Palestinians, Jesus among them. The accompanying caption read: “But you don’t understand, my parents were in a concentration camp.”
Indeed, as far back as 2001, the Spanish media has delighted in needling Jews by comparing the Holocaust with Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians; in June of that year, a cartoon in the weekly La Razon showed (surprise, surprise) two Israeli officers beating up an innocent Palestinian as one says to the other, “There’s no time for me to reflect on the Holocaust.”
Unpalatable as it is to admit, these barbs strike a chord with a significant section of the Spanish public. A poll by the Anti-Defamation League in 2014 found that 65 percent of Spanish citizens believed that Jews were more loyal to Israel than their own countries, 50 percent thought Jews had too much power in international financial markets, and 39 percent were convinced that Jews were in control of the government of the United States.
Ironically, these very same anti-Semitic views coexist with the overriding belief that Spain doesn’t have a problem with Jews. An European Union Eurobarometer poll in December 2018 found that nearly 70 percent of Spanish respondents didn’t think that anti-Semitism was an issue in their country—a level of denial that far outweighs nearly every other country in the European Union, from Sweden, where only 17 percent said that anti-Semitism wasn’t a problem, to France, where 24 percent of respondents said the same.
On such favorable terrain, a journalist like Gabilondo—who started his career during General Franco’s regime in the early 1960s—can get away with making outsize claims about the “Jewish lobby” without providing a scintilla of evidence. It was striking that at no point in his three-minute defense of the anti-Semitic Trump cartoon did he actually show his viewers what caused the offense, much less provide an account (publicly available, easily assembled) of how the Times’ arrived at the decision that it did.
But perhaps there is no need to do any of that when those three words, poderosísimo lobby Judío (“powerful Jewish lobby”), provide all the explanation that is required. For Gabilondo and millions like him, it is these words that expose the true nature of power in the world; contrarian “rational” or “scientific” explanations are, by the same token, a ruse to distract us from the ongoing manipulations of the “Jewish lobby.”
That malicious superstition such as this can receive an outing on national television does not reflect well on Spain—all the more so as no one has challenged Gabilondo outside of his Twitter feed, where one user responded by saying “Jews Jews Jews: Don’t you have another argument?” Sadly, that basic realization does not seem to have dawned on Gabilondo’s colleagues in the Spanish media. As is usual in such cases, silence is equivalent to consent: The next generation of Spaniards will grow up with the myth of the “powerful Jewish lobby,” much as their parents’ did, as a direct result.
Ben Cohen is a New York City-based journalist and author who writes a weekly column on Jewish and international affairs for JNS.