Jose Lev Alvarez Gomez

Israel’s Links with Basque-Catalan Nationalism (1)

Relations and contacts between Euskadi and Israel, and Catalunya and Israel are old. Even though the Basque and Catalonian Left-wing parties are today Pro-Palestinians, Center and Right Wing Basque and Catalonian nationalists have always been Pro-Israel, and they have consistently had great admiration for the Jewish people and the achievements of the State of Israel. Even Left-wing paramilitary entities like Euskal Ta Askatasuna-ETA have supported zionism and the foundational core values of the State of Israel. However, during the 1970’s they started being supported by the Palestinians and switched alliances. It is considered that there are many similarities between Israelis, Catalonians and Basques: they have their own language, an ethnic character, symbols, an own history and, above all, a deep national identity. It should be noted that although Euskadi and Catalunya are now part of the Spanish State, both nations have their own history (Kurlansky and Muñiz Gómez). Another link between these territories and Israel is the presence of Jews and their influence in both Catalunya and Euskadi.

A. History of Catalunya and Euskadi

  • Euskadi

          It is important to understand the history of Euskadi and Catalunya to better comprehend why did Euskadi’s and Catalunya’s post-Spanish Transition nationalism has been so interested in getting closer to Israel.The Basque people have very particular characteristics, and this is mainly because of the fact that they have been quite socially and politically isolated throughout their history and have been able to maintain their tradition and language. An example of this is that the Roman Empire never conquered the Basque territory, mainly because of the geographical characteristics of the area where they are based. Unlike the other people that used to live in this area, the Basques didn’t acquire the influences that the Romans brought to the rest of the Peninsula. Therefore, they maintained their own customs, language and traditions, and preserved the lifestyle they had prior to the Roman invasion. This did not happened anywhere else in the Iberian Peninsula, and therefore it can be said that the Basques are one of the groups with the most ancient and unique heritage in the entire Peninsula. Subsequently in history, the Basques became part of the Kingdom of Navarra, to which they belonged until 1528. During this period of time, they had their own political entities and Euskera (a pre-romanic language) was this region’s main used language (Kurlansky). Nowadays, the territory in which Basques are based is denominated Euskal Herria, and it includes Euskadi, Navarra and a portion of the South of France.

  • Catalunya

       In the case of Catalunya, this is a territory that was completely constituted in the sixteenth century, when the Barcelona County managed to get together with other counties- what today is known as the provinces of Lleida, Tarragona and Girona-to form Catalunya (Alert). Despite of this, it was not until the XIV century when Catalunya officially implemented their own government (Generalitat). After the union of the County of Barcelona and the Kingdom of Aragon in the XII century, these territories started being named as the Catalano-Aragonese Crown. Nevertheless, the Principality of Catalunya-which was part of this kingdom- maintained its complete autonomy. For example, to cross from Catalunya to the Kingdom of Aragon you had to pay a tariff. Already in the 17th century, the Principality of Catalunya became independent of Spain under French protectorate for almost 20 years. However, in practice it was just independent for just three weeks; the rest of the time the French rulers managed to keep total control of Catalunya. 

       Then in the middle of the XVII century, an agreement between France and Spain was reached. Now, the north of Catalunya was going to be annexed by the French’s, while the rest of Catalunya was going to be under Spanish rule again. However, after the fall of Barcelona in the hands of the Bourbon troops during the War of Succession, Catalan institutions were suppressed by the new royal house in 1716. So it would not be until the First and Second Spanish Republic when Catalunya would have democratic and public institutions again. In 1931, newly-elected President of the Generalitat de Catalunya-Autonomous Government of Catalunya-Francesc Maciá declared independence from Spain but in a symbolic way because the proclamation just lasted for 2 days. Then in 1934, the newly-elected President of the Generalitat of Catalunya, Lluís Companys, also declared the independence of Catalunya within the Spanish territorial context, but it lasted for just 3 days. Later, Mr. Companys was sent to jail in 1935 and posteriorly he was shot by Francisco Franco’s dictatorship in 1939. It is interesting to note that between 6,000 and 8,000 Jews-who many of them belonged to zionist and sindical organizations, like Bund-joined the international brigades who fought Francisco Franco’s forces during the Spanish Civil War.

