At first glance, it's an unlikely duo.
José Maria Aznar, Spain's prime minister from 1996 to 2004, hails from the political right.
Pilar Rahola, a Barcelona-based journalist and former parliamentarian, is a left-wing activist.
But Aznar and Rahola share at least one important passion -- defending Israel.
They both stand up fearlessly to Israel's critics, especially the hypocrites whose human-rights outrage is awakened only if Israel is believed to be in the mix, but otherwise are in a deep sleep.
Such champions are all-too-rare in Europe these days.
The political, economic, or psychic payoff for supporting, or at least appeasing, Israel's enemies seems so much more lucrative.
Here's Aznar writing recently in The Times of London:
To defend Israel's right to exist in peace, within secure borders, requires a degree of moral and strategic clarity that too often seems to have disappeared in Europe. The United States shows worrying signs of heading in the same direction.
For Western countries to side with those who question Israel's legitimacy, for them to play games in international bodies with Israel's vital security issues, for them to appease those who oppose Western values rather than robustly stand up in defense of those values, is not only a grave moral mistake, but a strategic error of the first magnitude.
Israel is a fundamental part of the West. The West is what it is thanks to its Judeo-Christian roots. If the Jewish element of those roots is upturned and Israel is lost, then we are lost, too. Whether we like it or not, our fate is inextricably linked.
And here's Rahola in English, thanks to the website Portal of Ideas:
Why don't we see demonstrations against Islamic dictatorships in London, Paris, Barcelona? Or demonstrations against the Burmese dictatorship? Why aren't there demonstrations against the enslavement of millions of women who live without any legal protection? Why aren't there demonstrations against the use of children as human bombs where there is conflict with Islam?
Why is the left in Europe and around the world obsessed with the two most solid democracies, the United States and Israel, and not with the worst dictatorships on the planet? The two most solid democracies, who have suffered the bloodiest attacks of terrorism, and the left doesn't care.... For example, one of the leftist parties in Spain has just expelled one of its members for creating a pro-Israel website. I quote from the expulsion document: "Our friends are the people of Iran, Libya and Venezuela, oppressed by imperialism, and not a Nazi state like Israel."
I am not Jewish. Ideologically, I am left and by profession a journalist. Why am I not as anti-Israel as my colleagues? Because, as a non-Jew, I have the historical responsibility to fight against Jewish hatred and currently against the hatred for their historic homeland, Israel. To fight against anti-Semitism is not the duty of Jews; it is the duty of non-Jews.... As a non-Jew, journalist and lefty, I have a triple moral duty with Israel, because if Israel is destroyed, liberty, modernity and culture will be destroyed, too.
What's particularly striking is that, though relentlessly pilloried by their adversaries, Aznar and Rahola have remained steadfast over the years.
When Aznar took the reins of power in 1996, no one would have described Spain as close to Israel. In fact, fearful of jeopardizing its extensive commercial ties with the Arab world, Spain only established full diplomatic links with Jerusalem in 1986. Together with his intrepid foreign minister, Ana Palacio, Aznar moved closer to Israel. That policy shift was on display in our many get-togethers with him and in his remarks, in Washington, at the 2003 AJC Annual Meeting.
To be sure, there was no domestic political mileage for Aznar in this new posture. Zero. It wasn't going to score him any points with the electorate. And there certainly was no major political "lobby" in the country urging him on. Rather, he did it for a reason that the "realists" can never quite fathom - he believed it was the right thing to do.
The same with Rahola. I first encountered her in 2002, when she was unknown in the United States. I read an interview with her in French on the Proche-Orient website. I was bowled over by her unflinching words. AJC translated her comments into English and distributed them widely, introducing Rahola to an American audience for the first time. Later, we brought her to the U.S. on several occasions, including, in 2009, to receive our Media Award.
Here's a taste of that 2002 interview:
First of all, I do not accept the use of defense of the Palestinian cause as a pretext for a new epidemic of anti-Semitism. If Europe had had a critical discussion that did not hesitate to condemn the grave and permanent mistakes of the Palestinian side, if Europe had been more critical of the Palestinians, we would be closer to a solution today. But Arafat enjoys support and legitimacy in Europe, which allows him never to miss an opportunity for missing the opportunity of peace... A sense of justice calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state next to the State of Israel, but not in its place. Yet, at its core, Europe is ill at ease with the existence of Israel, and one can even say that the existence of this state provokes resentment and anger on the European left.
Aznar and Rahola say things which desperately need expression. In doing so, they cut straight through the moral fog that has enveloped too many, preventing them, at great cost, from grasping compelling truths in today's topsy-turvy world.
Importantly, they also vividly remind us why Israel is a cause to unite the right and left in democratic societies.
Bravo to Aznar and Rahola! Long may their voices in defense of Israel -- and shared democratic values -- be heard!