Barcelona restored relations with Tel Aviv, but is it enough? - opinion

The new municipality of Barcelona has restored the twinning agreement with Tel Aviv, and the official boycott against Israel has been put to an end.

 Aerial view of the Tel Aviv beach promenade. June 11, 2023.  (photo credit: MATANYA TAUSIG/FLASH90)
Aerial view of the Tel Aviv beach promenade. June 11, 2023.
(photo credit: MATANYA TAUSIG/FLASH90)

Last February, the mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, announced at a press conference the severance of relations with Tel Aviv and the State of Israel. At that moment, she could not imagine the brief and pathetic duration of her decision. Only six months later, with a new municipal leadership and with Colau in the opposition, Barcelona’s twinning agreement with Tel Aviv has been restored, and the official boycott against Israel has been put to an end.

In her deplorable appearance, Colau had accused Israel of “apartheid,” which, among other falsehoods, is a form of antisemitism as defined by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). The then-mayor presented her decision surrounded by local representatives of the antisemitic BDS movement.

She hid hypocritically behind a campaign to collect signatures sponsored by the City Hall of Barcelona itself and by the Government of Catalonia. It is important to stress that the campaign hardly had any support, although it served as a casus belli to promote discriminatory legislation, not only against Israel, but also against any sympathizer of the Jewish State. In summary, it placed a gigantic target, with institutional coverage, on the Spanish Jewish communities.

People visit at Park Guell in Barcelona, Spain, on August 18, 2019 (Credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
People visit at Park Guell in Barcelona, Spain, on August 18, 2019 (Credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Colau was convinced that unleashing an institutional hatred against the Jewish people and their national home would not have an electoral cost (rather the opposite) in the municipal elections that were approaching. She was wrong and lost control of the city. Perhaps she also took for granted that her decision to revoke the twinning agreement would not have any national cost. Another mistake. The response of the public opinion criticizing her decision was important, especially the reaction of the Spanish right-wing. 

The mayor of Madrid, Jose Luis Martinez Almeida, called the decision antisemitic, and the President of the Region of Madrid, Isabel Diaz Ayuso, traveled to Israel to strengthen the strategic alliances with the main autonomous region in Spain, and to reaffirm her willingness to fight against any antisemitic manifestation. 

Colau thought her initiative would not have any external costs and was, again, wrong. Colau faced international reprobation. If she failed so clearly in her predictions, it was because a global conscience still exists that prevents the normalization of antisemitism.

However, the aplomb with which the then-mayor of Barcelona committed such antisemitic actions has its sad explanation. These abuses had been the behavioral norm in Catalonia for several decades. In recent years, the second largest city in Spain, Barcelona, had approved resolutions that harass only one state in the world: The Jewish and democratic State of Israel. 

In the same vein, dozens of Catalonian towns have approved even more extreme resolutions – decisions with an institutional veneer, but that in practice, exclude Jews and friends of Israel from civil life. For example, they have glorified terrorism by inviting Palestinian terrorists to visit, giving them the highest honors. It is important to point out that Colau was not alone when perpetrating her antisemitic actions: she did it hand in hand with the Spanish Socialist Party (of which the current mayor and municipal team are members) and the separatist forces that control the Government of Catalonia.

Now, after the social pressure and the presentation of legal initiatives by ACOM, the City Hall of Barcelona has restored the twinning of the city with Tel Aviv. This change should not be an isolated event, but the beginning of a series of actions that amend and correct the hostility that the left and the separatism have promoted with impunity. 

Gestures have value only if they are followed by actions that are consistent with them. This is why the City Hall of Barcelona, the rest of the city halls that support the BDS movement, and the Government of Catalonia must immediately put an end to the grants they have been giving to the huge industry of organizations dedicated to promoting antisemitic activities in Catalonia. 

Jew-hating and anti-Israeli manifestations and financing cannot be normalized. It is inconceivable that public institutions in a democratic country continue to promote discrimination and hatred. We will continue to take to court those that do, and of course, maintain the legal actions against Ada Colau.

Angel Mas is the President of Action and Communication on the Middle East (ACOM), a group in Spain fighting against antisemitism and in favor of the relationship between Spain and Israel, on the basis of shared values and common interests.

This op-ed is published in partnership with a coalition of organizations that fight antisemitism across the world. Read the previous article by Tammi Rossman-Benjamin.