Who's Really Behind the Catalan Separatist Movement?
by Sean Jobst
3 October 2017
The Catalan independence movement, in the news recently with the referendum for independence, has very vocal political and ideological backers in Israel and Russia. These two countries, as well as its amen corner in various pro-Israeli and pro-Russian media outlets, have interfered in the internal affairs of Spain and given the Catalan separatists their blessing. This is even while both countries have a long and continued history of squashing violently the independence aspirations of the peoples they occupy, hypocritically denying its occupied people any such referendum while passing judgment on the European country of Spain.
A "Petition to the State of Israel to support the independence of Catalonia" was delivered to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli Ambassador Alon Bar. It garnered 1,146 supporters, mostly Catalan separatists and leftist Spaniards. A perusal of the comments section of the petition reveals a deep-seated hatred of Spain, which it collectively accuses of "anti-Semitism" in contrast to a Catalonia presented as a more "progressive" state that would naturally look to Israel as its inspiration. The thread throughout is one of simply: Catalans and self-hating Spaniards against Spain, but singing the praises of Israel as chief benefactor of an independent Catalonia.
Israeli Ambassador to Spain: "It is wonderful Israel can be a source of inspiration for Catalonia"
Alon Bar, the Israeli Ambassador to Spain and Andorra, gave an interview to Nació Digital on 20 May 2012 which has been approvingly touted on a website proclaiming its objective as "Catalan Independence explained to the World". How strange is it for an ambassador allegedly representing one country's interests in another country, to so actively sympathize with and even promote a separatist movement against the very country which graciously hosts him! Yet, this is exactly how Alon Bar has championed the Catalan cause as most beneficial to Israel. When asked about the much larger number of Israelis who visit Barcelona (300,000) compared to Madrid (40,000), as well as certain similarities with the Catalans, the ambassador replied:
"There is a special friendship, and also some admiration, in the parallel renewal system of Hebrew and Catalan. We recall contacts with Jordi Pujol before the establishment of diplomatic relations between Spain and Israel. There is a special relationship that has been strengthened given the circumstances....Relationships are good and fluid with President Artur Mas' team, the Foreign Committee of the Parliament of Catalonia and the City Council. We have a special interest in establishing business contacts. Both administrations have signed mutual agreements to promote joint projects to increase commercial relationships and have strengthened the Catalan-Israeli Chamber of Commerce, which is very active. We see business opportunities in what Israel has to offer in times of crisis....I think it is wonderful Israel can be a source of inspiration for Catalonia." ("Interview with Israel Ambassador to Andorra and Spain, Alon Bar," Nació Digital, 20 May 2012)
Catalan Separatist Leader: "I am pro-Israel and pro-Zionist"
One of the leaders of the Catalan independence movement was Alfons Lopez Tena, leader of the Catalan Solidarity for Independence, who by 2015 dismissed any talk of Catalan independence as "wishful thinking" while still proclaiming: "I am not Spanish and I have never felt Spanish." Nevertheless, he was very much a separatist when he gave an interview with the Israeli Haaretz newspaper in 2012, predicting an independent Catalonia within two years and "close friendship with Israel". This doyen of Catalan separatism expressed his own support for the foreign ideology of Zionism:
"On a personal level, I define myself as being pro-Israel and pro-Zionist. These are views I inherited, in my family. I well remember the concern that filled our house at the time of the Six Day War. I was a boy at the time, 10 years old, and we all prayed for Israel's survival. At least half of the members of my party are members of the Catalan Friends of Israel Association. Israel is a democratic state, and we support the steps it takes for survival, and the survival of the Jewish people. We have no intention of criticizing what its government does. We seek cooperation with Israel, and we hope it will support our independence movement. It is clear that an independent Catalonia will be a close friend of Israel - there's no doubt about that." (Adar Primor, "Catalan Leader Predicts Independence in About Two Years, and Close Friendship With Israel," Haaretz, Oct. 4, 2012)
This same Israeli journalist earlier profiled Lopez Tena, in a very sympathetic article - so clearly there's a pattern of sympathy for Catalan separatism within the Israeli media: "Spain will not easily give up its crown jewel, but Lopez Tena is losing no time in making a promise that Europe's new member state will be very friendly to Israel. In that too it will separate itself from its rival in Madrid. And here is another message. Just as Catalonia will soon be the state of the Catalan people, Israel is first and foremost the state of the Jewish people. There is no future for a binational state. The latest victory of the separatists in Quebec, Canada, the continuing efforts to dismantle the Belgian kingdom, and the national referendum to take place in Scotland in 2014 are only a few examples that prove this. Neither a federation nor a confederation, nor autonomy, nor cantons. Binationalism is dead. Visca (Viva in Catalan ) Israel, Visca Catalonia." (Adar Primor, "Viva Catalonia, Viva Israel," Haaretz, Sept. 28, 2012)
The Generalitat de Catalunya and Israel
Catalan regionalist politician Jordi Pujol was longtime President of the Generalitat de Catalunya from 1980 until 23 December 2003. Even after his departure from power, he was still viewed as sufficiently influential that he was invited to address the Israeli Knesset on 28 October 2003. The speech was filled with invectives against Spanish history, cheered on by many who still obsess about medieval "oppression" in Spain against the Sephardic Jews and more recent "anti-Semitism" of the Franco period. But the most interesting part of his speech was his remarks about himself:
"I come from a family at first rather sympathetic with the Jews, but not especially interested. However, there was something that increased, by reaction, the pro-Jewish attitude, and that was the Franco regime was anti-Jewish. And oddly enough, he mixed [compared] Judaism with Catalanism. In times of great Francoist exaltation and xenophobia of Spain, we were accused of being the Jews of Spain. But as I said, I did not come into contact with Judaism alone. Also, and in a certain sense above all with Zionism. And not in a superficial way. At only 17-18 years old I read Herzl's 'Der Judenstaat' and a very comprehensive book by Chaim Weizmann, which tells the whole Zionist struggle."
