OpinionIsrael at War

António Guterres desecrates Lisbon’s synagogue

The presence of the U.N. secretary-general who blamed Israel for Oct. 7 was hard, hurtful and shocking.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaking at a press conference in New York City, Dec. 9, 2020. Photo: Lev Radin/Shutterstock
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaking at a press conference in New York City, Dec. 9, 2020. Photo: Lev Radin/Shutterstock
Miriam Assor. Source: Facebook.
Miriam Assor
Miriam Assor is a journalist, member of the Jewish community of Lisbon and author of the book Famous Jews of Portugal.

On February 2, the unimaginable happened at the Lisbon synagogue I have known since I was born. It is a lovely and imposing building erected in 1904. Its name is Shaaré Tikvah—Gates of Hope. Once, in times of affliction, it gave hope to refugees from Nazism. It has always welcomed famous personalities such as Yitzhak Rabin, Chief Rabbis Shlomo Amar and Samuel Sirat, presidents of the Portuguese Republic and many others.

Now, on a giant screen placed in front of the Teba, with its back to the Ehal, we saw U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres triumphantly speaking. It was hypocrisy at its height. It was impossible to remain indifferent to the presence of a man who said the unspeakable about the Oct. 7 massacre: “The Hamas attacks did not happen in a vacuum. The Palestinian people have been subject to suffocating occupation for 56 years.”

The synagogue had been transformed into a ballroom. There were 250 guests and 48 diplomatic representatives, including the U.S. ambassador. It was all organized by the Jewish Community of Lisbon together with the Israeli embassy. The Israeli ambassador viewed and approved Guterres’s video and message days before. A video and message that were clearly attempts by Guterres to elide his monstrous statement. He called the Oct. 7 attacks abominable; called for unity in the fight against terror; honored the late Portuguese consul Aristides de Sousa Mendes, who rescued Jews during the Holocaust; and praised the Sephardic Law allowing descendants of expelled Portuguese Jews to claim citizenship, which, ironically, his Socialist Party has been committed to destroying.

Guterres’s honeyed words in the Shaaré Tikvah synagogue were pure hypocrisy and pandering. Only days earlier, Jews in northern Portugal were publicly blamed for the country’s housing crisis. Neither Guterres nor the government nor any Portuguese politician condemned this antisemitic lie. The same silence reigned on Oct. 10, 2023, when graffiti spelling out “Apartheid” was scrawled on the Oporto synagogue.

Israel is thankfully not having it. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not taking Guterres’s calls. Foreign Minister Eli Cohen rightly stated that Guterres would be a good spokesman for Hamas. Israel’s Ambassador to the U.N. Gilad Erdan called on Guterres to resign. Guterres, of course, did not, even though he resigned as prime minister of Portugal in 2002 over far less egregious issues.

The secretary-general is completely out of sync with the Jewish world. Neither I, nor the members of the Jewish community, nor the synagogue congregants were heard giving our permission for Guterres’s show.

Worse still, Guterres’s speech was shown at a ceremony marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It was hard, hurtful and shocking. Everyone was thinking of the Jews who were murdered six million times. Our eternity was murdered along with the millions of victims who left no descendants. The Nazi criminals threw our bodies into furnaces, gassed us to death, shot us in ditches and forests, at home and in the streets, in the heat of evil.

On Oct. 7, we were living Shabbat and Simchat Torah. What happened to us? We were decapitated, burnt and quartered. Babies, children, women, men, old people—terrorism turned Jews into a bloodbath. The joy of that special day collapsed.

Israel is the Jew among the nations. The annihilation of this small state is the first objective of Hamas. Those who survived, we who survived, mourn the murder of so many and the kidnapping of still more, taken by force to the headquarters of barbarism in Gaza, where U.N. officials—Guterres’s people—awaited to humiliate and abuse them.

As far as I know, Lisbon’s synagogue—where my beloved, sorely missed father Rabbi Abraham Assor of blessed memory was the rabbi for a half-century—was the only synagogue that opened its doors to Guterres. His presence shamed both the past and the present.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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