Barcelona mayor calls Israel an apartheid state and cuts ties

MADRID (AP) – The mayor of Barcelona has severed her city’s official ties with Israel, accusing the country of “crimes of apartheid against the Palestinian people.”

Mayor Ada Colau’s decision on Wednesday has little practical impact – the most tangible impact being a halt to the 25-year-old city twinning agreement with Tel Aviv.

But the announcement of the city as a popular tourist destination and home to one of the world’s most famous football clubs carries significant symbolism and adds to a growing list of critics who have labeled Israel an apartheid state. Israel rejects allegations of delegitimization and anti-Semitism and describes the decision as “unfortunate”.

In a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Colau said the move came in response to a campaign by dozens of local groups and thousands of activists.

She cited a range of Israeli policies, including the 55-year military occupation of the West Bank, the annexation of East Jerusalem and the building of settlements on land claimed by the Palestinians for a future state.

“As the mayor of Barcelona, ​​​​a Mediterranean city and a human rights defender, I cannot be indifferent to the systematic violation of the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people,” she wrote. “It would be a grave mistake to adopt a policy of double standards and turn a blind eye to a violation that has been extensively scrutinized and documented by international organizations for decades.”

In recent years, three well-known human rights groups – Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Israel’s B’Tselem – have accused Israel of apartheid both within the country and in the occupied territories.

Amnesty and the other groups say the fragmentation of areas inhabited by Palestinians is part of a broader regime of control aimed at maintaining Jewish hegemony from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River.

They point to discriminatory policies in Israel and in annexed East Jerusalem, Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip, which has been ruled by the militant Hamas group since 2007, and its continued control of the West Bank and construction of Jewish settlements, which most of the international community holds illegal. The election of the new hard-line Israeli government, dominated by ultra-nationalists opposed to Palestinian independence, has reinforced these concerns.

The Palestinians are seeking the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, territories conquered from Israel in 1967, for a future independent state.

Israel says its own Arab citizens, who make up about 20% of the population, enjoy equal rights, including the right to vote, and have reached the upper echelons of business, entertainment, law and entertainment. She views the West Bank as a disputed area whose status should be settled through negotiations, and says it withdrew from Gaza in 2005, two years before Hamas took control.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry called Barcelona’s decision “unfortunate” and claimed it went against the will of the majority of the city’s population.

“The decision supports extremists, terrorist organizations and anti-Semitism,” it said. “The friendship between Israel and Barcelona is long-standing and based on a shared culture and shared values. Even this unfortunate decision will not harm this friendship.”

The Palestinian-led grassroots movement in favor of a boycott of Israel welcomed Barcelona’s decision. Alys Samson, an activist with the Stop Complicity with Israel coalition in Barcelona, ​​said the group had collected nearly 5,000 signatures for their campaign.

“We are very happy,” she said. “We hope that many more governments and institutions will follow suit.”

Meanwhile, the mayor of Barcelona’s archrival Madrid immediately offered to accept the partnership deal with Tel Aviv as both he and Colau wrestle positions on international issues and investment in an election year.

José Luis Martínez-Almeida, the Spanish capital’s conservative mayor, accused Barcelona’s leader of anti-Semitism and tweeted that he had written to the Tel Aviv mayor to share “Madrid’s commitment to democracy and freedom”.

“It would be an honor to partner with Tel Aviv,” he added. Spain’s right-wing politicians are increasingly turning to Israel diplomatically and commercially.

Spain’s two largest cities constantly bicker over everything from politics to football. Distrusted by the Catalan pro-independence movement, Colau is a leading left politician who faces a difficult election in May.


Federman reported from Jerusalem.


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