Barcelona severs ties with twin city Tel Aviv

Barcelona’s Mayor announced that the city had severed ties with its former twin city Tel Aviv, claiming that Israel is guilty of „apartheid.”

On February 8, Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau announced that the city had suspended all institutional relations with Tel Aviv. The Mayor explained the decision citing claims that Israel is guilty of „apartheid,” as well as „flagrant and systematic violation of human rights”, reports the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. It is not yet clear if the city council will approve the suspension.

Barcelona and Tel Aviv entered into a relationship in September 1998 by signing a „twin city” agreement with the Gaza City. The agreement aimed to support the Oslo Agreements and encourage joint cultural projects funded by Barcelona’s municipality. Last year, Barcelona launched two related campaigns, „Shalom Barcelona” and „Barcelona Connects Israel.” Both campaigns aimed to appeal to Jewish and Israeli tourists interested in exploring their heritage. Moreover, Barcelona opened the world’s first-ever Michelin-star kosher restaurant in the summer of 2022.

Mayor Colau’s decision comes less than a year after these campaigns and less than a year after Barcelona suspended its twinning relationship with St. Petersburg as a protest against the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

„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 temporarily suspended the institutional relationship between Barcelona and Tel Aviv,” said Colau at a press conference on February 8.

In her letter addressed to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Mayor wrote that the petition from her constituents requested that her office „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 very important to distinguish the policies of a state — in this case, Israel — from the whole of the Jewish population and its culture,” Colau said. „We hope that this suspension will be temporary because what we want is to invite reflection and action,” Colau added.

The measure is to be voted on at a city council session scheduled for February 24, but the groups supporting the proposal had pressed the Mayor for an earlier response; however, according to the Jewish Chronicle, 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 is unclear if Colau can impose the suspension of ties by her own authority.

The Federation of the Jewish Communities of Spain (FCJE) condemned the decision, which it called „sophisticated antisemitism.”

In a statement directed at the Mayor, the FCJE wrote, „We are concerned about the boycott campaign you are leading under the slogan ‘Barcelona says no to apartheid.’ Barcelona and Tel Aviv are open and welcoming societies, leading cities that attract startup investments and tourism. We call on the city council to allow Barcelona to continue to build bridges of harmony and avoid promoting a discourse of rejection and isolation.”

Source: The Times of Israel, The Jewish Chronicle, The Jewish Telegraphic Agency