“It is wonderful Israel can be a source of inspiration for Catalonia’”, Alon Bar, Ambassador (Israel)

4.10.2012

Source: Nació Digital

First Posted: 20.05.2012

Author: Q.S.

Interview with Israel Ambassador to Andorra and Spain, Alon Bar

Alon Bar (Sasa Kibbutz, 1958). An extremely affable person, who has a shrewd, delicate and restrained way of answering. In fact, this is a required skill for somebody who has to serve as Israel’s ambassador to Spain and Andorra. He has a very busy life and declares that Israel is a land of opportunity for Catalan businesses and citizens. He is flattered by the idea that Catalan self-government mirrors the creation of Israel and reminds us that “Movements towards independence are best done negotiating with the neighbours.” He promises to promote the creation of an Israel consulate in Barcelona. According to Bar’s generous and honest smile there are many, many business to be done.

- Welcome to Barcelona … again

- I’ve been ambassador for nine months, during that period I have come almost every month. I love Barcelona, I love it a lot. We also collaborate with the Generalitat de Catalunya and Barcelona City Council, which justies my frequent visits.

- You like the city, an so do your countrymen; 300,000 Israelis visit Barcelona every year for 40,000 who visit Madrid … Do they know us well?

-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.

- You say your relations with the Government and the City Council are good; can you be more specific, what are those 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: ICT, renewable energy, water treatment, innovation … many things. As a matter of fact, an Israeli artist is about to perform at the Festival Grec for the first time.

- Let’s hope this relationship provides us with something in return; you have a 5% unemployment, ours is four times this figure.
 
- Innovation has been very important. Fifty-seven multinationals, including Apple and Google have centres in Israel, and we invest more capital in new developments that China, Japan and the European countries put together. We are a “start-up nation”, as it is defined in the book by Peter Singer, one of the gurus of innovation. Its Catalan version will be, by the way, presented by President Mas. Living together in Israel is not easy, but we have a lot of will, a lot of momentum, and this is important for the economy.
 
- Is Catalonia a “start-up nation”?
 
- I like the idea; we have a brotherhood we must promote. We have similarities but also differences, and we can be partners as well as mutual customers. We are working on that. For instance, I’m now in Barcelona to have a meeting with PIMEC. You have got enough momentum, much more than other parts of Spain.
 
Do you know the Spanish call us Catalans “Jews”?
 
- Yes, I do know it! A few days ago I visited the Catalan-Israeli week in Sabadell, and they recalled me so. It’s a compliment. I’m aware in Spain references to the Jews don’t have to be necessarily flattering. It is true, we share national characteristics. I’m sure you will come out of crisis thanks to your effort.

- When shall we have a consulate in Barcelona?

- I cannot give you a date, but you can trust my personal commitment to do my best to create it. Because it makes sense and it is justified.

- Your image of Catalonia may be that of a nation too biased for the Palestinian cause …

- Look, every negative incident appears on the news. There is an almost obsessive way of looking at Israel only from the angle of its conflict with Palestine, which I admit is important in our lives. Nowadays, having a coalition government, we hope to be able to open a negotiation and approach process. I think the almost exclusive focusing on the conflict by the media has not contributed to clearly explain both societies. The narrow vision angle of the conflict does not help understanding a society like Israel or the analysis of the relationship between Israel and Palestine. Israel has to become better known, which would in turn clarify relevant details to the Catalan society. This is one of the goals of my office.

Ambassador, there are many people here in Catalonia , including political scientists, who set the Israeli struggle for self-government as an example. How do you assess that? Bearing in mind that even the Government considers the possibility of an immediate confrontation between Catalonia and Spain.

- I think it is wonderful Israel can be a source of inspiration for Catalonia. The way the request for greater autonomy or independence is resolved is a matter between Catalonia and Spain. We do not have enough information about what is going on. But we would be delighted to collaborate with Catalonia whatever its relationship to Spain; either autonomy or state. But we won’t interfere in the tensions between the Generalitat and the Spanish government, with whom we also have good relationships.

-But if an independence referendum was held, and the victory was for ‘Yes’, what would Israel do?

- I love that mirroring you in Israel! There are positive aspects in the creation process of our state. Israel became a reality fulfilling a mandate of the United Nations: an Arab state and a Jewish state. The Arabs did not accept it, and after the departure of the British we set up a state. That’s why I recommend creating a state in accordance with its neighbours and its environment. I recommend you to build a new state by negotiating with everybody. This has not been our case. I recommend you to arrive to independence by means of negotiation with all your neighbours. We have been trying to achieve that since our state was born, to be able to live in peace with our neighbours.

- Have you visited a Jewish quarter in Catalonia?

All but the Call in Girona. Jewish presence in Catalonia has had both sad and glorious moments, but this common history should renew our interest.

- How about Barça?

I’ve watched several matches here, Israel loves Barça. I must be careful with what I say because I live very close to the Bernabeu (smiles), but I have to admit it was almost a national mourning day when Guardiola said he was leaving Barça.

- What’s your favorite part of Barcelona?

- Do I have to choose? I like everything! By the way, come to Israel, it is worth it.

- Thank you very much!

- My pleasure.

(Translation: JSG)

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