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Opponents of Portugal’s Sephardic citizenship law have declared war on the Jewish community

A campaign of slander, insinuation and lies has had a devastating effect.

Kadoorie Mekor Haim Synagogue in Oporto, Portugal. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Kadoorie Mekor Haim Synagogue in Oporto, Portugal. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
David Garrett.
David Garrett
David Garrett is a defense lawyer and board member of the Jewish Community of Oporto, Portugal.

In recent years, an influential group of Portuguese who oppose a law that grants citizenship to descendants of Sephardic Jews have pursued accusations of corruption against the Jewish community. On June 24, their campaign broke out again. This time, the targets were the Jewish Community of the Portuguese city of Oporto and American influencer Nathaniel Drew, who allegedly received Portuguese citizenship under the law by making a donation to the Oporto community, even though he has no Sephardic roots.

This accusation was immediately disseminated via television, newspapers and social networks. The news stories made much of a supposed “sale” of Portuguese passports and a law that has allegedly become a “passport shop” due to the actions of a community that “negotiated” Sephardic identity for large sums of money.

Let’s examine the actual facts.

Nathaniel Drew received certification from the chief rabbi of Oporto based on three types of evidence: Cemetery records, genealogy and last names.

Nathaniel’s grandmother, Liliana De Pas, was born on Aug. 10, 1942, to a traditional family of Portuguese and Spanish origin living in Egypt. Liliana’s father, Yakov de Paz, was born in Egypt on September 5, 1917. He was the son of David De Paz, who born in Turkey in the 19th century and later moved to Egypt.

The last names De Pas, Pas and Paz were common in North Africa among descendants of Sephardic Jews expelled from Portugal and Spain. They appear not only among members of the Sephardic community of Egypt, but also those of Libya and Tunisia. The last name De Pas is found on lists of ketubot held by the Portuguese Jewish community of Tunis. It was also one of the names condemned by the Portuguese Inquisition. All of this is confirmed by archival evidence examined by the Jewish Community of Oporto.

Liliana’s family was confirmed as Sephardic by a certificate from Rabbi Baruch Garzon, the former Chief Rabbi of Madrid, which Nathaniel Drew submitted along with other documentation. Drew’s Sephardic identity was duly approved by the Oporto rabbinate. He paid the fee of 250 euros and began proceedings to obtain Portuguese citizenship. Drew is now a citizen of Portugal, and the law does not require him to live in Portugal, speak Portuguese or practice Sephardic rites.

Accusations against the Jewish Community of Oporto on this issue began in early 2020, when a group of politicians, journalists and influencers launched a slanderous campaign against the citizenship law. They used talking points like “candidates only want passports of convenience,” “there are tens of millions of candidates,” “Sephardic applicants have children and spouses,” “to obtain citizenship, all applicants have to do is pay thousands of euros to genealogists, lawyers and the Portuguese Jewish communities” and so on.

Along with this, the positive effects of the citizenship law, including a 1,000% growth of the Portuguese Jewish community, were deliberately silenced by government agents and their partners. Centers for young Jews; kosher restaurants, shops and other establishments; the Jewish cemetery; the Holocaust Museum; the Jewish Museum of Oporto; the Jewish Cinema of Oporto; the largest Chabad Centre in Europe; and other signs of growth and vitality were not seen as positive developments by opponents of the law.

Starting in December 2021, those state agents doubled down, spreading the claim that the leaders of the Jewish Community of Oporto embezzled funds, which created suspicions of corruption and an atmosphere of terror and hostile media attention. Week after week, entire families were subject to exposure in the newspapers and on television, all based on anonymous denunciations. No one escaped this Inquisition-style campaign of “purification.” It encompassed religious and secular leaders, rabbis, presidents, former presidents, vice presidents, treasurers, members, secretaries, all the way down to museum curators and the doorkeeper.

Then the police were brought on stage. They invaded the Oporto synagogue, the Jewish Museum and the houses of the main leaders of the Jewish community while detaining the chief rabbi at the airport. He was humiliated worldwide for certifying two candidates—Patrick Drahi and Roman Abramovich—and accused of corrupting registry offices and embezzling money from fees paid to the community. Such charges can take a decade to resolve under Portuguese law.

I have some questions for the Portuguese authorities, none of which have been answered: Where is the evidence that the chief rabbi or anyone else stole money from the Jewish Community of Oporto? It is technically impossible. Where is the evidence that the Chief Rabbi corrupted the registry offices? He knows nothing about them. Where is the evidence of Patrick Drahi’s corruption? He was certified by the Jewish Community of Lisbon and paid them 500 euros. Where is the evidence of Roman Abramovich’s corruption? He was certified by the Jewish Community of Oporto and paid them 250 euros.

The aim of this manufactured atmosphere of terror was to put an end to the Sephardic citizenship law and silence any opposition to doing so. Indeed, the government has enacted a regulation that de facto repealed the law, as its requirements are impossible to fulfill. No Sephardic Jew in the world has made hundreds of trips to Portugal since childhood, let alone owns property inherited from ancestors who lived in the country at the time of the Inquisition, as the regulation requires.

Similar to the USSR’s 20th-century campaign against its Jewish communities, in Portugal a strong Jewish community and a law favorable to Jews have been destroyed by slanderous denunciations, the press and the police. It is important to remember that in Lviv, Kharkiv, Chernivtsi, Babruysk, Smolensk and hundreds of other cities in the Soviet Union, synagogues and communities were not closed all at the same time, but one by one. This always followed the same pattern: 1) the use of the press to associate synagogues with business dealings, 2) describing such business dealings as amoral or illegal, 3) negative reactions from certain quarters of public opinion and convenient Jews and 4) the total devastation of the reputation of synagogues and corresponding Jewish organizations that promote Jewish life.

On June 22, the Portuguese parliament asked the opinion of the Jewish Community of Oporto on possible changes to the citizenship law. The community replied that it does not cooperate with a state that has taken anti-Semitic action against the community on the basis of anonymous complaints, insinuations and defamation.

In the meantime, the Jewish Community of Oporto is quite prepared to hand over the 250 euros paid by Roman Abramovich for his certification, as well as the small fee paid by Nathaniel Drew, to the Portuguese government. As for the fee paid by Patrick Drahi, let the government ask the Jewish Community of Lisbon for it.

David Garrett is a board member of the Jewish Community of Oporto, Portugal.

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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