Spanish minister's letters to firms in Israel drive wedge in ruling coalition

MADRID (Reuters) - The Spanish government has distanced itself from letters written by a minister from the left-wing junior coalition partner urging Spanish companies in Israel to ensure they did not abet human rights violations against Palestinians.

The disavowals underscored the differences between the two partners in their approach to the war in Gaza.

The centre-left Socialist Party led by Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez backs the recognition of a Palestinian state and a two-state solution while maintaining diplomatic ties with Israel.

The far-left Sumar party regularly describes Israel's offensive in the Gaza Strip as a genocide and wants to suspend economic relations with the Jewish state, which says it aims to root out Hamas militants after they attacked Israel on Oct. 7 and has denied accusations of genocide.

Social Rights Minister Pablo Bustinduy, of Sumar, sent letters to several companies with significant business activity in Israel, his ministry said in a statement on Wednesday.

In them, he called for the adoption of measures "to avoid the risk that their economic activities in the area may contribute to the flagrant violations of human rights that Israel is committing", as a means to "end the genocide in Palestine".

The Israeli embassy in Spain rejected what it said were "false accusations spread by some ministers... that are a clear incitement to hatred and encourage antisemitism".

Deputy Prime Minister Teresa Ribera, a Socialist, said she had found out about the letters, which she called the minister's own opinion, through the media.

"The government's policies related to companies and trade are the remit of the Foreign and Economy ministries," she said.

Economy Minister Carlos Cuerpo told reporters that Bustinduy's initiative had come as a surprise and that Spanish companies were fully aware of their obligations under a stable legal framework guiding their activities at home and abroad.

State news agency EFE cited sources in the foreign ministry as saying that they did not understand why Bustinduy spoke on behalf of the government, while Europa Press quoted diplomatic sources as insisting that Israel "is a friend of Spain", drawing ire from top Sumar officials on social messaging platform X.

(Reporting by David Latona and Emma Pinedo; Editing by Andrei Khalip and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)