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Barcelona Controversy Flares over Comparison of Fence to Holocaust

June 2, 2005
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Educational authorities in Spain have promised to review a high-school teacher’s manual that claims Israel’s West Bank security fence bears “many similarities to the Nazi genocide.” But Marina Subirats, director of the Barcelona Municipal Institute of Education, or IMEB, avoided any explicit apology for the comparison, nor did she commit herself to any specific changes in the text.

“The only intention of this book was to render homage to the victims of the Holocaust and Nazism, and to preserve the historical memory of these events,” she said in a statement.

The text of the manual written by two professors at the Autonomous University of Barcelona has drawn fierce criticism from Israel, local politicians and columnists.

Subirats said the book was meant to give educators instruments to teach “a reality which until know has been rather unknown” — the incarceration of Republican prisoners from the 1936-1939 Spanish Civil War in Nazi concentration camps.

As for the security-fence analogy, she said, “This obviously relates to the authors’ own opinion. It is not the criteria of the IMEB in such cases to exercise censorship.”

However, Subirats said she would “reopen the text to incorporate enriching contributions.”

In its current form, the manual reads, “Of all the problems in the world at this moment, there are two which bear many resemblances to the Nazi genocide, with the ghettos created by the Nazis to isolate Jews from other people and with the humiliations and indignities received by the Spanish Republicans and Catalonians and the rest of the prisoners in the concentration camps.

“These are the construction of the ‘wall of shame’ in Palestine, and the detention of the Taliban prisoners at the military base that the United States has on the island of Cuba, at Guantanamo,” the text says.

The manual is entitled “Republicans in the Nazi Concentration Camps,” which refers to the Spaniards, including many from the region of Catalonia, who were sent to Nazi camps by Gen. Francisco Franco after his victory in the Spanish Civil War.

Subirats notes that the distribution of the teachers manual has been halted. She said that was because of the recent revelation that Enric Marco, former longtime president of l’Amical Mathausen — the local association of victims of the Nazi camp Mauthausen — in fact was never imprisoned there.

“The municipality, in conjunction with the authors, will now proceed to review anew the entirety of the text before its distribution,” the statement said.

One key critic of the manual has been Victor Harel, Israel’s ambassador to Spain.

In a recent appearance at an Israeli friendship club in Seville, he called the security fence comparison “repugnant.” Harel also wrote a letter to Barcelona Mayor Joan Clos on the eve of a visit to Israel by a high-powered delegation from Catalonia led by the region’s president, Pasqual Maragall.

However, the campaign against the manual was drowned out by another controversy, precisely over the Catalonian delegation’s visit.

The politicians went to Israel to promote a Euro-Mediterranean Summit scheduled to be held in Barcelona in November. But they ended up stirring up a fight back home in Spain.

Catalonia was given the right to speak its own language and fly its own flag after Franco’s dictatorship. But the Esquerra Republicana Party, led by delegation member Josep Lluis Carod Rovira, advocates virtual independence from Spain.

When the delegation went to lay a wreath at the Tel Aviv memorial for late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Carod Rovira stormed away in disgust because only the Spanish flag was on the wreath, not the Catalonian flag.

Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos called Carod Rovira’s action “disgusting.”

A day later, at another wreath-laying ceremony at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, there was no flag whatsoever, which enraged Spanish leaders back home.

But things really blew up in Spain when the delegation visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem’s Old City. At a nearby souvenir stand, Carod Rovira laughed as he tried on a crown of thorns like the one Jesus wore before the crucifixion.

A photo of Carod Rovira with the crown was splashed on the front pages of Spanish newspapers. Catholics and conservatives were outraged.

“He wouldn’t mind crucifying Spain,” wrote Cayetana Alvarez de Toledo, a columnist for El Mundo newspaper.

A letter to the editor in the right-wing ABC daily accused the Catalonian politicians of “using the Jewish people — who are humiliated in their teaching manuals — to win publicity.”

The Spanish bishops conference put out a statement saying that Maragall and Carod Rovira “have angered many believers and non-believers in Spain and in the whole world.”

Maragall apologized for the photo after the delegation’s return. But he insisted that the overall result of the trip had been positive.

While in Israel, Maragall was asked by Israeli President Moshe Katsav to take up the matter of the Barcelona teaching manual.

After the meeting, he said he agreed that the comparison was unacceptable and ordered Barcelona’s mayor to review the manual. He was quoted by the Spanish news agency EFE as saying that the security fence was “a barbarity infinitely inferior” to the Holocaust.

As for Carod Rovira, who is portrayed in the Catalonian press as being pro-Israeli, his position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict isn’t in line with his party.

While Carod Rovira was in Israel, an Esquerra Republicana deputy introduced a parliamentary motion on behalf of the party, calling for a European economic boycott of Israel.

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