       With the end of the Civil War and the rise of fascism in Spain, Catalunya’s public institutions were abolished. Moreover, between 1939 and 1942, Franco’s dictatorship collected the name of 6,000 Jews in Spain and gave it to the GESTAPO-the official secret police of the Nazi Germany-so that they can be aware of the amount of Jews in the fascist country. Also, it is during this period of time that 40,000 Jews were captured-who were mainly concentrated in Catalunya- by the GESTAPO in Spain. However, after Hitler lost the Second World War, the Franco regime tried to undercover this reality with the argument that thousands of Jews were saved by Spanish Embassies during the war. But they were helped because of personal and unilateral decisions made by Spanish diplomats, that were not following direct orders from Franco’s regime. Nonetheless, it should be noted that there were other cases in which the Franco regime – although not with the dictator’s direct interaction – helped the Jews. For example, between 1957 and 1961, 25,000 Jews left Morocco with the help of custom officers who were scouring services in Ceuta and Melilla. Then these Jews went from there to Paris, and from Paris to Haifa. At the end of the Franco regime, more than 250,000 Jews had moved to Israel via Ceuta and Melilla even though the Gamal Abdel Nasser’s regime opposed to this (Cygielman). There is even another episode in which fascist Spain helped Jews to move from Lebanon to the Jewish State by giving them Spanish passports right after Israel was founded. 

       In 1979-with the death of dictator Francisco Franco- the Generalitat of Catalunya was restored, and the the President of the Generalitat in exile, Josep Tarradellas, returned (El llamado ilegal que tienen los catalanes a las urnas). In 1980, the Eusko Jaurlaritza-Basque government-was also reinstated. Despite of the differences of contrast in their history, there is something in common between Euskadi and Catalunya: Israel. Although these two nations are not independent, and thus do not have diplomatic relations with Israel, the political, paramilitary and economic links between Israel and the Left, Center and Right wing nationalist movements in Euskadi and Catalunya are evident. So in this project it will demonstrated that the relations between the Basque and Catalan nationalism with Israel go further than the official Spanish diplomacy (that established relations with Israel in 1986); in fact, they were pre-existing to the aforementioned date.

B. History of Jewish presence

  • Euskadi
  1. Arrival

       It is estimated that Jews were present in Euskadi since the year 70 A.D. However, there are no documents that can validate this argument or valid research that can support this because the Golden Age of Jews in Spain did not had a huge impact within the Basque Jewish Community and Jewish traces were literally erased from history (Juduen Euskal Herria: la comunidad judía de Baiona, la más importante del país en los últimos cinco siglos-a).

2. Establishment and position

       However, Jews had a great impact in this region. The basque city of Bayonne, in an area of Euskal Herria today situated in France, was the city from where the secret of chocolate spread across Europe. When Jews arrived to the Iberian Peninsula after being expelled by the Catholic Monarchs in 1492, they did so by bringing the cacao seed, and the knowledge of how to harvest it and how to eat it. After having been merchants in the kingdoms that were in contact with indigenous people who worked the cacao, when they settled in Bayonne they had the necessary knowledge of where to find the cacao beans and how to trade it with South America and the Mediterranean. There, they continued with business relationships and began to make chocolate in the city. By the 16th and 17th centuries, Bayonne became the first city in the French state to make chocolate, and from then on, it started spreading throughout Europe (Juduen Euskal Herria: la comunidad judía de Baiona, la más importante del país en los últimos cinco siglos-b).

