Barcelona Breaks Links with Tel Aviv
Since Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau responded to citizen demands by committing to suspend twinning relations with Tel Aviv and Israel until Israeli authorities end apartheid against the Palestinian people, she has suffered a backlash of defamation. However, Mayor Colau and Barcelona have taken this courageous move consistent with the city’s extraterritorial human rights obligations under peremptory norms of international law.
Joining the honor roll of progressive cities fulfilling extraterritorial human rights and international law obligations with regard to Palestine, Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau announced on 8 February that the Catalan capital’s was suspending twinning relations with Tel Aviv until “Israeli authorities stop the systematic violation of human rights of the Palestinian people.” Habitat International Coalition (HIC) also joins like-minded municipalities, human rights organizations and allies such as the Jewish Voices for Peace in denouncing the backlash from Zionist organizations in Israel and Spain, defaming Madame Colau with irresponsible and false accusations of antisemitism.
With Barcelona’s move to suspend ties with Tel Aviv, HIC especially commended Barcelona’s leadership for its conscientious position and measures to fulfill its obligation to uphold the international legal order. As organs of the treaty-bound state, public institutions, including local spheres of government, bear the common legal obligation of the territorial state to bring an end to such illegal situations, including violations of peremptory norms such as the acquisition of territory by force, the denial of self-determination and apartheid regimes.
Since the former mayorship of Joan Clos in 1998, Barcelona had maintained a “twinning agreement” with Tel Aviv calling for friendship and cooperation between the cities. However, after Israel’s assault on Gaza in May 2021, a local campaign urged Mayor Colau to break ties. As Barcelona’s mayor wrote in an official letter to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, her constituents called on her to “condemn the crime of apartheid against the Palestinian people” — and she heard them and took action.”
Factors in the decision included a petition for the same was signed by a federation of over 110 human rights groups endorsed by more than 4,000 residents of the city. The Barcelona Organizations for Global Justice, had first published its demands in response to Israel’s May 2021 attack on the besieged Gaza Strip, in which Israeli military forces killed more than 250 Palestinians and injured over 2,000. The petitioners had asked the mayor 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.” The group also demanded that the Spanish government stop selling weapons to Israel and end all business deals with Israeli companies.
The action applies to all official relations with Israel over its apartheid practices and systematic violations of Palestinian rights in the occupied territories only “until the Israeli authorities put an end to the system of violations of the Palestinian people and fully comply with the obligations imposed on them by the international law and the various United Nations resolutions.” Mayor Colau also explained that the action did not affect relationships between the residents of Israel and the Catalan city.
Barcelona’s declaration follows the precedent of courageous city councils that led the global movement to isolate apartheid South Africa. Local communities championed the worldwide call to end apartheid in South Africa and Namibia, which culminated in South Africa’s withdrawal from Namibia and democratization where the criminal apartheid regimes formerly ruled.
Applauding Mayor Colau in a current petition in support of Barcelona’s action, Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP) stated: “We know this is only the beginning — and so does our opposition. That’s why it’s essential that we stand up as proud anti-Zionist Jews to celebrate and lift up what it looks like to hold Israel accountable for its apartheid crimes.” JVP added: “We decry the accusations of antisemitism leveled against Mayor Colau and stand in solidarity with her and the local campaigners who brought about this historic decision.”
As a broad base of diverse, multiracial, intergenerational community of allies, HIC knows that justice is indivisible, joining Jews, other faith-based communities, Palestinians, Indigenous Peoples, impoverished urban inhabitants, rural workers and all people. The call for justice in Palestine, for Palestinians and other occupied, dispossessed and displaced peoples is indivisible with the call of those fighting for a better, fairer, more sustainable world where equality and dignity are accorded to all people.
Action against Israeli apartheid
The Deputy Mayor of Barcelona and the leader of the Catalan Socialist Party in Barcelona, Laia Bonet, opposed the decision and demanded the “restoration” of the relationship. She said that authorities should make efforts to “reinforce, not weaken, the role of Barcelona in the world.” HIC’s Housing and Land Rights Coordinator Joseph Schechla countered, saying that “Barcelona’s move to oppose Israel’s apartheid and colonial regime in Palestine raises the reputation of Barcelona in the world as a community of conscientious and law-abiding global citizens.”
The Israeli Foreign Ministry responded to the news by claiming that the majority of the residents of Barcelona did not support the mayor’s stated position. Some Zionist groups have also called the decision “sophisticated anti-semitism.” However, that has prompted a wave of international solidarity in favor of Colau and her party Barcelona En Comú on Thursday. European Jews for Just Peace, a federation of 12 European Jewish peace groups, supported Colau’s decision, claiming that “boycott is a legitimate, time-honored method for civil society to protest against a country that commits human rights abuses. Mayor Colau is following the footsteps of those who boycotted apartheid South Africa.”
The Palestinian national committee of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement also welcomed the decision, “[saluting] the Mayor of Barcelona.” It also noted that Barcelona’s move to suspend ties with Israel was “reminiscent of the historic and courageous city councils that pioneered cutting ties with apartheid South Africa.”
The Barcelona City Council voted on the decision on 24 February 2023, with a majority opposing the mayor in three ballots. However, as the external relations of the city fall within the mayor’s mandate, the decision remains through her tenure unless and until she, or a succeeding mayor, revokes it.
You can still support Barcelona’s principled position by sending your letters of support to the responsible authorities simply by clicking on the Urgent Action support button here and signing your name and your affiliation.
Read the full details of the case here.
Meanwhile, concerned citizens of Toulouse, France also have launched their own localpetition to end that city’s twinning relationship with Tel Aviv on the same human rights grounds. That action included ademonstration in solidarity with Palestine on this year’s Land Day.
Photo: Representatives of the `Prou Complicitat` platform protest in front of the Barcelona Municipality in 2021. Source: Europa Press.