Barcelona rabbi backtracks doomsday comments

The Jewish community of Barcelona is upset by chief rabbi Meir Bar-Hen's interview published after last week's terror attack.

Police evacuate people after a van crashed into pedestrians near the Las Ramblas avenue in central Barcelona, Spain August 17, 2017. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Police evacuate people after a van crashed into pedestrians near the Las Ramblas avenue in central Barcelona, Spain August 17, 2017.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
After being quoted last week saying that the Jewish community of Barcelona is “doomed,” the city’s chief rabbi, Meir Bar-Hen, clarified on Sunday that the community is not going anywhere.
Following Thursday’s deadly terror attack in the city, JTA published an interview with Bar-Hen in which he said that he had for years been encouraging his congregants to leave Spain, which he called a “hub of Islamist terror for all of Europe.”
But speaking to The Jerusalem Post two days later, Bar-Hen charged that he had been misquoted, and that his comments had been taken out of context. His remarks were picked up by both Israeli and international media, causing members of his community to be upset and to distance themselves from the comments.
“Jews are not here permanently,” JTA quoted Bar-Hen as saying on Friday. “I tell my congregants: Don’t think we’re here for good. And I encourage them to buy property in Israel. This place is lost. Don’t repeat the mistake of Algerian Jews, of Venezuelan Jews. Better [get out] early than late.”
“I said that to our sorrow it happened to the Jews of Algeria, and Venezuela, and I hope that it won’t happen to the Jews of Spain,” the rabbi told the Post on Sunday.
He also asserted that: “the Jews of Spain were exiled once and will not be exiled again.”
“Our community is organized and it is expanding,” he noted, pointing the community’s Jewish school and yeshiva. He did, however, say that with no connection to the security situation, he does encourage Jews to move to Israel, particularly due to assimilation.
Referring to another quote attributed to him that “Europe is lost,” Bar-Hen said these were not his words, but he had been citing various European police chiefs.
“To be a Jew in Spain is easier than any other country in the world,” Bar-Hen emphasized. “I walk in the streets with a kippa and nobody will say a word.”
Rachel Sair, a Jewish woman living in Barcelona and a member of the Muslim-Jewish Salam Shalom Barcelona initiative, took to Facebook to express her opposition to the rabbi’s reported comments: “I am a Jewish woman living in Barcelona and saw an Orthodox couple walking down Las Ramblas today, in solidarity, along with thousands of others. I even said ‘Shalom haverim’ [hello friends] and the woman replied ‘Shabbat Shalom.’”
“I believe that there are extremists in all walks of life, including Jewish ones, and they all tarnish their respective groups or religions,” she said.
In his conversation with the Post, the rabbi too, emphasized the strong ties between Jewish and Muslim leaders in the country, as well as the fact that there were Muslim victims of Thursday’s terror attack. “Terror is terror,” he said, adding that it must be fought in every country that it strikes.
The Jewish Community of Barcelona also addressed the rabbis remarks in a short post on its Facebook page, noting that he had clarified his comments and assured that the Jews would not leave the city that they love so much.
“The words [of the rabbi in his initial interview] do not represent the community,” Barcelona Jewish Community spokesman Victor Sorenssen told the Post. “Our position is solidarity with the victims,” he emphasized, saying the community sought to help in any way they could and is committed to working for a peaceful and multicultural society of coexistence – “that is the spirit of Barcelona.”
Bar-Hen also spoke in these terms on Sunday, underlining his love for Barcelona and the “friendship and mutual respect” of its society.
“Yesterday we gathered at the synagogue and prayed for the memory of the victims and for the recovery of the wounded,” Bar-Hen said. “We also prayed for peace for the country and for the success of the security forces,” he added, noting that many tourists participated in the service.