Barcelona cuts ties with twin city Tel Aviv over ‘Israeli apartheid’ [the Catalan Socialist party spoke out against]

MEE Staff

Middle East Eye  /  February 9, 2023

Pro-Palestine advocates ‘salute’ the decision while Israel supporters call it ‘antisemitic’.

Barcelona will no longer be twinned with Tel Aviv due to Israel’s “apartheid policy” towards Palestinians, the city’s mayor announced on Wednesday.

Ada Colau said in a press conference that she wrote to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu informing him relations between the Spanish city and Israel are severed until “Israeli authorities stop the systematic violation of human rights of the Palestinian people”.

She said more than 100 organizations and over 4,000 citizens demanded the city “defends the human rights of Palestinians”. 

The decision followed a campaign by activists, resulting in an official petition run via Barcelona city hall which gathered more than 4,000 signatures urging the municipality to cut ties with Israel.

Last month, hundreds of pro-Palestine protesters gathered in front of Barcelona City Hall, urging politicians to suspend the twin city agreement with Tel Aviv.

Barcelona, Tel Aviv and Gaza City signed a friendship and cooperation agreement in 1998. Pro-Palestinian activists called for Barcelona’s relationship with Gaza City to continue.

In her letter to Netanyahu, Colau said that voters had asked her to “condemn the crime of apartheid against the Palestinian people, support Palestinian and Israeli organizations working for peace and break off the twinning agreement between Barcelona and Tel Aviv.”

Barcelona suspended a twinning relationship with the Russian city of St Petersburg last year following the invasion of Ukraine.

Mixed reactions

The decision was welcomed by pro-Palestine campaigners and condemned by Israel supporters and Jewish groups. 

The Palestinian Boycott Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC) said it “salutes” Colau and the grassroots groups who helped push the move. 

“Barcelona has become the first city council to suspend ties with apartheid Tel Aviv in solidarity with the Palestinian people, a move that is reminiscent of the historic and courageous city councils that pioneered cutting links with apartheid South Africa,” BNC said in a statement.

The Spanish pro-Israel group Action and Communication on the Middle East, ACOM, called the decision antisemitic and said it will take legal action against Colau. 

“The Barcelona City Council has reached a new low by pushing Barcelona to the maximum expression of sectarianism and discrimination, becoming the most openly anti-semitic city in Europe,” the group said in a statement.

Lior Haiat, a spokesperson of the Israeli foreign ministry, said on Twitter the decision gives “support to extremists, terrorist organizations and anti-semitism”.

The Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain echoed similar criticism.

“It so happens that Israel is the only Jewish country in the world. Therefore, in our opinion, this decision has nothing to do with politics, human rights or peace. This has a name and is called ‘Sophisticated anti-Semitism,'” the federation said.

Multiple leading rights groups – Palestinian, Israeli and international – have accused Israel of apartheid in recent years. 

Apartheid is a legal term defined by international law that refers to systematic oppression by one racial group over another.


Barcelona mayor cuts ties with Israel, citing Palestinian rights
Graham Keeley
Al-Jazeera  /  February 9, 2023

The left-wing mayor of Barcelona has called on Israel to end the ‘systematic violation’ of Palestinian human rights.

Madrid, Spain – Barcelona has temporarily broken off ties with Israel over its policy towards Palestine.

The Catalan capital has been twinned with Tel Aviv and Gaza for 25 years, but this relationship has been temporarily suspended.

Ada Colau, the left-wing mayor of Barcelona, wrote to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday to announce the city would suspend relations until Israel ended the “systematic violation of the people of Palestine’s human rights”.

“I have decided to temporarily suspend relations with the state of Israel and with the official institutions of that state -including the twinning agreements with the Tel Aviv City Council – until the Israeli authorities put an end to the system of violations of the Palestinian people and fully comply with the obligations imposed on them by international law and the various United Nations resolutions. We cannot be silent,” wrote the mayor.

Colau stressed the boycott of Israel did not apply to Israeli or Palestinian people who “work to build peace in the Middle East”.

She said the city council, which does not often involve itself in international politics, had taken the decision after 100 groups and more than 4,000 residents had signed a request to break relations with Israel.

Organizations for Global Justice, a federation of more than 100 NGOs, urged Barcelona to end the twin city link with Tel Aviv after air raids in Gaza in May 2021.

The federation called for “efforts to be stepped up as well as contacts with local civil society groups in order to de-escalate violence, protect and defend human rights and to end the occupation”.

Colau’s move to enter international politics comes two months before local elections and has been seen in Spain as playing to her natural supporters on the political left.

Lior Haiat, a spokesman for the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, condemned the city council’s move as “against the wishes of Barcelona residents”.

“The statement by the mayor of Barcelona on the suspension of relations with the state of Israel and with the city of Tel Aviv is a regrettable decision that is totally against the opinion of the majority of the citizens of Barcelona and their representatives in the city council,” he tweeted.

The Federation of Spanish Jewish Communities condemned the move as “sophisticated anti-Semitism”.

“[Israel] is the only Jewish country in the world. For this reason, in our opinion, this decision has nothing to do with politics or with human rights or with peace. This has a name, and it is called sophisticated anti-Semitism,” it said in a statement.

The move also split Barcelona’s left-wing coalition government.

Colau is allied to the United We Can (Unidas Podemos) party which is the junior partner in Spain’s left-wing coalition government, which is led by the Socialists.

Laia Bonet, the leader of the Catalan Socialist party in Barcelona, called on Colau to restore relations between the Catalan city and Tel Aviv.

“We should reinforce, not weaken, the role of Barcelona in the world,” she said.

Antonio Alonso, an expert on international studies at the CEU San Pablo University in Madrid, said Spanish relations with Israel had changed in recent years.

“Since the return to democracy, Socialist governments have been more sympathetic to the Palestinians while conservative ones have been more sympathetic to Israel,” he told Al-Jazeera.

“Currently, Spain follows the European Union policy of recognizing both states of Israel and Palestine.”

The Spanish government declined to comment.

Jewish people arrived in Barcelona more than 1,700 years ago, historians believe, but many left after an attack on the community in 1391.

Graham Keeley is a freelance journalist