  • Catalunya.
  1. Origins

       In the case of Catalunya, Jews began to settle in this territory in the year 70 A.D, when they migrated and established across the Mediterranean. The first documentation of Jews in Catalunya was from year 890, when 25 Jewish families moved to the catalan city of Girona. They settled in Girona in a exchange for a payment of an annual fee. In Besalú, the oldest documentation of the presence of Jews was in the year 1229, but it is thought that Jews arrived to Besalú almost at the same time as they did in Girona. The Jewish population in Besalú exponentially grew between the 13th and 14th century with the migration of Jews from al-Andalus and Paris-where a catastrophic pogrom took place in 1240. In Barcelona, Jewish presence was first documented in 985, but there may have been a Jewish community before this date (Villatoro).

2. Important personalities

     Jews in Catalunya were so prosper that between the 12th century and the 14th century-before Barcelona’s Pogrom in 1391 and the arrival of the Spanish inquisition in 1484-Jews occupied royal positions, and worked as merchants, translators and bankers. An example of this is Bonjuha Cabrit. Mr. Cabrit converted from Judaism to Catholicism and he was the owner of many of the properties around the ‘call’-term in catalan for Jewish quarter-including the one where the Generalitat of Catalunya is currently located at. On the other hand, there were other Catalan Jews who are still remembered worldwide like Moshe Ben Nahman or Nahmanides (Villatoro). 

       Nahmanides was a physician and rabbi who made of Barcelona one of the most important places in Europe to study Kabbalah. Nahmanides is well known because of his performance during the Barcelona religious dispute in 1263 which was hosted by the King of the Catalan-Aragonese Kingdom, Jaume I. Nahmanides defended Judaism and refuted Christianity against convert Paul Christiani. The official record in Latin and a version written in Hebrew by Nahmanides are still preserved. Both opponents considered themselves winners in the controversy, but Nahmánides was condemned to exile and in 1267 emigrated to Eretz Yisrael. He stayed in Jerusalem for some time, which he found devastated, and soon settled in Acre (Villatoro). 

3. Conflicts and expulsion

       It is outstanding to note that after this controversy, anti-semitism started growing, more sambenito cases took place and more Jews started to convert or to leave Catalunya. This is why after the Barcelona Pogrom in 1391, which led to other pogroms that same year in places like Lleida and Girona, many Jews moved to the Balearic Islands, and many of those had to convert to Catholicism. This new community isolated themselves from the rest of the population (Alert). At this point they started mixing many of their Jewish customs and traditions with their new adopted religion. This group of converted Jews are known as the Xuetas, and they are characterized because of the characteristic 15 last names that the members of this community have, their “kosher” feeding practices and their endogamy (Alert). Even though that just a small portion of this community practices Judaism today, renowned Rabbi Yitzchak Dovid Grossman in 2011 recognized the Xuetas as Jews.

About the Author
Jose Lev Alvarez Gomez, BS, MA, MA, MD, Sgt. (Ret) is an Israeli who completed a B.S. in Neuroscience, Israel Studies, and Pre-Med Track at The American University (Washington, District of Columbia) and a bioethics course at Harvard University (Cambridge, Massachusetts). After his undergraduate studies, he went on to become a sergeant in the Israel Defense Forces - Special Forces Unit 888, obtained a medical degree and completed two master's degrees: Applied Economics at UNED (Madrid, Spain) and International Geostrategy and Jihadist Terrorism at INISEG (Madrid, Spain). Currently, he is completing two more master’s degrees: Security and Intelligence Studies at Bellevue University (Bellevue, Nebraska) and Clinical Psychiatry at the European University of Madrid. Lev speaks eight languages, has written more than 180 academic papers/books/independent research projects/opinion articles/theses, is a member of multiple academic/medical organizations, and collaborates with several newspapers and journals. His professional interests are academia, applied economics/businesses, Israel studies, medicine, and scientific dissemination. José is a believer that in a diverse world, human beings are obliged to have multiple skills and varied knowledge to effectively contribute to their societies.