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Spain-Israel relations: Spain seeks to improve relations with Israel after years of diplomatic distance | Spain

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It took Spain four decades to establish relations with the State of Israel, which was created in 1948, and nearly six years to end its recent protracted diplomatic distance with the country. After this long period of frosty relations, Arancha González Laya on Wednesday will become the first Spanish foreign affairs minister to officially visit Israel since 2015.

Relations between Spain and Israel began to deteriorate in 2017 when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to take a strong stance against the Catalan separatist movement, which held an illegal referendum on independence in October of that year. Subsequent political crises in both countries, leading to a record number of consecutive elections, further complicated affairs.

But both countries now appear to want to mend ties. Diplomatic sources from Israel say that relations with Spain have improved in recent months. For example, according to these sources, Spain has adopted a more “balanced position” in the European Union, neither defending Israel’s right to expand settlements on occupied Palestinian territory at all costs nor proposing sanctions against Israel under the European Union-Israel partnership agreement.

Diplomatic sources say Israel appears to have appreciated “the different tone” in its communication with Spain

Unilateral steps like those taken by Sweden in 2014 to recognize the state of Palestine without the backing of the European Union have not been followed by Spain or other members of the EU. And it has been six years since Spain’s lower house, the Congress of Deputies, approved with near-unanimous support a non-binding proposal in favor of recognizing Palestine as an independent state, within a two-state solution.

According to these diplomatic sources, Israel appears to have appreciated “the different tone” in its communication with Spain, a veiled allusion to Spain’s recent gestures of rapprochement. Last July, Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo condemned antisemitism at the Federation of Jewish Communities in Spain, which represents around 45,000 people. The deputy prime minister also endorsed the working definition of antisemitism adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance in 2016. While concerns have been raised that the definition is being used to protect Israel from political criticism, Spain calls it a “useful tool of orientation in education” but not “legally binding,” according to an official document.

Importantly too, Spain abstained this year from a vote to condemn Israel at the United Nations Human Rights Council. In 2018, it was the only EU country to call for an international investigation into the death of 200 Palestinians at the Gaza border, who were killed by snipers from the Israeli army. When the investigation was approved by the UN Human Rights Council, Spain’s ambassador to Israel at the time, Manuel Gómez Acebo, was called to appear before the Israeli Foreign Ministry to receive a formal complaint on the issue.

González Laya’s visit to Israel marks an important step toward improving relations, but it will not be a complete visit. Unlike her predecessor, José Manuel García-Margallo, who was received by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in 2015, González Laya will be received by the president of Israel, Reuven Rivlin. On Thursday, she will travel to Palestine, where she is expected to pass on a personal message from Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Silence on Catalan independence

Diplomatic spokespersons from Israel described the Catalan breakaway attempt in 2017 as “an internal issue that must be resolved by dialogue.” Back in 2013, the then-premier of Catalonia, Artur Mas, said that Israel was “the travel companion chosen by Catalonia at a unique moment,” during a speech at Tel Aviv University.

When the Catalan government approved a unilateral declaration of independence on October 27, Spain called on Israel to express its position on the subject. But it was five days before the Israeli Foreign Affairs Ministry published an official statement. This ambivalence was further heightened when President Rivlin visited Spain. At an official dinner hosted by Spain’s King Felipe VI, Rivlin opened his speech by saying: “Spain for us is one country and the majesty of the king is a symbol of this unity.”

This timid message was in stark contrast to the statement issued by the US State Department on October 27 that said: “Catalonia is an integral part of Spain and the United States supports the measures adopted by the constitutional government of Spain to maintain a strong and united Spain.”

English version by Melissa Kitson.



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UK Pharmacists Warn Medicine Shortages Put Patients at Risk

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The issue first came to the fore in April, when shortages of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) drugs resulted in an outcry, with doctors warning that some women will resort to unorthodox methods to get the medication they need.

British pharmacists have expressed concern over medicine shortages in the UK, which they believe put patients at risk, a new poll has revealed.

A survey of 1,562 UK pharmacists for the Pharmaceutical Journal found that more than 54% of respondents said that patients had been put at risk in the last six months due to drug shortages.

The outlet cited an unnamed pharmacist from a children’s hospital in England as saying that problems pertaining to variable supply of nutritional products may pose threat to patients’ health.

“We had to ration it, and this has potentially put patients at risk of vitamin deficiencies,” the pharmacist pointed out.

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They were echoed by another hospital pharmacist, who voiced alarm about drugs being unavailable at the end of a patient’s life.

“There was no alternative for one patient who had to deal with an additional symptom in his last days of life due to lack of available treatment,” the source told the Pharmaceutical Journal.

The same tone was struck by Mike Dent, director of pharmacy funding at the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee, who said in an interview with the journal that they are “becoming increasingly concerned about medicine supply issues and the very serious impact this is having on both community pharmacy teams and their patients.”

A spokesperson for the UK Department of Health and Social Care, in turn, stressed that they “take patient safety extremely seriously, and […] routinely share information about medicine supply issues directly with the NHS [National Health Service] so they can put plans in place to reduce the risk of any shortage impacting patients, including offering alternative medication.”

“We have well-established procedures to deal with medicine shortages and work closely with industry, the NHS and others to prevent shortages and resolve any issues as soon as possible,” the spokesperson added.

The remarks followed the UK government issuing a number of “medicine supply notifications,” which highlight shortages of a whole array of key drugs, including live­-saving ones such as antibiotics, insulin and antidepressants.

