Forty-four French Jewish students attending university in Oporto, Portugal, sent a petition on Monday, Nov. 28, to the Portuguese parliament asking the state to “never again unlawfully detain a chief rabbi or illegally invade a synagogue.”
French Students Fighting Bias
The letter to the unicameral Assembly of the Republic urges the state of Portugal to never again “cooperate with nocturnal burglars [and] anonymous whistle-blowers” in order to “incriminate people and build a legal proceeding that in fact is ‘based on nothing,’ in the words of the Lisbon Court of Appeal.”
Ilan Cohen, the petition’s first signatory, said, “The discrimination of the inquisition was not enough for them to stop there. Jews remain unprotected because unlike other minorities they are always associated with money, always.”
Gabriel Senderowicz, president of the Oporto community, told JNS, “The young always represent the hope for a brighter future. Our young French members say that there is a difference between France and Portugal. In France they are protected by the state and persecuted by parts of the population. Here they live in safety among the population but they find that there are elites who persecute the Jewish community.
Portuguese Police Implicated
“In this year, our community has not only watched historical anti-Semitism repeating itself but also has written history in real time, with its own hands. The letter of our young members aims at laying the new chapter of the anti-Semitic narrative to rest.”
The letter referred to actions taken by the Portuguese police against the Jewish community of Oporto, including searching the city’s Kadoorie Mekor Haim Synagogue, the largest shul in the Iberian Peninsula, and arresting and detaining Daniel Litvak, chief rabbi of the city’s Jewish community, in March.
Litvak was mistreated in prison, placed in a cell with a murderer and denied kosher food, forcing him to go more than 24 hours without eating, according to a complaint filed by the community with the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO), an independent body of the European Union, on Aug. 26.
The rabbi then was required to report three times a week to the judicial police and barred from leaving Portugal. Those restrictive measures were removed on Sept. 27 by the Lisbon Court of Appeals.
The judges questioned the accusation that Litvak received kickbacks for issuing certificates of Sephardic descent, a necessary step to receiving Portuguese citizenship under a 2015 law granting such citizenship to descendants of Jews expelled from the country in the 15th century.
The rabbi had been accused of fraud—of rubber-stamping citizenship certificates, Senderowicz said. “It was presented to the world as the sale of passports by a rabbinate who acted for money.”
According to Oporto’s Jewish community, the harassment was part of an organized campaign by “agents of the state” seeking to abolish the Nationality Law for Portuguese Sephardic Jews, also known as the “Sephardic Law.”
Anti-Semitic politicians, journalists and social media influencers launched a “slanderous campaign” claiming that the law would lead to a flood of new citizens and alleged that the Oporto community was making millions in profits through the certification process, Senderowicz said.
The campaign against the law was ultimately successful as the government revised the Sephardic Law to include demands that Portugal’s Jewish community says are impossible to fulfill.
The students’ letter concluded with a request that Portugal “posthumously reintegrate the ‘Portuguese Dreyfus,’ ” referring to Capt. Artur Carlos de Barros Basto, who was drummed out of the army in 1937 for his Jewish roots.
Barros Basto helped to establish the Jewish community in Porto and the Kadoorie Synagogue. He also aided the return of Crypto-Jews to the Jewish people and, during World War II, helped hundreds of Jews escape the Holocaust.