- Recognising an independent Catalonia would be a serious strategic and political mistake that would harm the relations between Israel and Spain and the EU.
- The proliferation of failed mini-states in Europe would diminish stability and predictability for Israel’s international relations.
- With its radicalisation, Catalanism has turned strongly towards an extreme left that is deeply anti-Semitic and openly pro-BDS.
- Jihadism would be strengthened and would be a destabilising nucleus in the whole Mediterranean.
- The Spanish Jewish community, loyal to its country and deeply Zionist, would be very damaged by this decision.
Since the pro-independence parties started the openly separatist process to try and separate Catalonia from the rest of Spain there has been speculation on a hypothetical recognition by Israel of the new state once it declared independence.
Although the President of Israel conclusively settled the matter (1) during his visit on November 2017, the possibility that Spain could officially recognise a Palestinian state, which even the Foreign Minister Josep Borell has admitted, puts the matter on the table again.
The truth is that despite the rhetoric of its government to the contrary, Spain is not being the best ally of Israel. Bilateral relations are good, but for years Spanish diplomacy maintains a not very friendly attitude towards the Jewish state, especially regarding the conflict with the Palestinians: usually an intolerable parallelism is established between terrorist acts and the actions of the police and army, and most of all the interventions and votes of Spain in international forums and organisations have always been against the legitimate interests of Israel.
Even so, Israel would make a huge mistake if it finally recognised that hypothetical independence, perhaps guided by an understandable feeling of reciprocity if Spain took the first step, maybe encouraged by relations with the political Catalanism that traditionally had been positive. But there is a number of reasons why Israeli diplomacy should avoid that decision, not so much in favour of Spain, who has for some time been subordinating its foreign agenda to temporary political needs, but for Israel’s interest. Let’s analyse some of these reasons.
A first rate diplomatic conflict… with the EU
The first thing to take into account is that, although our country has not been as diligent as it should have been in explaining this matter, nationalism is a problem for the whole European Union. And both the institutions in Brussels and some of the main countries of the Union, especially France and Germany, have been very belligerent to this regard, and in these last months have made clear a firm, unconditional support for Spain.
In this position there is solidarity among partners, but most of all there is a self-interest of many members of the Union who also have problems with nationalism in some of their regions: Corsica and Brittany in France, Bavaria in Germany, Sardinia and the north part in Italy, Moravia in the Czech Republic, Upper Silesia in Poland, Transylvania in Romania…
It is obvious that in none of these places the nationalist pressure has reached yet the degree it has in Catalonia, but it also obvious that the recognition of the independence of a European region would be a boost for all the other separatist projects and a clear problem for several European states.
In this context it is clear that a hasty recognition from Jerusalem would produce a diplomatic crisis, not with Spain, but with most part of the European Union, if not with all of it.
Also, Israel is a country that knows the problems that come from living in an unstable environment and should value much the role that, with all its defects, the European Union plays in political and economic stability, which is already subjected to strong tension for various reasons, such as the economic crisis or immigration, which could lead to a disintegration of the European structures and the rise of a myriad of failed states such as Kosovo.
This atomised Europe in no case would be the wide space of political freedoms, material prosperity and stability that today is most of the continent, but on the contrary it would be the perfect breeding ground for all types of radical, violent and even terrorist movements.
Catalan separatism is no longer pro-Jews
As in practically any other cultural or historical aspect, Catalanism has also tried to create a myth around the Jewish life in Catalonia before the expulsion in 1492, as another way to separate itself from the rest of Spain. The truth is that in Catalonia the outbreaks of anti-Semitism were as violent or more than in other parts of Spain. For example, the progroms of 1391 were extraordinarily bloody in Barcelona and practically meant the disappearance of the Jewish community from the city.
However, it is true that, as we have mentioned, in the last decades Catalanism was a political movement that in general terms, or at least in its main branches, showed sympathy for Israel and for the Jewish cause. But this is no longer the case: with its separatist radicalisation Catalanism has turned strongly to the left and in great measure has been infected with the anti-Semitism of the radical left in Spain.
