Maccabi Tel Aviv celebrates win
Maccabi Tel Aviv celebrates win Flash 90

Twitter users in Spain posted 17,500 messages of anti-Semitic abuse after Israeli basketball team Maccabi Tel Aviv beat Real Madrid on Sunday to win the Euroleague Championship, Jewish associations said Tuesday.

Twelve Jewish groups in the northeastern Catalonia region lodged a legal complaint over the messages, which they said flooded the Twitter network after Maccabi's 98-86 win.

Angry Spanish supporters created an expletive anti-Semitic hashtag in their messages after the match, which briefly became one of the most popular keywords on Twitter in Spain.

Ruben Noboa of the Jewish group "Israel in Catalonia" said he launched the lawsuit after seeing references in some messages to death camps and the mass murder of Jews in the Holocaust.

"When we saw reactions to Maccabi's victory such as 'Jews to the oven' or 'Jews to the showers,' we decided to lodge this judicial complaint," Noboa told AFP.

Eleven other Jewish associations have joined the lawsuit, which has presented copies of anti-Semitic tweets to state prosecutors. The associations singled out five people who were identified by their real names on Twitter, accusing them of "incitement to hatred and discrimination" - a crime punishable by up to three years in jail in Spain.

The anti-Semitic response to the Israeli team's victory came early, as passersby tried to spoil a victory celebration on the streets of Milan by raising a Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) flag. The Israeli celebrants responded by chanting pro-Israel slogans and singing Israel's national anthem, Hatikva, as the would-be provocateurs beat a hasty retreat.

Hating Jews without knowing any

A recent extensive research survey on global anti-Semitism by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) found that Spain ranked third in Europe for anti-Semitism, after Greece and France. That report found that 26% of the world's adults hold deeply anti-Semitic views.

Spanish Jewry was largely expelled in the late 15th century CE in the Spanish Inquisition, which attempted to expel, convert or murder Jews. A new initiative giving descendants of expelled Spanish Jews was met with very limited applications.

"Hardly anyone here knows any Jews, but the cliches and stereotypes persist and are also fed by Catholicism," said Noboa.

Spanish Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz last week launched a crackdown on "defense of crime or incitement to hatred" on the web, in response to online messages that glorified the murder of a ruling party politician, Isabel Carrasco. Police have arrested at least three people for insulting Carrasco on online services such as Twitter.

The Jewish associations behind Tuesday's lawsuit called on the interior ministry to take a similar line against the anti-Semitic abuse over the basketball match.

Another sign of anti-Semitism in Spain was seen in April, the mayor of the small Spanish town of Castrillo Matajudios - which means "Castrillo, Kill Jews" in English - decided to hold a vote to change the town's name.