It’s getting Messi: Spain plays Jew-hate football as Barcelona cuts Tel Aviv link

The Madrid mayor offered to pick up the relationship with Israel's second city after Catalonian snub


When mayor Ada Colau announced last week that Barcelona was to sever its links with twin city Tel Aviv her political rivals were quick to react.

Jaume Collboni, the leader of the Catalan socialist party, Colau’s coalition partner, said that, “Barcelona shouldn’t break off relations with Tel Aviv nor Gaza [another twin city]. It should maintain its policies of cooperation because we feel a sense of brotherhood with Palestinians and Israelis.

“As the capital of the Mediterranean Union, Barcelona wants to continue to be a bridge between the countries, cultures and religions of our sea.”

Although the socialists still support Colau’s city government, Collboni recently stepped down and announced that he will run against her for mayor in the elections scheduled for May 28.

José Luis Martínez-Almeida, the mayor of Madrid, who is also up for election in May, lost no time in writing to Ron Huldai, his counterpart in Tel Aviv, to offer his city to Tel Aviv as a replacement twin.

Almeida, a member of the conservative Popular party, said that “for the left, Israel is always the guilty party” and condemned what he called the “whiff of antisemitism” in the Barcelona decision.

He said with was “a tremendous opportunity to show that Madrid is on the right side and is clear about the need to strengthen our relationship with a democratic state such as Israel”.

His fellow Popular party member Isabel Díaz Ayuso, president of the Madrid regional government, was also quick to jump on the bandwagon. On a visit to Israel on Monday she said of the Barcelona decision: “This doesn’t represent Spain or Catalonia. I don’t want any investor or any Jew to think that Spain is a racist country.”

Ayuso also faces an election in May.

The move to cut ties with Tel Aviv was led by a group called Stop Complicity with Israel which had the support of over 100 community and political groups and had garnered some 4,000 signatures.

Many commentators have dismissed as electioneering Colau’s claim that the motion was too urgent to wait for the council plenary meeting on February 24, when she knew she lacked the majority for it to pass, which is why it was passed by decree.

Others have commented that, at a time when tens of thousands of Israelis are taking to the streets to protest against Binyamin Netanyahu’s government, it was an odd moment to make such a gesture.

In a statement, the Spanish Federation of Jewish Communities condemned the move as “sophisticated antisemitism.”

Meanwhile, the Anti-Defamation League’s 2019 survey of antisemitism around the world, found that 28% of Spaniards harbour antisemitic attitudes, with 62 per cent believing Jews have more loyalty to Israel than to the countries they reside in and 44 per cent saying Jews have too much influence in the business world.

As Spain’s Jewish population is tiny – 15,000-40,000 in a nation of 47 million - the prevalence of these attitudes has often been described as “antisemitism without Jews”.

Most Spaniards know little or nothing of Spain’s Jewish and Muslim legacy, nor are most people aware that Jews who refused to convert were expelled in 1492 and Muslims in 1609.

In 2015 Spain formally apologised for the “historical wrong” of the expulsion and offered Spanish nationality to Sephardic Jews who could provide the necessary documentation.

While antisemitic attitudes may be widespread, politically Jews barely feature on the agenda of even the far-right Vox party, whose rhetoric is targeted at Spain’s Muslims, who outnumber Jews by around 600 to one.

For Spanish politicians, cheerleading for Israel – or the Palestinians, for that matter – comes at little or no political cost.

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