|Artur Mas con Shimon Peres|
Pujol has attended and spoken at many functions of the Fundación Samuel Toledano, whose namesake Samuel Toledano, was the long-time leader of the Jewish community in Spain and was instrumental in Spain's establishment of diplomatic relations with Israel in 1987. Pujol's Catalunya cultivated many close trade and political links with Israel, and these were continued by another member of his CiU party, Artur Mas, President of the Generalitat from 2010 to 2015: "Israel is a strategic country for Catalonia and we want to continue strengthening our cooperation."
Mas' successor and the current President of the Generalitat de Catalunya is Carles Puigdemont, also from Pujol's CiU. Former Mayor of Girona, Puigdemont came to power after an agreement between CiU and the two Catalan separatist parties, Junts pel Sí and CUP. He is the first Catalan President to refuse taking the oath of loyalty to the Spanish Constitution - even while enjoying the privileges of his autonomous position in the first place because of the Spanish state's blessings. Puigdemont may be moving Catalonia away from Spain - people who share the same blood, ancestry and history with the Catalans - but during his tenure has been moving even closer towards Israel.
Under Puigdemont, the Catalan government has opened a trade and investment office in Tel Aviv. His media advisor, Aleix Clarió, confirmed on his Twitter that 32% of Spanish exports are to Israel (the bulk of them to Catalonia) and that 79% of Israeli investments in all of Spain are within Catalonia. Puigdemont has cultivated close links with Chabad, including its local representative, Barcelona Rabbi Dovid Liebersohn; Putin's Rabbi Berel Lazar, the Chabad Chief Rabbi of Russia; and Israeli-Russian billionaire Shimon Aminov.
|Puigdemont with his Chabad friends, from left: Rabbi Moshe |
Kotlarsky, Shimon Aminov, Putin's Rabbi Berel Lazar, and
Barcelona Rabbi Dovid Liebersohn
The Chabad Connection
Most notable in the above picture is four Chabad figures meeting with Puigdemont, who obviously enjoys cordial relations with this global Jewish supremacist organization that has deep finances. Foreshadowing the broader separatist trend, in 2016 the Jewish communities of five Catalan cities - Barcelona, Besalú, Castelló d’Empúries, Girona and Tortosa - withdrew from the national Network of Spanish Jewish Quarters to form their own regional network according to the Network's director Marta Puig Quixal: "This breakup is another example of how Catalan institutions are looking to go their own way." Girona Mayor Marta Madrenas evoked stronger Catalan-Jewish links as part of her own case for separatism: "We think we can do better in terms of showcasing our Jewish patrimony."
One Chabad website described an international Chabad conference that took place in the Catalan city of Girona, from 11-13 June 2017. It brought together 45 attendees from around the world, including many from countries with negligible Jewish populations. Girona was chosen because "It was once home to the second-largest Jewish community in Catalonia. In 1194, it was the birthplace of the medieval Kabbalist, Talmudist and Torah commentator Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman - known as Nachmanides or the Ramban - who served as its rabbi and established a yeshivah there."
Notable attendees included Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice chairman of the Chabad educational wing Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch; and Rabbi Berel Lazar, the Chief Rabbi of Russia and a close ally of Vladimir Putin. Aside from Lazar, there was another Russian link: "Organizers said the conference was being underwritten by Jewish-Russian transportation magnate Shimon Aminov, who in his travels has encountered many of the most remote Chabad emissaries and wanted to do something to support their work in return." The conference was also attended by its Guest of Honor Puigdemont, "who expressed his appreciation and admiration of the shluchim who flew in from near and far."
