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Recovering the Jewish Legacy Spain
 
Madrid- Spain and Israel presented a new cultural body aimed at recovering the Jewish legacy Spain lost when expelling its Jews half a millennium ago. Spaniards and Israelis should close the political and social gap separating them, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said on presenting the Sefarad-Israel House in Madrid.

Sefarad was the Jewish name for Spain, which had a flourishing Jewish community until 1492, when Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella expelled all those who refused to convert.

The new body would seek to pay Spain's "remote debt" to Jews, Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos said, describing Spain as an "ally and friend" of Israel.

The Sefarad-Israel House, which has an annual budget of 3 million euros (3.9 million dollars), will investigate Spain's Jewish heritage, divulgate information about it and stage cultural events.

Spain's Jewish heritage, as well as its Muslim one, was largely forgotten when the Catholic Church asserted its religious monopoly from the end of the 15th century onwards.

In modern times, Spanish-Israeli relations were long strained over issues such as 1939-75 dictator Francisco Franco's Fascist alliances and Spain's close relations with Arab countries.

Spain and Israel only exchanged ambassadors in 1986.

Livni was to meet Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero to discuss the
Middle East situation, as well as King Juan Carlos during her visit

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