Madrid offers to take up twinning deal with Tel Aviv after Barcelona suspends ties

Spanish capital’s mayor blasts counterpart’s not-yet-approved move to put agreement on hold over ‘systematic violation’ of Palestinian rights, says it has ‘stench’ of antisemitism

Composite image - Left, Barcelona mayor Ada Colau (Wikipedia/Laura Guerrero;  CC BY-SA 4.0). Right, Madrid Mayor Jose Luis Martinez-Almeida (Wikipedia/Thomas Holbach; CC BY-SA 4.0)
Composite image - Left, Barcelona mayor Ada Colau (Wikipedia/Laura Guerrero; CC BY-SA 4.0). Right, Madrid Mayor Jose Luis Martinez-Almeida (Wikipedia/Thomas Holbach; CC BY-SA 4.0)

A day after the mayor of Barcelona suspended institutional relations with Israel and a twinning with the city of Tel Aviv over what she claimed were systematic violations of Palestinian human rights, the mayor of Madrid offered to take up the twinning partnership.

In a letter addressed to Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, Barcelona’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.

On Thursday, José Luis Martínez-Almeida, Madrid’s conservative mayor, accused Colau of antisemitism and tweeted that he has written to Tel Aviv’s Mayor Ron Huldai to share “Madrid’s commitment to democracy and freedom.”

Martinez-Almeida said in the letter cited by the public broadcaster, Kan, that such a move “sends a message to all citizens of Israel that Madrid knows very well with whom to strengthen and develop ties, and that is with a democratic, law-abiding and rights-abiding country like the State of Israel.”

Martinez-Almeida also blasted Colau’s decision, saying it had a “significant stench of antisemitism,” Spanish daily El Pais reported on Thursday. “I do not share those decisions… The culprit for the left is always Israel,” he was quoted as saying.

Madrid Mayor José Luis Martínez-Almeida. (Twitter screenshot; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Martínez-Almeida said “it would be an honor to be twinned with Tel Aviv,” as both he and Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau jostle for front position on international issues and investment in an election year.

Spain’s right-wing politicians have increasingly been making diplomatic and commercial outreach to Israel.

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

Colau 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.”

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.

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

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.

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

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.”

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