This Catalanism was historically articulated around the conservative party CiU, but its separatist and disruptive turn has led it to a direct confrontation with the rest of the Spanish nation and to its own implosion. The process has made it change its name (now it is called PDeCat) and in the last elections it has resorted to various coalitions and brands. The last of them, JuntsxCat of the fugitive ex-president of the failed coup, Puigdemont, only obtained 21% of the votes.
After this election result, the current government of President Torra is articulated thanks to the support of extremist parties such as Esquerra Republicana de Cataluña (ERC) and the Candidatura de Unidad Popular (CUP). Both could be defined as extreme left anti-capitalist parties, and especially in the case of CUP violently anti-system. Like most parties with similar ideas in Europe they are also anti-Israeli parties, and through their hatred of Israel they are anti-Semite.
This anti-Semitism has not remained merely in the theoretical plane, but it has materialised in the proliferation of BDS motions in city councils of Catalonia, normally approved with the votes of these two nationalist parties and others on the left. Until now, around twenty city councils have reached municipal agreements of discrimination against Israeli companies and citizens.
Even the City Council of Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, approved in April 2017 the adhesion of the city to the BDS movement with the votes, among others, of the leftist nationalists. Also, in May 2017 they approved again a motion condemning Israel, on this occasion with the votes of all the nationalist groups, including PDeCAT.
The closeness of the separatism with the BDS anti-Israeli movement can be summed up in one name: Raúl Romeva, ex-director of foreign relations of the Generalitat and today in prison for his participation in the separatist coup d’état, who for years was one of the visible faces of the pro-BDS associations and a furious activist of the boycott from the European Parliament.
If this were not enough, as ACOM already pointed out (2), there is a more and more close relationship between separatism and not only anti-Semitism, but directly jihadism: prominent nationalist politicians have been defence lawyers of prisoners suspected of terrorism, and even Gonzalo Boye, one of the main lawyers of Carles Puigdemont (ex-president of Catalonia who is a fugitive of the Spanish courts), was himself sentenced for participating in a terrorist kidnapping and has defended members of up to five different terrorist organisations.
Also, on many occasions public institutions such as the Parliament of Catalonia or the already mentioned City Council of Barcelona have invited terrorists such as Raji Sourani or Layla Khaled.
Curiously, on the opposite side of the scales, the party that most clearly defends Israel in the Spanish political map is Ciudadanos, winner of the elections in Catalonia in December 2017, and the largest force that opposes separatism in the autonomous region. Precisely one of its leaders, Juan Carlos Girauta, explained in an article in The Jerusalem Post (3) why Israel shouldn’t even support Catalonia celebrating a referendum on self-determination.
Catalonia has a serious problem with Islamism
We have mentioned the relationship between nationalism and jihadism, and this is no doubt another aspect that Israel should evaluate very carefully before supporting the independence of Catalonia: this region has a serious problem with part of its Muslim population, which by the way is the most numerous in all of Spain.
The reason is again separatism: for decades the Catalan authorities have tried to avoid immigration from South American countries because, as is obvious, these immigrants speak Spanish, a language that the nationalists are trying to eliminate in Catalonia. In exchange, they favoured the arrival of immigrants from Islamic countries.
Thus, currently the legal Muslim population in Catalonia is slightly over 500,000 people, 27% of the total Muslims in Spain, when the population of Catalonia is only 16% of the Spanish population. Also, an especially significant percentage of this population comes from countries like Pakistan, in which it is easier to find a more extreme vision of Islam than for example in Morocco, country of origin of the most part of Muslims in the rest of the country.
All of this results in that Catalonia not only has more Muslim population than the rest of Spain (around 7% of the total instead of 3%) but also that according to many experts it is more radicalised.
For example, one of the most authorised voices on Islamic terrorism, the Israeli Gabriel Ban-Tasgal, declared in an interview (4) that “Catalonia is the planning centre of jihadism in all of Europe”.
Ben-Tasgal pointed out key elements such as “the amount of radical mosques” that can be found in the autonomous region or the way in which many Catalan towns observe a “phenomenon of textbook Islamic penetration”.
