Anti-Semitic joke haunts Madrid official

Guillermo Zapata, elected to city council, posted offensive remark about Nazi crematoriums to his Twitter feed

Madrid City Councilman Guillermo Zapata (YouTube/proyecto15Mcc)
Madrid City Councilman Guillermo Zapata (YouTube/proyecto15Mcc)

An anti-Semitic joke that a newly elected official from the Spanish Indignados (Outraged) movement tweeted in 2011 unleashed a storm of criticism Sunday, a day after his group took over the Madrid city council.

Guillermo Zapata, who was chosen to become the capital city’s cultural councilor, closed down his Twitter account and apologized for the damage he caused.

But the hashtag #ZapataDemision (Resign, Zapata) went viral in Spain, just one day after activists from the Indignados movement that organized mass street protests in 2011 became mayors in Madrid and Barcelona.

Zapata had made deeply offensive jokes about the Holocaust and gas chambers used by the Nazis during World War II. In another tweet, he had also taken aim at a victim of an attack by Basque separatist group ETA.

At the time Zapata allegedly wrote, in Spanish, “How would you fit five million Jews in a (SEAT) 600 [a locally made small car]? In the ashtray” — a reference to the crematoriums the Nazis used to burn victims of the Holocaust in concentration camps.

In a statement posted on social media platform Tumblr on Sunday, Zapata apologized, and said his jokes had been prompted by a debate on “the limits of humor.”

Claiming he did not identify with the content of his own tweets, Zapata said he was taking part in an online debate prompted by the sacking of a columnist of national daily El Pais, after he made a joke denying the Holocaust.

“Now some of those tweets, which were written within the context of a conversation on black humor, have been recovered with the goal of presenting them as though they represented my ideas — while in fact I do not defend them at all,” Zapata wrote.

“I firmly condemn all forms of racism, and, of course, anti-Semitism. I believe the Jewish Holocaust teaches us a lesson that humanity must never forget, so that it is never repeated,” he added.

The conservative former mayor of Madrid, Esperanza Aguirre, called via Twitter on her successor Manuela Carmena to demand Zapata’s resignation, or else “she will become complicit with his savagery.”

The Socialists, whose support helped bring Carmena and Zapata’s Ahora Madrid to power in the capital, have also demanded that the new councilor give “an immediate explanation.”

Separately in Andalusia, Socialist politician Susana Diaz, 40, took office as head of the regional government, nearly three months after a vote was held in Spain’s most populous area.

Sworn in as president of the southern region, one of Spain’s poorest, Diaz pledged to fight corruption and to strive for equality.

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