Porto Jewish community accuses the state of antisemitic persecution

Following the arrest of Daniel Litvak, rabbi of the Jewish community of Porto, Portugal, three months ago, for allegations of helping Russian oligarch illegally obtain a Portuguese passport, Porto Jewish community accuses the state of being antisemitic.

Daniel Litvak, rabbi of the Jewish community of Porto, Portugal, was arrested three months ago for allegedly helping Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich in illegally obtaining a Portuguese passport and using the Jewish community’s funds. Three and a half months later, the Porto Jewish community responded to the Portuguese parliament and accused the state of antisemitic persecution, reports The Jerusalem Post.

After the arrest of Rabbi Litvak, the Porto Jewish community opted to cease cooperating with the state regarding the approval of applicants for Portuguese citizenship from the state. Last week, in response to the state’s intention of repealing the 2015 nationality law, the community raised serious allegations of antisemitic persecution and compared the state’s methods to that of the Spanish Inquisition. The nationality law allows descendants of those expelled from Spain and Portugal to obtain a Portuguese citizenship. It’s aim is to reconnect Portugal with the Jewish Diaspora that originated in Spain and ended with the Inquisition and expulsion of Spanish and Portuguese Jewry.

“This is the greatest attack against a Jewish community in the 21st century, and it is being carried out against the strongest Jewish community in Europe today,” said Gabriel Senderowicz, president of the Porto Jewish Community.

“The Porto Jewish community is disappointed by the lack of solidarity among the Jewish organizations operating in the world today, especially those that have been our partners over the past decade,” said Senderowicz. “They (the Jewish organizations around the world) all remained silent to an unfounded lawsuit conceived by state officials and journalists on the basis of anonymous messages. Even the Israeli embassy in Portugal, whose cultural activities have been supported by the Jewish community of Porto with hundreds of thousands of euros over the past few years, has not uttered a word or message of support for the community.”

The response of the Jewish community, submitted by community representatives to the parliament, stated that “starting in 2020, a serious smear campaign against this legislation and the Jewish community in Portugal in general began. Various state officials claimed that ‘applicants for citizenship are looking for convenience passports,’ that ‘there are tens of millions of applicants,’ that ‘Spanish applicants have children and spouses,’ and claimed that citizenship is granted relatively easily and for a fee that goes to lawyers, genealogists and the Jewish communities in Portugal.”

Community representatives claim that in the past decade, while the Jewish communities in Portugal were flourishing, there has been an increase in antisemitic incidents. Over the past decade, Porto has transformed from a city with a Jewish community numbering only a few dozen members into a vibrant community of 700 members, fostering Jewish culture in the city.

The response to parliament further stated that “the chief rabbi of the Jewish community of Porto was detained for questioning, his freedom of movement restricted, and he was humiliated before the whole world due to false accusations by anonymous sources. The allegations against him were that he authorized the French-Israeli businessman, Patrick Drahi, who was actually authorized by the Lisbon Jewish community, and also authorized the Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, who was actually authorized by the Chief Rabbinate of Russia; that he corrupted the registration for Portuguese citizenship – a procedure of which, to the best of our knowledge, the chief rabbi has no knowledge; that he embezzled the fee money paid by those applying for citizenship – a charge that has no technical feasibility in the Porto Jewish community; and that he embezzled and laundered the fee money of those seeking citizenship under the Spanish Law – which never happened.”

The response also stated that the humiliation suffered by the chief rabbi of the Porto Jewish community “included a humiliating arrest that lasted 24 hours in which he was forced to give the police forensic evidence in violation of the law, denied access to food [the rabbi eats only kosher food], was stripped of his traditional attire including tzitzit [four-cornered fringed garment], tallit [prayer shawl], tefillin [phylacteries], and even his prayer book was taken from him. He was placed in a cell with a Muslim suspected of murder and another man arrested on suspicion of armed robbery. Finally, he was brought before the court and asked ridiculous questions that proved that his arrest was in vain. The court released the community rabbi and did not prevent him from continuing to issue certificates to those eligible for Portuguese citizenship. However, the Board of Directors of the Porto Jewish Community has decided to suspend this activity, as it refuses to cooperate with a state that, with the aim of destroying the law, has launched an antisemitic incitement campaign against an organized Jewish community based on anonymous messages from Jew-haters.”