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The issue first came to light at the end of April 2022, when a shortage of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) medication left some women in the UK sharing prescriptions and feeling suicidal. HRT is used to relieve most symptoms of menopause and it works by replacing hormones that are at a lower level.

According to the UK newspaper Express, drug shortages “are being caused by a shortage of raw ingredients used to manufacture medicines. These are often supplied by countries in the Far East. There are also rising costs set by pharmaceutical manufacturers and wholesalers.”



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Cannabis: Canada to spend $200 million on medical marijuana for veterans | International

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The Canadian government is on track to spend CA$200 million (around $154 million) on medical marijuana for veterans, an increase of 30% compared to 2021 and 135% compared to 2019. Since 2008, Canada’s Veteran Affairs has been reimbursing former military personnel for what they spend on medically prescribed marijuana.

Canada legalized recreational cannabis in October 2018 (the second country to make such a regulatory change after Uruguay). The government of Justin Trudeau justified the measure as a move to fight organized crime and ensure the safety of consumers. Marijuana for medicinal use, however, has been legal in Canada since 2001. The Canadian Health Ministry backed its decision on the grounds that studies show it can be beneficial for patients who suffer from problems such as anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain.

In 2008, after overcoming various legal disputes, Veteran Affairs approved a measure to reimburse war veterans for the cost of medicinal marijuana, although reimbursements were to be decided on a case-by-case basis. In 2011, the authorities simplified the procedure to make it accessible to more candidates. That year, 37 people were reimbursed for a total amount of CA$103,400 (81,000). In November 2016, the ministry modified its compensation rules, reducing the daily limit from 10 grams a day to three. The current maximum rate for refunds is $8.50 per gram.

Veteran Affairs stated that medical cannabis is “a developing area of treatment,” and it will continue to review information and “adjust the policy as necessary to guarantee the welfare of veterans and their families.” A Canadian Senate commission called for such a review in 2019, emphasizing the positive results of cannabis for therapeutic purposes, in particular as an effective substitute for highly addictive opioids against chronic pain. Senators also said that the maximum price needs to be constantly evaluated, as costs may exceed what some veterans can afford.

According to the latest data, some 18,000 ex-combatants were reimbursed for medicinal marijuana in 2021, which equated to CA$153 million ($118 million) in federal spending. While experts largely support the plan for veterans, they say it should be accompanied by psychosocial support, especially in cases of anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

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Campaigners call on UN Women to pull out of BlackRock partnership | Women’s rights and gender equality

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The UN agency responsible for promoting gender equality is being urged to pull out of a partnership with BlackRock, the world’s biggest investment fund manager, over the company’s “record of prioritising profits over human rights or environmental integrity”.

Hundreds of women’s organisations and activists have written to UN Women demanding it rescind the partnership.

The letter, sent on Tuesday to Sima Sami Bahous, UN Women’s executive director, and her two deputies, Åsa Regnér and Anita Bhatia, said the partnership “gives BlackRock a veneer of feminist approval that it clearly does not merit”.

While details of the collaboration have not been made public, BlackRock published a statement on its website in May saying it had signed “a memorandum of understanding” with the UN agency “agreeing to cooperate in promoting the growth of gender lens investing”.

BlackRock has faced pressure from environmental activists to improve its climate action policies, given its vast holdings in fossil fuel companies, and wide global reach.

The asset manager has investments in some of the world’s largest weapons sales companies, the letter said, noting that BlackRock is “consistently” ranked among the worst performers on corporate accountability by civil society watchdogs.

From left to right: Pam Chan of BlackRock, UN Women representative Anita Bhatia and Isabelle Mateos y Lago of BlackRock at Davos this year.
From left to right: Pam Chan of BlackRock, UN Women representative Anita Bhatia and Isabelle Mateos y Lago of BlackRock at Davos this year. Photograph: UN Photo

The letter, signed by almost 600 groups and individuals, said BlackRock also holds large amounts of debt in Zambia and Sri Lanka. It was among the private sector lenders that refused to delay debt interest payments to prevent Zambia’s finances from collapsing. The country has had to cut health and social care spending by a fifth in the past two years to balance its budget, cuts that have disproportionately affected women and marginalised groups.

Sanam Amin, a Bangladeshi academic and activist, said: “We want this agreement to be rescinded. This will not have a positive outcome for UN Women or the feminist organisations it is working with.”

She said BlackRock was using UN Women for bluewashing and pinkwashing purposes, and that it was “a fantasy” to imagine that “gender-impact investment can keep investment bankers rich and also save the world”.

“This is an illusion and relies on the labour and resources of marginalised communities in a gendered fashion, in the global south and across global supply chains.”

This is not the first time UN Women has been criticised for partnering with the private sector. In 2015, after pressure from women’s groups, the organisation backed out of a deal with Uber to encourage 1 million women to sign up as drivers.

Emilia Reyes, a feminist activist, said a lack of money was driving the UN into partnerships with the private sector. “We are calling for member states to fulfil their commitments on funding for UN departments as a whole,” she said. “In the search for extra funding, [UN bodies] are undermining their mandate and pushing conflicts of interest inside the UN.”

A spokesperson for UN Women said it “understands the concerns of its civil society partners”, which “merit consideration”. They said the partnership had been “put on hold”.

BlackRock said the money it managed belonged to its clients, many of whom made their own investment decisions. It added: “We highly value UN Women’s leadership in advancing women’s empowerment around the world and respect their decision to put the agreement on hold while they review their strategy for private sector partnerships.”

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