The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement is being defeated and in perhaps the most surprising of nations – Spain. A country that topped the Anti-Defamation League’s 2015 anti-Semitism index in Western Europe, and the very place where a Catalan lawmaker demanded the head of Barcelona’s Jewish community be removed from the local government’s parliament for being “a foreign agent,” Spain has long been considered a BDS foothold.
That is, until about 15 months ago when Ignacio Wenley Palacios Iglesias came onto the scene. A Jesuit lawyer specializing in nautical law, Mr. Iglesias first became involved by happenstance. Iglesias’s daughter was attending the Rototom Sun-Splash Music Festival, infamous for its initial banning of Jewish American singer/ songwriter Matisyahu in 2015. Matisyahu was asked to denounce Israel before being allowed to take part in the Festival, a demand not extended to any of the other artists performing. Matisyahu adamantly refused. After massive international outcry, Matisyahu did perform, amongst a hostile crowd.
This event was given great attention at the time, and raised questions globally about the motives of BDS operatives and their deep entrenchment in the Spanish political system. For Iglesias, it was the catalyst which involved him in the fight against BDS.
Speaking to the Brandeis Center, Mr. Iglesias adamantly declared that he believes all boycotts of this nature to be unconstitutional. An expert in the Spanish constitution, Iglesias argues that such boycotts as have been imposed by state houses, city councils and universities around the country contradict the need for public offices to stay neutral and breach the civil liberties of various citizens, Jewish or not.
Supported by the The Lawfare Project’s legal fund as well as by ACOM in Spain, Iglesias has been fighting back through the very structures which first allowed this to take place, emphasizing and correcting the contradictions of the BDS through the court. At the time of our interview, Iglesias had spearheaded more than 40 legal rulings, injunctions and opinions against the Boycott Israel movements in Spain.
By fast tracking proceedings for the protection of civil liberties, Iglesias and his colleagues have won more than eight cases in which BDS has been declared illegal, three reversed judgements against previous BDS victories, and 11 injunctions against BDS whilst proceedings continue, something Iglesias categorizes as unprecedented.
This strategy, using the courts to uphold the law and constitution, has been widely successful across Spain, leading to the reimbursement of $107,000 to the Israeli University of Ariel, which had been boycotted by certain Spanish tertiary level institutions. Iglesias’s strategy has also led to a statement made by Spain’s Ministerio Fiscal (the Attorney General), who declared that the anti-Israel boycott of Gijon violates “the constitution as well as the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights.”
Certainly, the past week saw another of these victories,: the city of Santa Eulalia nullified the pro-BDS position it had taken up only moths before.
Iglesias is confident that this common sense approach, which underscores the illegality of BDS, and will and must work across Europe and the globe.