A historic Jewish synagogue in Cordoba, southern Spain, a few hundred kilometres from Gibraltar (Shutterstock)
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The Rock of many faiths: Part II, Hindu and Jewish

Gibraltar's religious communities speak out about the power of diversity 

For centuries, Gibraltar’s tiny population has been a religious melting pot. Here, members of the Gibraltar Interfaith Group, an organisation working to promote religious tolerance on the Rock, share the history of their communities and explain why diversity matters to them.  

Jewish: “We embrace the  splendour of difference”  

I once received wise advice: if you wish to travel fast, travel alone. If you wish to travel far, travel accompanied. Gibraltarians travel in unison – in measured and secure steps. Our geopolitical realities have bred a spirit of conviviality, and an identity that has withstood the relentless political and economic lashes from neighbouring Spain, as well as the reckless indifference of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London. It is this milieu which has forged the Gibraltarian identity: unhindered by social, cultural and religious divides.

Jews came to Gibraltar after its capture by British forces in 1704. The Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, by which the Spanish crown ceded Gibraltar to the British crown in perpetuity, excluded Jews (and Moors) from residing in Gibraltar. Nonetheless, there are currently some 600 Gibraltarian Jews living here. Jews have been intimately involved in the development of Gibraltar’s social, political and cultural life. The late Sir Joshua Hassan, who served as Gibraltar's chief minister for decades, is an example of this. Many streets bear Jewish surnames, such as Benzimra’s Alley, Abecasis’s Passage, Benoliel’s Passage and Serfaty’s Passage.  

It is said that a society’s health is measured by how it treats its Jews. Gibraltar has been exemplary. Racial and religious fraternisation has crafted its fabric. I pray this propensity survives the contemporary trends. Tragically, there are no assurances that polarisation will not infest Gibraltar. Our tradition of interfaith rapport must therefore continue wisely and fearlessly. In this “little-big Gibraltar”, I learned that sparks of divinity not only blossom from holy books and timeless wisdom, but lie etched on the faces that carry life stories. Personal contacts have thwarted prejudice. We embrace the splendour of difference.

Levi J Attias is a barrister and poet

Hindu: “Tolerance comes from  the core of faith”  

It was around 1860 that the first Hindu traders arrived in Gibraltar. Although the  population remained very small until the 1950s, at present the community is just under 600. The first generation saw hardship when trying to settle down, but newer generations had greater opportunities to integrate and contribute.  

In these 150 years of history, the community has integrated within Gibraltar at large, establishing roots in a land we now consider our home. One of the most important achievements has been the construction of the Hindu temple, completed in 1993. It was officially inaugurated a few years later, in March of 2000, by Sir Richard Luce, who was governor of  Gibraltar at that time.  

The temple has become the focal point of Hindu culture and religion, not only for the Hindu community but for the many visitors from Gibraltar and the surrounding areas, including schools in Spain. It aims not only to serve as a venue for worship and observance, but also to help preserve heritage, promote religious understanding and participate in interfaith activities.  

Through the temple, we work to promote an understanding of Hindu culture among young people. Organisations such as the Boy Scouts, Cubs and Girl Guides make a point of paying a visit, alongside other places of worship. The exchange of knowledge in turn leads to greater respect and tolerance. Tolerance comes from within the core elements of our faith.  

Deepa Aidasani is the chairperson  of the Gibraltar Hindu Temple

Read Part I: Anglican and Catholic

Photo: Getty
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Gibraltar - impact of Brexit

Last week our editor took a general overview of some of the scenarios for Gibraltar if Britain were to leave the Euro. This week, as the atmosphere in the British Conservative Party becomes ever more toxic, Michael Castiel, partner at Hassans lawyers on the Rock, goes into more detail (this piece written before the Iain Duncan Smith resignation and subsequent arguments happened).

However unlikely it may prove, the prospect of Britain's withdrawal from the EU sends shivers through Gibraltar's financial services, gaming and tourism industries, which are at the core of Gibraltar’s economy. For, if Britain leaves the EU, Gibraltar goes too, and, should Brexit occur, it is Gibraltar’s relationship with the UK that as in the past, largely will shape Gibraltar's future.

Gibraltar joined the European Union in 1973 as part of the UK. While rights to freedom of services across borders of EU member states apply between Gibraltar and the rest of the EU, because Gibraltar is not a separate member state (and is in fact part of the UK Member State) those rights do not apply between Gibraltar and the UK. Instead a bilateral agreement, formalised almost two decades ago, gives Gibraltar's financial service companies the equivalent EU passporting rights into the UK. Accordingly and pursuant to such agreement, where EU rights in banking, insurance and other financial services are concerned, the UK treats Gibraltar as if it is a separate member state.

