Almost 50 days after the Hamas massacres in southern Israel that killed 1,200 people - mostly civilians - Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez visited Israel together with a Belgian counterpart, Alexander De Croo. What was expected to be a visit aimed at expressing solidarity with the Jewish state at one of the hardest moments in its history, turned into a trip with two objectives: to win the easy applause of the Spanish far left and to position Spain against Israel.
Before Sánchez, many other international leaders such as Joe Biden, Emmanuel Macron or Olaf Scholz had visited Israel and expressed their concern about the grave humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the civilian casualties while condemning Hamas' brutal attack.
What none of them had done was to advocate as vehemently as Sánchez for recognition of a Palestinian state just after 7 October, when rescue teams in southern Israel are still trying to identify victims of the terrorist massacres. It was neither the right time nor the right place to defend his position.
In addition to his harsh tone against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu - to whom Sánchez even gave lessons on how to deal with terrorism by mentioning ETA, despite the fact that he himself has Bildu's support for his government - what has most annoyed Israel about the Spanish president's visit was his press conference with De Croo at Rafah, the same point where the first 13 Israeli hostages returned by Hamas under the ceasefire agreement crossed shortly afterwards.
He trasladado al primer ministro @netanyahu que Israel tiene derecho a la autodefensa, pero debe respetar el derecho internacional y el derecho humanitario.— Pedro Sánchez (@sanchezcastejon) November 23, 2023
Es urgente detener la catástrofe humanitaria en Gaza.
Debemos celebrar cuanto antes una conferencia internacional de paz… pic.twitter.com/fbxasQumbB
From there, Sánchez reiterated his position on the conflict, urging the EU to take "a decision on the recognition of the Palestinian state". The Spanish president also assured that, in the event that Brussels does not follow this path, "Spain will make its own decisions".
Hours after Sánchez's controversial statements, 13 Israelis - women and children - and a group of Thais crossed the Rafah crossing in International Red Cross vans after 48 days kidnapped by Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza. In recent days more groups of Israelis and foreigners have been released, but hundreds of hostages remain, including several children, including 10-month-old Kfir Bibas.
"Shame" and "disgust" are some of the terms used by some Israeli journalists to comment on this controversial press conference. "Spain and Belgium had nothing to do with the deal and are using this human tragedy as a backdrop for their political gain as if it were some kind of sick theatre. Shame on them," wrote Channel 12 reporter Elad Simchayoff.
This is disgraceful beyond comprehension.— Elad Simchayoff (@Elad_Si) November 24, 2023
I can’t believe what is happening here.
Moments before 13 children and mothers are due to arrive there after 49 days in captivity, the prime ministers of Spain and Belgium are holding a press conference at the Rafah Crossing in Egypt.… pic.twitter.com/3IGmFMELsw
"7 October is ignored and Gaza is presented as the sole and exclusive victim," said Ben Yaniv of the public media outlet Kan. Regarding his meeting with Netanyahu, many in Israel have questioned why the Israeli leader let him finish his speech.
The visit ended with a diplomatic crisis between Spain and Israel, which accused Madrid of "supporting terrorism". As expected, the Spanish government denied these accusations, calling them "false and unacceptable". As the rift between Madrid and Jerusalem deepens with the summoning of the respective ambassadors, Hamas has stoked this crisis by thanking Sánchez for his "clear and bold stance" on the current war.
"We will not forget who is with us at this moment," Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen stressed after Hamas' message to Sánchez.
The terror organization Hamas's congratulations to the prime ministers of Spain and Belgium are shameful and disgraceful.— אלי כהן | Eli Cohen (@elicoh1) November 25, 2023
We will not forget who stands with us in these times and who supports a murderous terrorist organization that holds over 200 hostages. https://t.co/n5wNsgJTy2
Europe's 'most anti-Israeli' government
The truth is that this trip seemed doomed to failure before Sánchez set foot on Israeli soil. Days before the official visit, the appointment of Sira Rego as minister for youth and children was announced, who some media in Israel have described as a 'Hamas supporter'. Rego not only failed to condemn the terrorist group's attack, but even voted against a resolution in the European Parliament repudiating the 7 October massacres. And Rego is not the only member of the current Sánchez government who voted against that resolution. Ernest Urtasun, the current head of culture, did not do so either.
The minister's appointment has not gone unnoticed in Israel. Shortly after being sworn in, a tweet of hers from 7 October began to circulate in which the minister - who has family in the West Bank - stressed that "Palestine has the right to resist". The controversial tweet was written before Israel responded militarily to the Hamas attack.
