Today, Spanish police beat up and injured 844 people trying to vote. After 300 years of conquest by the Spanish, including the Franco dictatorship which outlawed their language, some Catalans want independence. Other Catalans don’t want independence or are unsure. The only thing almost all of them agree on is their right to vote in peace- over 80% want the chance to vote regardless of their views.
As a Jew, and as an Israeli, I support the right of the Catalan people to decide their future.
As someone who grew up as a minority in the U.S., I experienced many of the slurs, the exclusion, and ignorance that Catalans face in Spain. When I was in Spain, my hosts in Madrid would sing to me: “Puta Barça, puta Cataluña, no son españoles, son hijos de puta”. It’s something akin to “F*cking Barcelona, f*ucking Catalonia, they aren’t Spaniards, they’re sons of b*tches”. In fact, interestingly, a lot of Spaniards refer to Catalans as Jews- and not in a good way.
I can’t help but think back to the time of the Inquisition, when the Spanish state decided to expel, murder, and forcibly convert my people (and Muslims) simply because we were different. What has Spain learned since then? After expelling my people, conquering the Catalans, and pillaging the Americas- has Spain really learned to live with diversity? Perhaps it is the Catalans’ insistence on speaking their language and preserving their traditions that so irks a Spanish state so insistent on conformity. It’s that same insistence on preserving our heritage that often lands Jews in the cross hairs of hatred.
And then I view this conflict differently now as an Israeli. Since making aliyah and moving to Tel Aviv in July (incidentally the 4th, which I made my own “independence day”), I have realized my dream of empowerment. This is a country where I’m not tolerated as a minority- it’s a country where my customs, my language, and my culture are the norm. Where they’re safe. Where I feel at home. Never have I felt this more than during the recent Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur holidays. Everyone’s greeting each other, everything shuts down. Rather than being limited to a synagogue or a few foods on the shelf of a grocery store, my Judaism is everywhere. It’s a unique feeling. It’s great to talk about minority empowerment- but majority groups tend to get weak-kneed when it comes time for the minority to take control of their destiny.
Which brings us to Catalonia. I was talking to a Catalan friend before making aliyah. I also happen to speak Catalan thanks to a program at my university and my insatiable curiosity for cultures and languages. The picture for this blog is from a trip I took in college to do research in Barcelona, one of my favorite cities. We were talking a few months ago about the independence referendum and he said “serà un bon moment, però al final, no passarà res” – it’ll be a good moment, but in the end, nothing will happen. I told him to look at the example of Israel, where our national anthem is “The Hope”. A state reconstituted after 2,000 years of persecution. That miracles do happen. And not to give up. I told him I thought independence was possible, and he said he hoped I was right.
I think I am right. Catalonia will become an independent state. The brutal police response to a peaceful attempt to vote today surely botched any attempt of Spain to pursue an alternate route. My hope is that the Catalan independence process is peaceful on all sides and brings about a new chapter in the history of the region.
The fight is not over and I’m not convinced the violence is either. Yet I pray that the outcome will bring Catalans the sense of validation and warmth that I felt when I walked down the streets of Tel Aviv last week and heard “shanah tovah” – have a good year. May it be a good year for Catalonia, and all humanity, too.