AFTER being quoted last week saying that the Jewish community of Barcelona is “doomed,” the city’s chief rabbi, Meir Bar-Hen, has since clarified that the community is not going anywhere.
Following Thursday’s deadly terror attack in the city, JTA published an interview with Bar-Hen in which he said that he had for years been encouraging his congregants to leave Spain, which he called a “hub of Islamist terror for all of Europe”.
But speaking to The Jerusalem Post two days later, Bar-Hen insisted that his comments had been taken out of context. His remarks were picked up by both Israeli and international media, causing members of his community to be upset and to distance themselves from them.
“Jews are not here permanently,” Bar-Hen was quoted as saying last Friday, after the attack in Las Ramblas which saw a white van plough into passers-by near the Maccabi kosher restaurant. “I tell my congregants: Don’t think we’re here for good. And I encourage them to buy property in Israel. This place is lost. Don’t repeat the mistake of Algerian Jews, of Venezuelan Jews. Better [get out] early than late.”
“I said that to our sorrow it happened to the Jews of Algeria, and Venezuela, and I hope that it won’t happen to the Jews of Spain,” the rabbi told the Jerusalem Post on Sunday.
He also asserted that: “the Jews of Spain were exiled once and will not be exiled again.”
“Our community is organied and it is expanding,” he noted, pointing out the community’s Jewish school and yeshiva. He did, however, say that irrespective of the security situation, he does encourage Jews to move to Israel, particularly due to assimilation.
Referring to another quote attributed to him that “Europe is lost,” Bar-Hen said these were not his words, but he had been citing various European police chiefs.
“To be a Jew in Spain is easier than any other country in the world,” Bar-Hen emphasised. “I walk in the streets with a kippa and nobody will say a word.”
Rachel Sair, a Jewish woman living in Barcelona and a member of the Muslim-Jewish Salam Shalom Barcelona initiative, took to Facebook to express her opposition to the rabbi’s reported comments: “I am a Jewish woman living in Barcelona and saw an Orthodox couple walking down Las Ramblas today, in solidarity, along with thousands of others. I even said ‘Shalom chaverim’ [hello friends] and the woman replied ‘Shabbat Shalom.’”
“I believe that there are extremists in all walks of life, including Jewish ones, and they all tarnish their respective groups or religions,” she said.
In his conversation with the Post, the rabbi also emphasised the strong ties between Jewish and Muslim leaders in the country, as well as the fact that there were Muslim victims of Thursday’s terror attack. “Terror is terror,” he said, adding that it must be fought in every country that it strikes.
The Jewish community of Barcelona also addressed the rabbis remarks in a short post on its Facebook page, noting that he had clarified his comments and assured that the Jews would not leave the city that they love so much.
“The words [of the rabbi in his initial interview] do not represent the community,” Barcelona Jewish Community spokesman Victor Sorenssen told the Post. “Our position is solidarity with the victims,” he stressed, saying the community sought to help in any way they could and is committed to working for a peaceful and multicultural society of coexistence – “that is the spirit of Barcelona.”
Bar-Hen also spoke in these terms on Sunday, underlining his love for Barcelona and the “friendship and mutual respect” of its society.
In the wake of the attack, Jewish institutions were advised to close but the shutdown was only temporary, “Yesterday we gathered at the synagogue and prayed for the memory of the victims and for the recovery of the wounded,” Bar-Hen said. “We also prayed for peace for the country and for the success of the security forces,” he added, noting that many tourists participated in the service.
During his interview with JTA, Rabbi Bar-Hen also charged that some politicians are reluctant to confront Islamist terrorism. He cited the government’s decision in April to allow Leila Khaled, a Palestinian terrorist who was convicted in a plot to hijack an airplane in 1969, to enter the country for a book festival.
This showed, he said, that authorities “do not understand the nature of terrorism, if they treat it as an action by the disenfranchised”.
Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau Ballano of the far-left Barcelona en Comú party resisted calls to ban Kahled and led the passage in April of a City Council resolution condemning Israel’s “violations of international law”.
On Friday, Colau Ballano wrote on Facebook: “Barcelona is a city of peace. Terror will not make us stop being who we are: a brave city open to the world.” She urged readers to show up at a solidarity rally that day.
Angel Mas, founder of the ACOM pro-Israel group, which protested Khaled’s visit, said it is “pure cynicism” by Colau Ballano to claim to oppose terrorism in light of her support for Khaled.
TAMARA ZIEVE – JTA, THE JERUSALEM POST
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