What are the ties that unite Spain and Israel? - opinion

We have to ask ourselves how Israel can help Spain and how Spain can help Israel.

SPANISH FOREIGN Minister Gonzalez Laya and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi in Jerusalem on Wednesday. (photo credit: FOREIGN MINISTRY)
SPANISH FOREIGN Minister Gonzalez Laya and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi in Jerusalem on Wednesday.
(photo credit: FOREIGN MINISTRY)
Last January, a few days after being appointed minister, I had the honor of accompanying His Majesty King Philip VI to the World Holocaust Forum on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the concentration and extermination camp that we also visited a few days later.
I return now, a few days before the end of the year, to talk to our Israeli friends with the warmth and frankness that characterizes our relations. Our two countries have gone through difficult times in these months of pandemic: we have regretted human losses and we have had to restrict our movements despite the fact that both Israelis and Spaniards have in common a vibrant, innovative and cosmopolitan character.
In these months, we have also rediscovered the value of neighborhood and of being members of the same region, as countries at both ends of the Mediterranean. For this reason, I launched a meeting in Barcelona with my colleagues from the European Union and our partners from the Southern Neighborhood, in which Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi participated. Israel can count on the commitment and support of Spain in developing a privileged and special relationship with the EU. In this regard, I hope that we will soon be able to hold the EU-Israel Association Council to renew our shared future agenda.
During my visit, I also hope to discuss how we can bring our bilateral relations closer to a potential that has not yet been explored. Spain considers Israel a particularly qualified partner, as a recognized center for research and development, entrepreneurship and economic exchange. The future of our bilateral relations hinges on the development of technological cooperation in sectors such as telecommunications, biotechnology, the chemical and pharmaceutical industry, as well as the treatment and management of water, the environment, infrastructure and renewable energy.
We will also have the opportunity to discuss how to bring closer our universities, our scientific and research centers and our think tanks.
In Spain, we are very proud of our rich and complex Jewish past and the invaluable contribution that the Jewish community makes to our country. That is why I am happy that the new-established Ladino Academy will start working for this extraordinary example of common intangible heritage. Next year we will celebrate the 1,000th anniversary of the birth in the city of Malaga of Shlomo Ibn Gvirol, one of the great sages of Torah, literature and Jewish thought in medieval times. Sefarad is indeed part of the Spanish identity and we take great care of the unique Red de Juderías (Network of Jewish Quarters) in so many Spanish cities and towns. Since 2006, Centro Sefarad-Israel, a Spanish public diplomacy institute, has been exclusively dedicated to increasing the awareness of these ties with the Jewish world and with Israel.
The aforesaid institution, together with the government of Spain, works to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive and collaborates with Yad Vashem to train Spanish educators to teach about the Holocaust and the fight against antisemitism. Spain has pioneering criminal legislation against antisemitism and hate crimes and, last July, adopted the operational definition of the International Holocaust Memory Alliance.
Next year we will also celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Madrid Conference, without which the Barcelona Process could not have been launched almost 25 years ago exactly – when regional peace seemed at hand for the benefit of the Israeli citizens and their neighbors. Now that all friends of Israel such as Spain are glad that it is normalizing relations with more Arab countries, I believe that it is the time to use all that political energy to encourage Israelis and Palestinians to create the climate of trust necessary in order to resume negotiations with a view to the establishment of two states living in peace and security to reach a just, lasting and mutually acceptable solution for the parties.
We are at a decisive moment that calls for future perspective and strength of spirit. The global health crisis that we are suffering has shown us that today more than ever we need each other. We have to ask ourselves how Israel can help Spain and how Spain can help Israel. As Ibn Gvirol said, “A wise man’s question is half of the answer.” It is so much what unites us.
The writer is Spain’s minister for foreign affairs, European Union and cooperation.