King Felipe VI of Spain on Tuesday was awarded a top prize from Europe’s mainstream Orthodox rabbinic body for the country’s recent efforts to restore its Jewish communities.
The Conference of European Rabbis honored Felipe with the 2016 Lord Jakobovits Prize for European Jewry in a Tuesday ceremony at the at El Pardo Palace in Madrid.
According to a statement on the website of the World Jewish Congress, of which CER is an affiliate, the group praised the Spanish monarch in particular for his “immense contribution that the king has made in his willingness to embrace the many religious faiths present throughout the continent.”
Spain last year passed an unprecedented law granting citizenship to the descendants of the hundreds of thousands of Jews who fled Spain after 1492, when the Catholic Church and the country’s royal house instituted a campaign of persecution, forced conversion to Christianity and dispossession against Jews known as the Spanish Inquisition.
Spanish officials have said they enacted the Sephardic law of return to rectify a historical wrong. To date, 4,538 applicants for Spanish citizenship have been naturalized since the law went into effect last year.
At the Tuesday ceremony, Felipe VI said it was his country’s “duty in the name of justice” to work towards reviving Jewish life in Spain.
“Europe needs the invaluable contribution of its Jewish communities, because we need to be honest and respectful to both our common Judeo-Christian values and origins,” he said.
Moscow rabbi and CER President Pinchas Goldschmidt commended Spain’s “extraordinary” efforts to rectify past wrongs against its Jews.
“In an era where anti-Semitism is on the rise throughout Europe, Spain has taken extraordinary measures to make its Jews feel welcome. Not only did the minister of justice acknowledge the expulsion of what he has called an ‘historic mistake’, he ensured that action was taken to rectify it,” he said.
The CER’s annual prize has previously awarded to former Polish Prime Minister and European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and former French Prime Minister Manuel Valls.