To this regard even Muslim experts such as the Catalan specialist of Moroccan origin Hannan Serroukh warn of how this is happening (5) in Catalonia: “There is a recruitment here in Catalonia of young leaders with university training who have normalised the idea of Islamic identity. They are youths who have been born here, who are not immigrants, but Spanish, (…) who can become future leaders with a potential for establishing a new Islamic order (…). They are their youth, like the political parties have theirs. They are the Islamic youth”.
The terrorist attacks of Barcelona and Cambrils in the summer of 2017 were the first violent eruption of this jihadist terrorism in Catalonia, and the doubts about the performance of the autonomous police force, subjected to political criteria instead of criteria of effectiveness, make foresee that an independent Catalonia would be even more the focus of jihadist terrorism, and that from there it could destabilise a large part of the Mediterranean, which no doubt is not a good strategic option for Israel.
A blow for the Jews in Spain
Currently the Jewish community in Spain consists approximately of 45,000 people who, despite the anti-Israeli campaigns promoted by a minority of fanatics, live perfectly integrated and feel comfortable sharing and feeling their different identities: Spanish and Jewish, from Madrid, Andalusia or Catalonia, whichever the case…
This community, deeply Zionist and identified with Israel, has seen how in the last years the democratic Spain has made a cultural, social and political effort to recover and reconcile itself with its Jewish past. There have been diplomatic and institutional gestures, and even legal initiatives like the Law of Spanish Nationality for Sephardic Jews promulgated in 2015.
During Yom Kippur the Jews in Spain say a prayer first for the King of Spain and his government, and then for the President of Israel, his government and the men and women of the Tzahal. This custom exemplifies perfectly how they maintain shared and compatible loyalties. For the Spanish Jewish community, as well as for others in the diaspora, it is fundamental to be able to continue being loyal to the countries they live in and to the country of all the Jews, and Israel should not make them have to take sides between loyalties. It would be unfair and also a mistake, as these communities play an important role in the international support for Israel.
But also, it could place the whole community and its members in a very difficult situation: for its open identification and support for the State of Israel, it would not be ridiculous to think that many Spaniards would see them as partly responsible for a decision that obviously they have no responsibility for.
On the other hand, as they pointed out in their manifesto Jews of Catalonia (6) –a group of Catalonian Jews united by their rejection to separatism- “History teaches us that extremisms, civil wars, anarchy and lack of government usually end up having Jews as propitiatory victims”. A thought that has to be seen in the light of the clearly anti-Semite ingredient of the current separatism that we have already denounced in this document.
The authors of this manifesto also remembered very opportunely that an essential element of the Jewish tradition –the principle of dina demaljuta dina– is based on the respect of the current laws wherever you live. And those laws, which are of a democracy like any other Western country, are the Spanish Constitution and the Statute of Catalonia, which the separatism completely violates: “We know –the text explains- that by respecting the Constitution of our country we faithfully honour the Jewish law and tradition that oblige us to act according to the rules and legitimate authority of the Nation. We are loyal to our legacy and grateful to the country we return to, the land that received our ancestors and in which we live and that has allowed us to prosper”.
In this sense it is important to remember that if Catalonia became independent it would be the culmination of a process that is not only absolutely illegitimate from a historical point of view, but also openly illegal, both considering Spanish law, which only recognises the sovereignty of the Spanish people as a whole and in no case of one of its parts, and taking into account International law, which in no case recognises the right to self-determination of a region that, let us not forget, has been integrated in the same political unity as the rest of Spain for more than five centuries. By the way, this same principle appears in the Basic Law of Nation-State of the Jewish People recently approved by the Knesset.
As we have seen, even if Spain makes the mistake of recognising the Palestinian state, Israel would make an even bigger mistake if it recognised the illegal rupture of a part of the Spanish territory.
A recognition that would weaken Israel extraordinarily from the diplomatic point of view, making relations more complicated with an entity as important as the European Union, which would not make a new ally, because as we have shown the main strain of Catalan separatism is furiously anti-Semite, but would contribute to creating a small state extraordinarily weak against jihadism, and that would finally be a very hard blow for the Spanish Jewish community.
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