Madrid, Spain – In an interview with Al Jazeera, a Spanish minister has called on the international community to sanction Israel, which she accused of a “planned genocide” of Palestinians in Gaza.
Ione Belarra, the Spanish minister for social rights and leader of the far-left Podemos party, also condemned world leaders for an apparent double standard – saying while human rights abuses in Ukraine have been decried, there is a “deafening silence” on the victims of Israeli bombardment.
“The Israeli state must end this planned genocide against the Palestine people,” Belarra said on Wednesday.
“Why can we give lessons in human rights in other conflicts and not here when the world is watching in horror? The deaths of thousands of children, the mothers desperately shouting because they are witnessing the killing of their children.
“There is a deafening silence of so many countries and so many political leaders who could do something. I speak about what I know well, which is the European Union. It seems the display of hypocrisy which the European Commission is showing is unacceptable.”
Spain and other nations should break off diplomatic relations with Israel in protest of its assault on Gaza, she insisted.
On October 7, the Palestinian group Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, carried out an unprecedented attack in Israel, killing more than 1,000 Israelis and taking hundreds captive.
With the stated aim to crush Hamas, Israel began bombarding Gaza, one of the world’s most densely populated areas, killing more than 10,000 people, including many children.
Spain’s citizens have been caught on both sides of the crisis.
El Pais newspaper, citing diplomatic sources, has reported that the Spanish citizen Ivan Illarramendi, who was kidnapped by Hamas on October 7, has died. He was living in a kibbutz.
Spain is also among the Western nations trying to evacuate some of its citizens from Gaza.
Europe ‘losing opportunity’ to take action
Soon after the Russian invasion of Ukraine began in February last year, the European Union was quick to sanction Russian President Vladimir Putin and his aides.
Belarra suggested the EU mirror its “fast action” in the case of against Israel.
“They reacted [over the Ukraine war].
“We are losing the opportunity. At the moment, we could do lots of things,” she said, including economic sanctions on Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who she described as a “war criminal”, and his political circle.
The politicians responsible for “pushing the button” should be brought before the International Criminal Court and tried for approving bombing campaigns that target civilian populations – “a flagrant breach of human rights”, she said.
“I am demanding my country and other countries break diplomatic relations with Israel. I think this would send the right political message which is we don’t want to have anything to do with this war criminal like this leader,” she said.
“We have to act and we have to be more firm despite the fact [that Israel] is very powerful and has powerful friends.”
Belarra’s party, Podemos, is the junior partner in Spain’s acting left-wing coalition government, which is led by the Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.
Spain has demanded the release of more than 200 hostages taken during the Hamas attack and called for a truce. It is also calling for humanitarian aid to be delivered to Gaza, where food has become scare and health and water services are on the brink of collapse.
José Manuel Albares, the Spanish foreign minister, told Spanish television RTVE on Wednesday that Madrid will double aid for the civilian population of Gaza to $43m.
‘More dignified position’
The war has polarised political parties across Europe, and seen thousands of protesters take to the streets across the continent to demand a ceasefire.
A series of pro-Palestinian marches have taken place in Madrid, Barcelona, and other Spanish cities in recent weeks without any official restrictions.
Spain has a large Muslim population of about two million people, according to government statistics. About 50,000 Jewish people also live in the country.
Spain’s stance over public activism about the Israel-Hamas war has differed from neighbouring France, which has banned pro-Palestinian marches. Germany and the United Kingdom have also cracked down on pro-Palestinian activism.
Belarra condemned European governments, without naming them, for “criminalising” the pro-Palestinian movement.
“The [Spanish] government is maintaining a more dignified position than other countries of the European community, which are criminalising the pro-Palestinian movement, banning demonstrations. What I want is that Spain does more, that Spain does all it can,” she said.
Ignacio Molina, a foreign policy expert at the Autonomous University of Madrid, said Spain is somewhat of an outlier in Europe for its position on Palestine, but stressed that Belarra’s views differ from the government, whose line has been more balanced.
“Spain has a good relationship with Israel, but like Ireland and some other European countries, it is among the more sympathetic towards the Palestinian cause,” he told Al Jazeera.
“Spain only started diplomatic relations with Israel in 1986, but it has made sympathetic gestures towards Israel, like offering Spanish citizenship to Sephardic Jews.”
In 2015, the Spanish government announced Sephardic Jews, who were expelled from Spain in 1492, were to be offered citizenship as a way of atoning for the expulsion by Catholic monarchs.
On Tuesday, Spain honoured United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who has been criticised by Israel over his remarks that the Hamas attacks “did not happen in a vacuum”.