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Barcelona mayor renews ‘sister city’ ties with Tel Aviv, reversing predecessor’s move

JTA — Six months after Barcelona’s then-mayor severed the Spanish city’s relationship with Tel Aviv over what she said were Israel’s “apartheid” practices, her successor is renewing the ties.

Jaume Collboni, who became mayor in June, this week announced the restoration of the 25-year “sister cities” relationship between Barcelona and Tel Aviv.

Collboni’s decision elicited relief from the Federation of the Jewish Communities of Spain, which had said the suspension had “caused pain in the Jewish world and among many Barcelonians and Catalans.”

Ada Colau, Barcelona’s liberal mayor, surprised many by unilaterally breaking off the relationship in February, citing what she said was Israel’s “flagrant and systematic violation of human rights.” The surprise move — which the Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain decried as “sophisticated antisemitism” — threatened the commercial, cultural and economic bond that the two cities have nurtured over the years.

Colau was unseated in June after an eight-year tenure. Collboni, who had been her deputy mayor, had hinted at his intentions to reverse her decision during his campaign, when he visited Barcelona’s century-old synagogue and pledged not to allow “antisemitism to stand in the way of cooperation and friendship.”

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In announcing the renewed ties, Collboni emphasized that he was not endorsing Israel or its practices but instead connecting with Tel Aviv, which he noted had been host to weekly protests against the current Israeli government. He also emphasized that the relationship would allow him to advocate for the Palestinians.

“Someone might think that this decision is detrimental to support for the Palestinian people, but nothing is further from the truth,” he said, according to a report in the Spanish newspaper El Pais, which said his first official trip as mayor would be to the West Bank.

Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau speaks on May 28, 2023, after the local and regional elections held in Spain. (Joseph Lago/AFP)

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai was one of the first people to congratulate Collboni in June, sending a warm note that expressed hope that Collboni would make the resumption of formal ties an early priority, ElNacional.cat, a Catalonia digital newspaper, reported this week.

Huldai publicly expressed his gratitude toward Collboni on X, the social media platform previously known as Twitter. “Gràcies Mayor @jaumecollboni for restoring twin city ties with Tel Aviv-Yafo and for recognising our mutual liberal and progressive values,” he wrote. He concluded: “Amics per sempre!”