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What Barca should have heard

Turning the soccer team's visit into a "peace tour" is condescending and creates a false impression that everyone's right

Barca is in Israel. For those of you – primarily in North America – who don’t know what I’m talking about, you’re out of the global loop. “Barca” is the nickname for the Barcelona Football Club – the most popular soccer team in the world. A billion fans!

Barca is in Israel on a “peace tour.” It seems they have other talents besides playing soccer.

On Saturday, they were in the Palestinian run territories. Today, they’re doing the Jewish thing; visiting the Western Wall etc. It’s a big party.

The Palestinians feel that by visiting them Barca has legitimized their embryonic nation. The Israelis are just happy to be close to the football icons of the day; Messi, Iniesta, Xavi and the boys.

Messi and the boys
Sunday evening, they got a royal welcome at the president’s residence where the Israeli President, Prime Minister and Minister of Education welcomed them as if they had just found the cure for cancer.

Barcelona President Sandro Rosell with Israeli President Shimon Peres
Barcelona President Sandro Rosell with Israeli President Shimon Peres

Don’t get me wrong. My son, the soccer player, and I are huge Barca fans. And just a couple of years ago, I paid a fortune to watch Barca and Chelsea play a game in London. But I have to confess that I don’t like this particular party in Jerusalem. I’m sure this “peace tour” is not the players’ idea and I’m sure the club is well meaning, but I don’t like these Mickey Mouse peacemaking efforts. I didn’t like when Leonard Cohen turned his concert into a “peace concert”, and I don’t like when a Spanish Football Club turns a soccer event into a circus for peace. These “peace initiatives” actually give the wrong impression and make peace harder to achieve. They create the illusion that peace is easy to attain. They also create a false parity between all sides. They give the impression that everyone is equally right, and everyone is equally wrong. They give the wrong impression that there is some kind of moral equivalency between the terrorist and the soldier trying to stop the terrorist from blowing himself up in a pizzeria full of children.

There’s also a great degree of condescension involved. I’m sorry that I take it personally, but I feel like they are patronizing me. There’s always a sense, whenever these “peacemakers” arrive in Israel, that if we were as civilized as them, Palestinians and Israelis would have hugged and kissed and made up a long time ago. If it was that easy, Leonard Cohen would have made peace between French and English Canadians in his native Montreal, and the Barcelona Football Club would have solved the problem between the Basques and the Spaniards. Peace begins at home.

Here’s what I think the Prime Minister of Israel should have said:

He should have reminded everyone that once upon a time in Barcelona, there were Christians, Muslims and Jews living together. Once there was a great Jewish community in Spain. In fact, Spain is on the Iberian Peninsula. Scholars generally agree that “Iberia” is a Phoenician or Hebrew word meaning “Ivri” i.e., “Hebrew”. Some argue that this is more connected to Phoenicians than Israelites, but there is no question that there have been Jews in Spain since the 8th century BCE – a ring inscribed in “paleo Hebrew” was found in Cadiz dating to that time. But the Jews may have been in Spain for centuries before that. The Biblical “Tarshish” is generally associated with “Tartessos”, in Southern Spain. If this identification is correct, there was contact between King Solomon and Iberia as early as the 10th century BCE. In any event, by the 1st century CE, the Jewish presence in Spain is well attested. By the 10th century CE, the Spanish Jewish community represented one of the biggest and most successful Jewish communities in the world, counting among their number philosophers, physicians, warriors, poets and theologians. For example, Columbus’ voyage would not have been possible without maps – all made by Jews – and the astrolabe invented by Abraham Zacuto. The 12th century traveler, Yehuda Alharizi, described the Jews of Barcelona in particular as “a community of princes and aristocrats”. What happened? Well, football hadn’t been invented yet. There was no Barcelona team to go on a “peace tour”.

So the Christians decided that there was no room for Jews (and Muslims) in their country. In 1108 CE, the Christians began burning synagogues and killing Jews. The violence escalated until, in 1492, they drove everybody who was not Christian out of Spain. Of the Jewish community, nobody was left except those Jews who were converted to Christianity. But the Christians were still not happy, so they called those converts “maranos” i.e., “pigs” and invented the Inquisition to deal with them as “heretics”. As for the ones that really embraced Christianity with all their hearts, like the patron saint of Spain, St. Teresa of Avila, they invented the world’s first racial purity laws, called “Limpieza de sangre”, to make sure these converted Jews didn’t rise to prominence.

To show what nice guys we Israelis are, we welcomed the Barcelona team with Arabic songs, instead of Hebrew. This is silliness. The singer that should have greeted the Barca team is Yasmin Levy.


She sings beautifully in Ladino. Basically, Ladino is 15th century Spanish. The exiled Jews of Spain, who to this day are called “Sephardim” i.e., the “Spaniards”, still preserve the language that was spoken in Spain at the time of their exile. It’s as if there was a group of Jews today speaking Shakespearean style English, frozen in time, from the moment of their exile from the British Isles. Barca should have listened to Yasmin. That’s the music the Barcelonians should have heard. They should have been told that it would be nice if an Israeli team could visit Barcelona to get Muslim, Jewish and Christian children to play soccer with each other, but there are no Jews and Muslims in Barcelona anymore. The reason the Barcelonians could come to Israel and try to make peace between Palestinians and Israelis is because the Israelis didn’t do to the Palestinians what the Spaniards did to the Jews. It’s as simple as that.

Lately, the Spanish government has made some efforts to come to terms with its past and welcome Sephardim back to Spain. It took them over 500 years but, as they say, better late than never. It would be nice if there was a proper museum to the exiled Jews in Barcelona. Perhaps the Barca soccer club can donate money and build one. Then the Prime Minister of Israel could go there and lay a wreath. At the moment, there’s no place to commemorate the Jewish history of the city. There’s not even a cemetery. You see, not only did Spain throw out its Jews, it destroyed the cemeteries of the Jews as well. Even dead Jews couldn’t be left alone.

Nonetheless, the truth has a way of bearing silent witness to itself. In the middle of Barcelona, there is a mountain. The 1992 summer Olympics took place on it. The mountain by the sea dominates the city. To this day, it’s called “Montjuic” i.e., the “mountain of the Jews”. The mountain knows: The Jews were here and the reason that they are in Jerusalem with an army to defend themselves is because we threw them out.

About the Author
Simcha Jacobovici is a Canadian-Israeli filmmaker and journalist. He is a three-time Emmy winner for “Outstanding Investigative Journalism” and a New York Times best selling author. He’s also an adjunct professor in the Department of Religion at Huntington University, Ontario.