(JTA) — Seeing armed police in riot gear outside a school in Barcelona, the Israeli lawmaker Ksenia Svetlova felt the instincts kick in from her days as a Middle East reporter for Russian-language media.
“One look was enough to see these officers were preparing for something bad,” said Svetlova, a Zionist Union lawmaker who was in the Catalan capital Sunday at the invitation of the local government as part of a team of international observers monitoring voting in a controversial referendum on independence.
Svetlova, who immigrated to Israel from her native Moscow in 1991 when she was 14, was on her way to the relative safety of a dark doorway when police shot rubber bullets into the crowd of people who had gathered to vote at the school on Sunday afternoon.
“What I saw was shocking,” she recalled in an interview Monday with JTA about one of the many confrontations that occurred Sunday across Catalonia between voters and police.
But by “beating old women at polling stations, it seems to me the Spanish government not only risked eroding democratic principles, but quite simply shot itself in the foot,” Svetlova said. From talks with Catalan leaders and ordinary people, “I learned that the violence only hardened the resolve of those seeking independence and helped them make the case to those who are still undecided.”