Barcelona has severed ties with twin city Tel Aviv on the grounds that Israel’s treatment of Palestinians amounts to “apartheid”.
Speaking at a press conference, Ada Colau, the city’s left-wing mayor, said: “More than 100 organisations and over 4,000 citizens have demanded that we defend the human rights of Palestinians and for this reason, as mayor, I have written to Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to inform him that I have suspended temporarily the institutional relationship between Barcelona and Tel Aviv”.
Spain's Jewish federation said in a statement in response to the move: "It is worrying to note that the actions and legitimacy of only one city and one country in the world are being questioned.
"Israel is the only Jewish country in the world and for this reason, as we understand it, this decision has nothing to do with politics and human rights. This is what is called 'sophisticated antisemitism'."
The proposal to end the twinning was put forward by a group called End Complicity with Israel, which claims the support of 112 social entities, among them pro-Palestinian, feminist, immigrant and LGBT+ organisations.
It was due to be voted on at a plenary session of the city council on February 24 but the groups demanded a response from the mayor’s office.
The issue was initially on the agenda for last month’s plenary but was suspended because the debate coincided with Holocaust Memorial Day.
Colau enjoys the support of her own party, Barcelona en Comú and the nationalist Republican Left (ERC) on this issue, but not that of mainstream left or conservative parties, so the motion had little chance of being approved at a plenary meeting.
In Colau’s letter to Netanyahu she says that the petition called on her office to “condemn the crime of apartheid against the Palestinian people, support Palestinian and Israeli organisations working for peace and break off the twinning agreement between Barcelona and Tel Aviv”.
“It is a symbolic gesture of solidarity with the Palestinian people and it would be naïve to think it will influence Israeli government policy but it adds to the international pressure,” Laura Pérez, responsible for global justice on the council told the JC.
The city is also suspending its relationship with St Petersburg, another twin city.
The decision has been met with dismay by Spain’s federation of Jewish communities. In an open letter to Colau, the federation’s president Isaac Benzaquén Pinto wrote: “Both Barcelona and Tel Aviv are open and welcoming societies.
“For this reason we ask that all politicians on the Barcelona city council follow the example of their forebears and allow the city to continue to build bridges, conscious of all minorities and avoiding the promotion of rejection and isolation.”
The move will not be welcomed by the city’s tourism authorities which have been trying cultivate Jewish tourism from Israel and the United States under the slogan Shalom, Barcelona.
Pérez said the move should not be interpreted as an attack on Israelis or Jews but on Israeli government policy and that Israeli citizens were always welcome in the city.
Nevertheless, in Spain, the line between anti-zionism and antisemitism is further blurred by the fact that the Jewish community is habitually referred to as la comunidad israelita (the Israelite community).