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October 1, 2017 8:23 pm

Catalonia Independence Activist: Jewish Community Split Over Secession Vote

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein


A demonstration in Bilbao, Basque Country in solidarity with the Catalan independence referendum, September 16th, 2017. Photo: Wikipedia.

The Jewish community in Catalonia is “heavily split” on the question of possible independence for the region of northeast Spain, a local activist asserted, as the vote on secession and police attempts to stop it continued on Sunday.

Speaking from a polling station in Catalonia, Borja Vilallonga, an Orthodox Jew who is the editor of the prominent weekly magazine El Temps and an independence activist, said that the Catalan Jewish community, which numbers some 4-5,000 people, is bitterly divided on the issue. He described the split as “acute and painful” and noted that it appears to be taking place along denominational lines.

“You have on the one side the more liberal Jews—also most converts—who support independence. They have a movement called Jews for Independence. They have been very vocal since the very beginning of the secession movement,” Vilallonga told The Algemeiner.

“Then you have a new collective that appeared a month ago,” he continued. “They call themselves Jews of Catalonia. They are more traditional and conservative and they heavily denounce separatism as something going against halacha (Jewish law). They consider that the referendum is going against the law of the land and the halacha defends the law of the land, so going against the law of the land is going against halacha.”

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“Basically,” he concluded, “we’re split.”

Vilallonga, while himself Orthodox, is nonetheless a strong supporter of independence. “I’m separatist,” he said, “I’ve been a long time separatist. I’ve been politically involved from the very beginning of its foundation. My magazine has a deeply separatist editorial line. So I stand for this, but I’m also not a liberal. I’m a halachic conservative and I take this very seriously. So I was very shocked to see that there was a group of Jews in Barcelona arguing against secession on these grounds, which could be easily challenged. …You have Soloveichik writing about the right of revolution and halacha. So this is basically my stance.”

Asked whether the secessionist movement has a positive or negative view of Israel, Vilallonga answered with a fascinating history lesson. Noting that the liberal Jews in favor of independence are “heavily Zionist,” he pointed out that Catalan nationalism itself has “Zionistic roots. The movement emerged as the Jewish state was created in ’48, so the Catalan nationalism in the ’50s was modeled on the Israeli experiment.”

This affection for Zionism, he said, remains “despite the fact that the left-leaning group of separatists are pro-Palestinian, and they don’t really appreciate any kind of Zionistic leanings. So you have these two poles, extremely contradictory, but very present. I see a big line in front of me of people waiting to vote, they could have very opposed feelings about whether they are siding with the Zionists or if they are siding with the Palestinians. It depends on the generation, it depends on the ideology, it’s difficult.”

Nonetheless, he asserted, “Zionism is very powerful in Catalan nationalism, historically and in the present.”

The vote itself is currently not going well, Vilallonga noted, because “there’s been a lot of violence on the part of the police.” At his polling station, he said, the servers have gone down and activists have been using a hot spot on his cell phone and a VPN (Virtual Private Network) through Canada in order to continue.

“The oppression has been bloody. It has been merciless,” he said of the Spanish authorities’ attempt to block the vote. “They have been beating old people. They have been beating children. It’s nonsensical. …I think at this point it’s extremely open, you don’t know what’s going to happen. …The next few days are going to be critical.”

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