Barcelona mayor suspends twinning with Tel Aviv, claims Israel abusing human rights

Ada Colau says she’s responding to petition demanding she act against Israeli treatment of Palestinians; move may yet be shot down by city council

Screen capture from video of Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau, 2022. (YouTube. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Screen capture from video of Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau, 2022. (YouTube. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

The mayor of the Barcelona has suspended the Spanish city’s institutional relations with Israel and, in particular, a twinning with the city of Tel Aviv, over what she claimed is a systematic violation of Palestinian human rights.

It is not yet clear if the suspension will be approved by the city council.

In a letter addressed to Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, the city’s left-wing mayor Ada Colau explained the largely symbolic move to suspend twinning between the two Mediterranean cities, as demanded in a petition by pro-Palestinian groups from Barcelona.

“I have decided to temporarily suspend relations with the State of Israel and with the official institutions of this State and, in particular, the twinning agreements with the municipality of Tel Aviv, until the Israeli authorities end the systematic violation of human rights of the Palestinian population,” wrote Colau, who has been mayor of the Catalan capital since 2015.

“It is very important to distinguish the policies of a state — in this case, Israel — from the whole of the Jewish population and its culture,” Colau added in her missive.

At a press conference announcing the move, Colau said that over 100 organizations and 4,000 citizens had asked her to “defend the human rights of Palestinians,” the UK’s Jewish Chronicle newspaper reported.

She said that in her letter to Netanyahu, she’d noted that the petition called on 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.”

A general view of Barcelona, Spain, on July 7, 2015. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

“We hope that this suspension will be temporary because what we want is to invite reflection and action,” Colau said.

She added that Barcelona had recently discontinued its twinning with the Russian city of Saint Petersburg after the start of the war in Ukraine.

The initiative to end the twinning was put forward by the lobby group End Complicity with Israel, which says it has the support of 112 social entities, including pro-Palestinian, feminist, immigrant and LGBT+ organizations, the JC reported.

The measure is to be voted on at a city council session scheduled for February 24, but the group had pressed the mayor for an earlier response. It was supposed to have been brought for a vote at the previous city council meeting last month, but it was put off because it fell on International Holocaust Memorial Day.

According to the JC, the motion to end twinning does not have the support of mainstream left- and right-wing parties and is unlikely to be approved at the plenary council meeting. It was not clear if Colau can impose the suspension of ties by her own authority.

The Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain (FCJE) called the decision “sophisticated antisemitism” and lamented that it “represents neither in form nor in substance what Barcelona is and who its citizens are.”

Barcelona has been twinned with Tel Aviv and the Gaza Strip since the signing of a friendship and collaboration agreement in 1998.

Israelis enjoy at the boardwalk at the beach in Tel Aviv. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

In a statement, Israel’s Foreign Ministry responded that Colau’s announcement does not have the backing of most Barcelona residents, “gives a boost to extremists, terrorist organizations and antisemitism, and harms the interests of the residents of Barcelona.”

Barcelona Deputy Mayor Laia Bonet attacked the move as well, tweeting it was “a very serious mistake.”

“We will work to restore relations and to strengthen the role of the city in the world, not to weaken it,” Bonet wrote. “Barcelona does not break, Barcelona adds.”

The Israeli news site Ynet reported that the Palestinian Authority Foreign Ministry welcomed the move and called on other cities to follow suit.

The Center for Jewish Impact and its affiliated Combat Antisemitism Movement lobby group said in a statement it denounces the suspension of ties as a “deplorable and unjustifiable act” that “is nothing short of outrageous and a blatant display of sophisticated antisemitism.”

Robert Singer, chairman of the Center for Jewish Impact and member of the board of governors of the Combat Antisemitism Movement, said in the statement that Colau had made “an illogical and blatant antisemitic decision that goes against the best interests of the city’s residents.”

He called on Barcelona residents to “express their outrage on this matter.”

The lobby groups are completing two petitions with over ten thousand signatures against the decision “surpassing those of BDS [boycott, divestment, sanctions] and anti-Israel groups,” he said.

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