Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar champions his causes with confidence, regardless of the consequences.
By Jessica Kavana Dornbusch
Jose Maria Aznar has no familial or religious ties to the State of Israel. There are no political pressures behind his actions; in fact, as a former Spanish Prime Minister, most would say the opposite is true as for far too long it has been “unfashionable” in Europe to speak up for Israel. In his own words, “It is hard to think of a more unpopular cause to champion.” Therefore, many could question his motives. What reasons could there be for a man as high profile as Aznar to make bold public statements such as those he has made in support of Israel? A Nobel Peace prize? Maybe. But he would argue that it is simply the “consequence of his convictions.”
Prime Minister Aznar is no stranger to controversy nor to fear. His history with terrorism goes back even farther than his post as President of Spain, when in 1995 Aznar’s armored car prevented him from being assassinated by a bomb planted by the ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, an armed Basque nationalist and separatist organization). But he survived, and representing the PP— the People’s Party—he went on to win a major victory in the general election, surprising many by ending a 13-year rule by the incumbent PSOE party.
His first term culminated on a high note when the European Union introduced the Euro in 1999, a major success for Aznar and his government. Steady economic growth and falling unemployment won the government public support, leading voters to reelect Aznar in the 2000 general election with an outright majority. Then, after six years of relative political calm, several issues arose that began to polarize Spanish public opinion. Like UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, Aznar publicly supported The United States’ War on Terrorism despite public opposition. The majority of the Spanish population, including members of his own political party, was against the war. The street demonstrations that were held as a result of the government’s participation in the war were among the largest ever seen in the country. Then, during a live interview, while demonstrations were taking place outside, Aznar asked the Spanish people to believe that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Though this is now regarded as incorrect, what cannot be argued is that his convictions have always been consistent in his protection of the West, its safety, and its allies’ safety. He has often said that the two biggest threats facing us are found in the rise of radical Islamism, and in Iran and its dreams of regional hegemony. “Both phenomena are threats that affect not only Israel, but the West and the world at large.”
In 2010, Aznar launched “The Friends of Israel Initiative.” It is an international effort, and Aznar knew that the only way it would work would be to get as many politically active, not necessarily Jewish, pro-Israel friends on his board. He did just that. Among the nine founders are dignitaries such as Former United States Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, former President of Peru Alejandro Toledo, and Nobel Peace Prize winner David Trimble. As a mission, the organization “seeks to counter the attempts to delegitimize the State of Israel and its right to live in peace within safe and defensible borders.” The organization, created after the ill-fated takeover of the Mavi Marmara by Israeli commandos, hopes to be able to help Israel when it is inevitably once again placed in the impossible situation of “having to give up it’s security or face world condemnation.” However, this endorsement isn’t entirely altruistic, nor is it a case of blind Zionism, since according to Aznar “Israel is the West’s first line of defense, and must be protected.”
In a recent article the former Prime Minister penned for the British newspaper The Times, he explains that the Friends of Israel Initiative’s intent is not to defend any specific policy or political party, and in fact they are certain there will be moments of disagreement between the sponsors of the initiative and policy makers in Jerusalem. But they are also certain that what binds them in inexorably stronger than what pulls them apart, since what binds them is a mutual, fundamental and unyielding support for Israel’s right to exist and to defend itself. “For Western countries to side with those who question Israel’s legitimacy, for them to play games in international bodies with Israel’s vital security issues, for them to appease those who oppose Western values rather than robustly stand up in defense of those values, is not only a grave moral mistake, but a strategic error of the first magnitude.”
So, what words can describe a man whose convictions have found him a place in the Arab world’s ever-growing “most unpopular” list? The Iranian Shia New Agency responded to Aznar’s defense of Israel by calling Israel “a virtual Nazi state” and calling Jose Maria Aznar “a fascist voice from Spain,” a “fanatic” and “an ignorant man from Spain.” In a polarized world filled with passion intertwined with self-interest, it is incredibly rare to find a person with no personal ties to his cause, just a case for what is right and what is wrong, and enough conviction to help the rest of us see the difference. “If Israel goes down,” says Jose Maria Aznar, “we all go down.”