The Russian Connection
Even while expressing their opposition to the Kurdish independence referendum because its seen as held under American auspices, pro-Russian media has gone out of its way to champion the Catalan independence cause against Spain. This includes the blatantly pro-Catalan separatist, anti-Spanish coverage on Russia Today; expressed support for Catalan independence by Duginist websites and think-tanks; statements by selective "whistleblowers" Julian Assange and Edward Snowden, who are silent whenever Russia's interests tell them to be; and support for Catalan independence by many American "libertarians", including a factually incorrect article by Justin Raimondo which called Catalonia "A Spanish Tiananmen Square", while he consistently sings the praises of statist Putin and parrot Kremlin state media.
Julian Assange has seized upon the secessionist cause, in a massive display of activity on his social media accounts: "Assange, for all intents and purposes, has become the independence movement's chief international spokesman. The vast majority of his tweets this month, in many cases written in Spanish and Catalan, have centered around promoting Catalan secessionism and 'self-determination' as a bulwark against Madrid's 'repression.' Russian news agency Sputnik has helped, too — and has taken notice of Assange's tweets. The outlet posted 220 stories about the Catalan independence movement between September 11 and 27." (Natasha Bertrand, "Julian Assange is rallying behind Catalan separatists ahead of a historic referendum — and Russia has taken notice," Business Insider, Sept. 30, 2017)
One strange phenomenon within the last few years has been the staunch pro-Russian line taken by many U.S. libertarian media outlets. They have allowed their opposition to American interventionism not only to blind them to Putin's own interventionism, but to actively apologize for any Russian state action. A recent example was an article on Antiwar.com by academic Thomas Harrington. Obviously triggered by an El País article, he dismissed it as "Atlanticist" - using a common Duginist phrase. This alleged professor of Hispanic Studies nevertheless attacked Spain collectively as "ever-prisoner to its own endlessly repeated mythologies about self and other", and championed Catalans against the Spanish "centralists", while apologizing for Putin's Russia with its own authoritarian centralism.
The Moscow-based Anti-Globalization Movement, which only supports separatist movements that would weaken and destabilize the United States and European Union while justifying Putin's suppression of separatist movements at odds with Russian imperialism, issued a statement comparing Catalonia to Crimea. Putin's media has twisted the Catalan issue to accuse the West of "hypocrisy" regarding his own conquest of Crimea from Ukraine. According to Russia researcher Casey Michel: "Catalonian independence advocates are among those who've flown to Moscow to meet with a group that, as of 2016, received Kremlin funding to help network Western separatist groups."
Towards what end are these forces supporting Catalan independence? Foremost is to destabilize Spain. To destabilize European countries identified with "Atlanticism" is indeed a primary objective of Dugin's Russo-centric Eurasianism. With an independent Catalan fiefdom separated from Spain and even more tightly controlled by Puigdemont and his malaise, the Israeli and other political links can enjoy more influence. Trade benefits can be even more for Israel if Catalonia is less connected to trade connections to the rest of Spain. A Catalan tax haven could be a boon for the Chabad, Israeli and Russian oligarchs already closely linked to local corruption.
A less obvious reason is a deep-seated vengeance against Spain. It may seem far-fetched at first, but many pro-Israel scholars have evoked a simplistic, one-sided, distorted historical view of medieval "anti-Semitism" against the Sephardic Jews and the Marranos, for modern political capital. Many books are published resurrecting this topic again and again, used to guilt-trip Spaniards. Specifically, it has been used to justify close Spanish relations with Israel and to shut down any dissent to Israeli policies; to grant the automatic right to citizenship to millions of Sephardic Jews of North Africa and elsewhere; to open up Spain to unfettered immigration and slander any opposition to this as "racist"; and to perpetuate thought-crime laws.
It should be clear to anyone who studies the political and financial links of Puigdemont, Artur Mas, Santiago Vidal, and other Catalan elites pushing for independence, that this is not a spontaneous, grassroots rising of a majority of people in Catalonia. Nor is it any move towards federalism and devolution, as its proponents - as well as the leftist and even communistic trends supporting it - envision a centralized Catalonia that might even grow to include regions such as Valencia and the Baleares. It would also be a state founded on a myth of a historically independent Catalonia, whereas historically it was linked with the Kingdoms of Aragon and Valencia.
Modern Catalonia is not some "exploited" region, but a privileged region that has often been propped up by the rest of Spain....one that already enjoys much autonomy: The right to its own language and parliament; led by its own President and Generalitat; exercising much local control over its trade and banking activities. Certainly it enjoys far more autonomy than the peoples occupied by the Israeli and Russian States that now meddle in España's affairs. I know its a painful pill for many to swallow, but....Cataluña es España!