Barcelona votes to be free of Israeli apartheid

More than 50 communities across Spain have declared themselves “free of Israeli apartheid.”

Albert Gea Reuters

Barcelona city council passed a historic declaration on Wednesday upholding the right to boycott Israel over its violations of Palestinian rights.

The motion condemns Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land, calls for the immediate end to the decade-long Gaza blockade and ensures that the city’s public procurement policies exclude companies that profit from Israel’s human rights abuses.

It also admonishes Israel for its intransigence in the face of repeated warnings from the international community to stop its illegal colonization of Palestinian land, according to the Catalan daily Ara.

The council recognizes “nonviolent campaigns promoted by Palestinian and international civil society for defending international and human rights law in Palestine” – a clear nod to the BDS movement.

The city joins dozens of Spanish municipalities which have declared themselves “free of Israeli apartheid.”

A coalition of Spanish and Catalan boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) groups welcomed the vote.

“We celebrate this victory because we believe it to be a great step forward in raising the awareness of the role of local government in the defense of human rights and in breaking the complicity that inherently bolsters apartheid and the occupation of Palestine,” the groups state.

“This resolution is an institutional recognition of civil society demands for an end to complicity in violations of international law through nonviolent struggle, as practiced by the BDS movement,” the groups add.

The city’s recognition of the right to engage in Israel boycott activism, at a time when more European governments move to protect such activism, “is a triumph for free speech and democratic rights in Europe,” said Rafeef Ziadah of the Palestinian BDS National Committee.

“It gives further recognition to BDS as an inclusive, inspiring, anti-racist movement rooted in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that upholds the basic principle that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of humanity,” Ziadah added.

Israel worries

For years, Spanish and Catalan activists have engaged in direct action against academic and cultural partnerships with Israeli-backed institutions.

In 2014, dozens of activists occupied the offices of Catalan government representatives to protest a wave of newly signed academic collaboration deals between the autonomous region and Israel.

The action forced the representatives to agree to examine proposals aimed at ensuring the new deals do not benefit institutions and companies that participate in Israel’s occupation.

More than 350 Catalan academics and university staff backed the action, calling for the boycott of Israeli academic institutions.

The Israeli government, meanwhile, has expressed worry over the growing popularity of BDS activism in Spain, especially as larger cities such as Barcelona, led by left-wing mayor Ada Colau, vote to support Palestinian rights.

A 2016 cable from the Israeli embassy in Spain described “the phenomenon of anti-Israeli activity in Spain” as “bothersome and worrisome, but in the past was centered in small cities.”

But the cable warned that Barcelona city council members were considering canceling a sister-city agreement with Tel Aviv, according to The Jerusalem Post.

After Wednesday’s city council vote, David Bondia Garcia, a professor of international law and president of the Institut de Drets Humans de Catalunya, a human rights organization, asserted in the newspaper el Periódico that a break in the twinning agreement with Tel Aviv would be the next logical step.

The Barcelona motion comes just two months after pro-Israel groups in Spain filed charges against Palestine solidarity activists for calling on a music festival two years ago to cancel a performer who has used his celebrity to fundraise for the Israeli army and to support anti-Palestinian causes.

Omar Barghouti, a Palestinian human rights activist and co-founder of the BDS movement, called the charges “legal intimidation.”

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Fantastic..we need more high-profile moves like this.

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Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).