newsWorld News

Oporto Jewish community seeks $10.9 million in damages from Portugal

The community, which claims it has been victimized by police and prosecutors in Lisbon, is also demanding an official apology from the state.

Yom Kippur services at Oporto’s Kadoorie Mekor Haim Synagogue, Sept. 24, 2023. Credits: CIP/CJP.
Yom Kippur services at Oporto’s Kadoorie Mekor Haim Synagogue, Sept. 24, 2023. Credits: CIP/CJP.

The Jewish community of Oporto, Portugal filed a lawsuit with the Lisbon Civil Court last week seeking €10 million ($10.9 million) from the state due to “political aggression” by prosecutors and police which the community claims has severely damaged its reputation.

An “antisemitic campaign” launched by politicians, journalists and influencers led the State Attorney General and the Portuguese police to issue a joint statement on March 11, 2022 that they were investigating the Oporto Jewish community for the crimes of criminal association, corruption, forgery, tax fraud and money laundering.

The investigation sparked a wave of antisemitism against the community and its members, who were accused of “mafia conduct,” “corruption” and “selling the state.”

The lawsuit states that some one million online references link the community to the word “corruption.”

As a result, the Oporto Jewish community’s ability to raise funds for its religious and cultural activities has been severely limited, the suit claims.

“If, God forbid, we need the help of Jewish philanthropy in the future, we will not be able to benefit from it because no one will want to be linked to the seal of criminality that was unlawfully stamped on our name and ‘based on nothing,’” said community president Gabriel Senderowicz, quoting from the decision of the Lisbon Court of Appeal, which threw out the case against Oporto’s rabbi in September 2022.

“All this was done on the basis of anonymous complaints, without a single piece of concrete evidence,” said Senderowicz.

The community is demanding a correction and an apology from the government.

“[We] cannot forgive the fact that, on the basis of anonymous condemnations, our synagogue was trampled on by 15 policemen carrying weapons,” said Senderowicz.

A few weeks ago, the community also filed a petition with Strasbourg’s European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) against the Portuguese government.

The petition, which accuses the government of a “21st century blood libel,” states that the damage done to the community’s reputation by the Portuguese authorities is in flagrant violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.

In early 2020, the community came under attack from opponents of Portugal’s 2015 Nationality Law (a.k.a. Sephardic Law), which granted Portuguese citizenship to descendants of Jews expelled from the country in the 15th century. 

Opponents orchestrated a campaign employing antisemitic tropes to undermine the law, the community claims.

Opponents claimed there were “tens of millions of candidates” who only had to pay to be granted citizenship—an effort to sow fear among average Portuguese that the law would lead to a tsunami of Jewish immigrants only interested in obtaining E.U. passports. (In reality, there were only 57,000 recipients of citizenship at that time.) 

Oporto’s Jewish community became the central target because it had agreed in 2015 to help Portugal’s government vet potential candidates. (The law required certification from Portuguese Jewry “proving Sephardic Jewish lineage of Portuguese origin.”) 

In December 2021, accusations focused on a nominal fee charged by the community to issue certificates. Opponents of the law leveled charges of corruption, alleging that the community was making millions in profits through certifications.

The fee was 250 euros per certificate, or about $260, the same as those “charged by the Portuguese Registry Office, whom no one accuses of making millions in profits,” said Senderowicz.

Senderowicz described how police “invaded” Oporto’s Kadoorie Mekor Haim Synagogue, the largest synagogue in the Iberian Peninsula, “as if it were a brothel,” searched the home of the synagogue’s vice president, Isabel Ferreira Lopes, “looking for bags stuffed with cash,” and arrested and detained the community’s chief rabbi, Daniel Litvak, on suspicion of fraud.

Among the specific accusations was the rabbi’s certification of Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich. Senderowicz told JNS that Abramovich had been certified by the Russian rabbinate, which confirmed the family memory of the applicant and last names of Sephardic origin in his genealogy, both of which are criteria under the law. 

Abramovich, who along with other Russian oligarchs became persona non grata in western countries in the wake of Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine, was held up by the law’s opponents as a poster child for why it should be repealed or revised, said Senderowicz. 

Abramovich was on a list of 20 well-known and powerful Jews presented to lawyers of Oporto’s community by investigators. The list included Patrick Drahi, a French-Israeli businessman, who actually didn’t receive his certificate from Oporto’s Jewish community, but rather from Lisbon’s.

Another prominent member of Oporto’s Jewish community told JNS that a key motivation of opponents of the Sephardic Law was to stop wealthy Jews from obtaining citizenship and competing for the purchase of large Portuguese corporations.

You have read 3 articles this month.
Register to receive full access to JNS.

Just before you scroll on...

Israel is at war. JNS is combating the stream of misinformation on Israel with real, honest and factual reporting. In order to deliver this in-depth, unbiased coverage of Israel and the Jewish world, we rely on readers like you. The support you provide allows our journalists to deliver the truth, free from bias and hidden agendas. Can we count on your support? Every contribution, big or small, helps remain a trusted source of news you can rely on.

Become a part of our mission by donating today
Thank you. You are a loyal JNS Reader.
You have read more than 10 articles this month.
Please register for full access to continue reading and post comments.
Never miss a thing
Get the best stories faster with JNS breaking news updates