This reliance on the special relationship with the UK is recognised by both the Government and the Opposition in Gibraltar, and when the territory (which in this instance as part of the UK electorate) goes to the polls on 23 June, the vote to remain in the EU is likely to be overwhelming. This may have symbolic significance but realistically seems unlikely to influence the outcome. In actual terms, although some non-EU jurisdictions use Gibraltar and its EU passporting rights as a stepping stone into Europe, almost 80% of Gibraltar’s business dealings are with the UK.

But whether or not Britain maintains the 'special relationship' with Gibraltar, if Brexit becomes a reality, other factors will come into play, with the ever-present Spanish Government’s historic sovereignty claim over Gibraltar topping the list.

Recently Spain's caretaker Foreign Minister Jose Maria Margallo went on record that if the UK voted to leave the EU he would immediately 'raise with the UK the question of Gibraltar.' If this was to come about it could take one or more of several different forms, ranging from a complete closure of the border between Spain and Gibraltar, demanding that Gibraltar passport-holders obtain costly visas to visit or transit Spain, imposing more stringent border controls, or a frontier toll on motorists driving into or out of Gibraltar. The latter idea was in fact floated by the Spanish Government three years ago, but dropped when the EU Commission indicated that any such toll would contravene EU law.

Here, again, imponderables come into play, for much will depend on which political parties will form the next Spanish government. A Spanish government headed by the right wing PP party is likely to take a less accommodating attitude towards Gibraltar (the Foreign Minister having recently indicated that in case of Brexit the Spanish Government may opportunistically push once again for a joint sovereignty deal with the UK over Gibraltar) whereas a left of centre coalition will likely adopt a more pragmatic and cooperative relationship with Gibraltar in the event of EU exit.

The most significant changes to Gibraltar's post-Brexit operation as an international finance centre are likely to be in the sphere of tax, and while Gibraltar has always met its obligations in relation to the relevant EU rules and Directives, it has also been slightly uncomfortable with aspects of the EU's moves towards harmonisation of corporate taxes across member states.

Although it was formed as a free market alliance, since its inception fiscal matters have been at the root of the EU, but Gibraltar's 'special relationship' with Britain has allowed considerable latitude in relation to what taxes it imposes or those it doesn't. However, as is the case with other member states, Gibraltar has increasingly found in recent years its fiscal sovereignty eroded and its latitude on tax matters severely curtailed.

As in Britain, Gibraltar has benefitted from several EU Directives introduced to harmonise and support the freedom of establishment, particularly the Parent-Subsidiary Directive which prohibits withholding taxes on cross-border intra-group interest dividend and royalty payments made within the EU.

As a stepping stone for foreign direct investment, should Brexit come about EU subsidiaries could no longer rely on these Directives to allow tax-free dividend or interest payments to their holding companies based in Gibraltar. In the case of the UK, bilateral double tax treaties will no doubt mitigate the impact of the non-application of any tax related Directives. Gibraltar, however, is not currently a party to any bilateral double tax treaties. Accordingly, Gibraltar would either have to seek from the UK the extension of all or some of the UK’s bilateral tax treaties to Gibraltar (subject of course to the agreement by the relevant counterparties) or it would need to negotiate its own network of bilateral double tax treaties with a whole series of EU and non EU Member States. To say the least, neither of these options would be straightforward to implement at short notice and would need the wholehearted support of the British Government

Whilst Gibraltar’s economy is likely to be adversely affected should Brexit occur, there may be some potential benefits. An EU exit would result in fewer regulations and possibly may provide Gibraltar with greater exposure to emerging economies.

From a tax perspective, an EU exit would probably enable Gibraltar to introduce tax rules and incentives that are contrary to EU tax laws and would provide the Gibraltar Government more freedom to adopt competitive tax regimes that may be considered contrary to EU state aid rules. How possible or effective any such strategy would be is doubtful given the OECD driven anti-tax avoidance climate affecting all reputable jurisdictions whether within or outside the EU.

In this as well as other possible change much will hinge on any post-Brexit relationship with the UK - an issue which the Gibraltar Government addressed recently in a paper sent to Westminster's Foreign Affairs Committee. It stressed not only that 'EU membership has been an important factor in the development of Gibraltar’s economy' but also the importance of 'clarity as to the rights the British Government will protect and defend for Gibraltar in the context of its own negotiations.' 

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