Spain, Once a Bastion of Boycotts, Now Seeks Closer Ties with Israel

A series of legal victories has given hope to pro-Israel activists in Spain, long a bastion of the anti-Israel BDS campaign, that public and governmental support is shifting towards their side, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) reported Tuesday.

An Anti-Defamation League survey last year found that Spain had one the highest levels of anti-Semitism in Western Europe. Indeed, the reggae singer Matisyahu was disinvited from a Spanish music festival last year because he refused to sign a document condemning Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians (he was eventually re-invited after an international backlash).

Since then, though, pro-Israel activists have won 24 legal rulings against the BDS campaign, according to the Spanish pro-Israel organization ACOM. “The BDS movement in Spain is established and works systematically,” ACOM president Angel Mas explained. “But for the first time, they are encountering a response that is as systematic.”

Two recent cases illustrate the trend. In the town of Campezo, about 210 miles north of Madrid, ACOM successfully lobbied the city council in June to abandon a pro-BDS resolution because it was unconstitutional and discriminatory. And in January, Spain’s Council of State, its highest court, awarded $100,000 in damages to Ariel University, located in the West Bank, for discrimination after it was excluded from a state-sponsored scientific competition.

Ramon Pérez-Maura, a journalist for Spain’s third-largest newspaper ABC, said that until recently, the Spanish judiciary was vulnerable to intimidation from BDS supporters. “The problem was pressure and intimidation of judges by lobby groups with anarchist traditions and violent tactics,” he told JTA. “There has been a crackdown on this sort of thuggery and this has empowered the judiciary, not only on Israel.”

The legal rulings, which have labelled BDS as discriminatory, are compounded by growing resentment against the boycott campaign for hurting business opportunities while the Spanish economy is performing poorly. BDS activists also have discovered that their boycotts of Israel can cut two ways. Last month El Al, Israel’s national airline, broke off talks to establish a route with the city of Santiago de Compostella after its city council passed a non-binding resolution supporting a boycott of Israel. The city has a high unemployment rate and was looking to boost its tourist industry by introducing direct flights to Tel Aviv. Local politicians from the conservative party blamed the left-wing government for sabotaging the city’s tourist industry.

Yigal Palmor, a former Israeli diplomat who was stationed in Spain, told JTA that a number of factors have boosted efforts of pro-Israel activists in Spain. Among these are efforts to naturalize Sephardi Jews as Spanish citizens, stronger governmental support for the Israeli position regarding the Palestinians, enforcement of hate speech laws, and efforts to restore Jewish historical sites in Spain. Palmor credits these developments to a number of factors, including the Spanish acceptance of European hate speech standards, as well as the election of a stable central government.

Still the BDS campaign has not given up. The municipality of Santa Eulalia on the island of Ibiza recently adopted a pro-BDS resolution, The Jerusalem Post reported Wednesday.

[Photo: Efraim Stochter / Pixabay ]