Meet Sira Rego, Spain's new Minister of Youth and Children.— UN Watch (@UNWatch) November 26, 2023
On October 7th, while Hamas terrorists were murdering and raping Israeli youths at a music festival, massacring families and targeting children, she legitimized it, stating that Hamas had “a right to resist.” pic.twitter.com/diLSqaTD0T
Israeli media agree that the new Spanish government is not only the most pro-Palestinian government in Europe, but also the most anti-Israeli. In this regard, the popular news website Ynet also reported on a meeting on 10 October, just three days after the massacre, between Rego and the Palestinian ambassador to Spain, to whom he expressed his full support.
"It is still unclear how a politician with zero sensitivity to atrocities against Israel, with social networks full of anti-Israeli content and even support for Hamas, is appointed to a post dealing with young people and children. Rego was one of 21 of the 705 members of the European Parliament who refused to condemn the massacre," noted Israeli journalist Itamar Eichner of Yedioth Ahronot newspaper.
We are deeply concerned about the appointment of @sirarego as the Minister of Youth by the Spanish PM @sanchezcastejon.— European Jewish Congress (@eurojewcong) November 23, 2023
On October 7th, she reacted to Hamas massacre by writing that Palestinians: “have the right to resistance.”
Justifying the actions of Hamas, a designated… pic.twitter.com/r7X0dJgH4q
Sumar's own vice-president and leader, Yolanda Díaz, has also recently met with the Palestinian ambassador to Spain, as well as the Arab League ambassador "to show Spanish solidarity with the Palestinian people". Díaz has yet to meet with the Israeli ambassador to Spain to show her "solidarity" with the Israeli people over the worst massacre of the Jewish people since the Holocaust.
Hoy me he reunido con los embajadores palestino, libanesa y de la Liga Árabe para mostrar la solidaridad de los españoles y españolas con el pueblo palestino.— Yolanda Díaz (@Yolanda_Diaz_) November 28, 2023
Tenemos que estar a la altura. La causa palestina es la causa de la humanidad. pic.twitter.com/tfxAtMR4Jp
Sánchez positions himself on the wrong side of history
A day after Sánchez's remarks, two men were brutally lynched and subsequently hanged from a lamppost in the West Bank Palestinian town of Tulkarm for allegedly collaborating with Israel.
This coincided with the release of the first 39 Palestinian prisoners and minors, some of them arrested on terrorism-related charges, who were welcomed in the West Bank with Palestinian and Hamas flags, an organisation that is increasingly gaining popularity in the area to the detriment of Fatah, its political rival and which it expelled from the Gaza Strip - hundreds of its members were killed - after winning the 2006 elections.
Tenemos que reemplazar la violencia por la esperanza.— Pedro Sánchez (@sanchezcastejon) November 24, 2023
No podemos permitirnos, sobre todo los israelíes y los palestinos, seguir viviendo bajo la amenaza constante del conflicto.
Ha llegado el momento de romper definitivamente este interminable ciclo de violencia que condena a… pic.twitter.com/sMWEwco68g
During his trip to Israel, Sánchez also took the opportunity to travel to Ramallah, the administrative seat of the West Bank, where he met with Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority and Fatah. Obviously, the tone of his conversation with Abbas, who has not called elections for 16 years, was very different from his meeting with Netanyahu.
Sánchez does not demand good leaders who will improve the situation of the Palestinians. On the contrary, he advocates recognising corrupt and undemocratic authorities that do not care about their citizens or even, as we have seen in Gaza, use them as human shields.
This is a battle for civilization. It has to be won. We will win it, because we have no other choice. We don't have a future if we don't. Hamas has already said, 'We'll do it again and again and again.' So we'll have to eradicate them. pic.twitter.com/GdZnB7i24z— Prime Minister of Israel (@IsraeliPM) November 23, 2023
The Spanish Prime Minister has positioned himself in a war that, unfortunately, goes beyond Israel and Gaza. Opposing Israel and its allies - led by the United States - is the so-called 'Axis of Resistance', formed by Hamas and other groups led by the Islamic Republic of Iran such as Hezbollah and Yemen's Houthis, two militias that regularly launch attacks against Israeli territory. These organisations are not only enemies of Israel, but of the entire free and Western world. In fact, both Hamas and Hezbollah are listed as terrorist groups by the European Union and the United States.
On 7 October, Hamas fighters murdered and kidnapped anyone who crossed their path, regardless of where they came from or their religion. This is a war for civilisation and it seems that Sánchez has not been able to position himself clearly on the right side of history.