Barcelona Suspended Institutional Ties with Israel
Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau
In February 2023, the mayor of Barcelona, Spain announced that the city temporarily suspended all institutional ties with Israel. Barcelona equally froze its 25-year-old twinning agreement with the Israeli city of Tel Aviv. Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau wrote a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stating that their ties would remain suspended “until Israeli authorities put an end to the systemic violation of the people of Palestine’s human rights.”

Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau Supports Human Rights

Ada Colau is a Spanish politician who was the first woman and working-class person to hold office as Mayor of Barcelona between 2015 and 2023. She has become known as a “leftwing, bisexual feminist who prioritises [sic] the needs of working people over those who treat the city as a cash cow.”

Mayor Colau was first pushed to cut ties with Israel by rights groups after Israel’s 11-day airstrike assault on Gaza in May 2021. Since then, more than 100 rights groups and 4,000 residents continued the campaign. Her February 2023 announcement came two weeks after Israeli military raided a Jenin, West Bank refugee camp and killed at least nine Palestinians, including an elderly woman.

Colau’s letter to Netanyahu made clear that a distinction must be made between the actions of the state of Israel and the Jewish population as a whole. “Barcelona is a city proud of its Jewish heritage as well as the Jewish communities that are part of this city,” she added.

However, since Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and B’Tselem have accused Israel of the crimes of apartheid, Colau felt called to act: “As mayor of Barcelona, a Mediterranean city and defender of human rights, I cannot be indifferent to the systematic violation of the fundamental rights of the Palestinian population. It would be a severe mistake to apply a policy of double standards and turn a blind eye to a violation that has been, for decades, widely verified and documented by international organizations.”

Broad Approval for Colau’s Act

More than 50 public figures signed a statement of support for Colau’s decision to sever institutional ties with Israel, including actors Mark Ruffalo, Alia Shawkat, Miriam Margolyes, and Susan Sarandon; Nobel laureates Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, Annie Ernaux, George P. Smith, Jody Williams, and Mairead Maguire; and scholars Angela Davis, Naomi Klein, and Judith Butler. The statement described the Barcelona Mayor’s act as reminiscent “of the courageous city councils that pioneered cutting links with apartheid South Africa in the past.”

United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Palestinian Territories, Francesca Albanese, tweeted: “It only takes ‘one’ courageous principles person/people, to start correcting a path of injustice & make history. Upholding int’l human rights law can never be a wrong choice.”

Barcelona City Council Moves Against the Mayor to Restore Twin City Ties

Spanish pro-Israel organization Action and Communication on the Middle East (ACOM) announced that it would take legal action against Mayor Colau and the Barcelona City Council for the decision, calling it anti-Semitic discrimination. The group shared a statement which argued the Mayor “is abusing her position and her powers by using the institutions to advance her agenda of hatred and her sickly obsession against Jews and their state.”

Mayor Colau severed ties with Israel as a direct decree from her office. Deputy Mayor of Barcelona Laia Bonet believes Colau did not call for a vote from the city council because “it would have been unanimously rejected.” She was right: the Barcelona City Council called for an “urgent and immediate” restoration of the twin city agreement with Tel Aviv, Israel.

The Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM), the Israel-Spain Forum Alliance (ISFA), and the Center for Jewish Impact (CJI) issued a joint call supported by a petition with 15,000 signatories for the Barcelona City Council to cancel the severance. The groups accused the Mayor’s act as “not only misguided, but […] rooted in antisemitism according to the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism.”

The International Jewish Collective for Justice in Palestine (IJCJP)—which includes more than a dozen Jewish groups around the world, has argued that the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism “shield[s] Israel from valid political challenge, silence[s] Palestinians, and suppress[es] any mention of Palestinian rights.” The collective celebrated Mayor Colau’s decision to sever institutional ties with Israel and disagreed with accusations of antisemitism, stating that struggling against apartheid is “a traditional Jewish teaching.”

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