One year on from “sordid episode” “based on nothing” community wants public apology
Just over a year since mainstream media carried damning reports suggesting corruption within the Porto Jewish Community, the outraged community has issued an Open Letter to President Marcelo, calling on him to issue a public apology for what it believes to have been “shamefully instrumentalised accusations”.
“We know the Portuguese President is very sympathetic to the Jewish community and is a well-respected public figure, so such a pronouncement from his office will hopefully end this sordid episode,” says Gabriel Senderowicz, President of the Jewish community.
In the letter, the community describes everything that happened since March 11 last year as an anti-Semitic ‘witchhunt’.
The letter details how on that date, the Porto Synagogue, the Jewish Museum, and the houses of community leaders were “unlawfully invaded by a large number of police officers, based on anonymous denunciations by criminals” (see below).
Marking the horror of the day, the community held what it called a “Day of Shame” on the first anniversary, by lighting the candles of a menorah in front of the Kadoorie Mekor Haim Synagogue and launching a YouTube video titled “Soviet-style Antisemitism in Portugal”.
The letter sent to the President read: “The heads of the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Judiciary Police, shamefully instrumentalized the accusations, for political purposes, and told the world they were investigating possible crimes of active corruption, influence-trafficking, tax fraud, money laundering, forgery of documents and others.”
According to Gabriel Senderowicz, “the accusations against the Community were technically impossible, and the authorities knew they had no evidence of such charges.”
This was backed up, he explains, when, on 27th September last year, a Court of Appeals ruled the investigations were “based on nothing”.
“This whole episode has been dealt with in a very callous and humiliating fashion in the public eye, leading to what many see anti-Semitic motives at the heart of this ‘witchhunt’,” said Gabriel Senderowicz.
“Prosecutors said that our Rabbi had bribed officials of the Registry Offices which he had in fact never visited, nor did he know anyone there and that he had no technical knowledge about who is and who isn’t Sephardi.
“In addition, they said he ‘had forged the Sephardic origin of a French Israeli who had in fact been certified, and rightly so, but by the Lisbon Community, and of a Russian Israeli who had in fact been certified, and rightly so, by his community of origin.”
The Jewish Community of Oporto comprises around one thousand Jews who originate from 30 countries. It has three synagogues, a Holocaust Museum, a Jewish Museum, and kosher restaurants. This year, the Community will inaugurate its own cemetery, with the last one destroyed in 1497 at the time of the Edict of King Manuel I when the entire Portuguese Jewish community was forcibly converted and Judaism was banned in Portugal.
Why this last year has been so dogged with accusations and painful litigation is the question that haunts Porto members of the community – to the extent that they have refused to ‘give in’ to what they believe to be a completely absurd process “without any basis in reality”.
Thus 10 lawsuits are ongoing, which “until proven otherwise, are deeply connected to this whole situation”, explains Gabriel Senderowicz.
The lawsuits appear not to have been referred to by mainstream media.
In the community’s eyes, they are all background to how a ‘law of return’ (of Portuguese nationality) became an antisemitic campaign directed at the most significant Jewish realities in the country, and the strongest community.
1. The use of mentally ill and convicts to make anonymous slanderous denouncements against the Jewish Community of Porto – Cases nº 10444/16.0T9PRT, 1557/08.3PPPRT and 843/17.6JAPRT.
2. The use of nocturnal thieves to steal the server from the office of a community lawyer – Process n.º 35/22.2PJPRT.
3. The use of professional thieves to rob the home of a lawyer they associated with the Community. – Process No. 1047/22.1PIPRT
4. The use of burglars to steal the President of SIRESP’s two computers and try to incriminate a Sephardic – Process n.º 00/022LSB
5. The use of corrupt journalists for months to create an environment of terrible suspicion involving the Community – Process n.º 1903/22.7T9LSB
6. The use of Lisbon police officers to invade the Synagogue and arrest the Chief Rabbi, on the basis of nothing – Case No. 183/22.9T9LSB
7. The use of anonymous socialist sources for a hunt for a philanthropist from the Jewish Community of Porto – Process n.º 1536/22.8KRPRT
8. The use of corruption to damage the company of a Sefardi Jew who employs many people – Case No. 24/22.7TPEUR
9. The use of false police notifications to frighten a Community leader, associating her with pornography of minors – Process n.º 80549/2023PRT.
10. The use of homicides against a young person who was the first signatory of a petition for the State not to persecute the Community – Process n.º 2042/22.6PIPRT.
As for the rabbi pilloried through the media in March last year – arrested as he prepared to take a connecting flight to Israel – he has finally been allowed to leave the country, and is in Israel where he lives, says Senderowicz.
As often happens in ‘high profile scandals in the media’, all talk of the alleged corruption in the Nationality Law affecting descendants of Sephardic Jews has long since abated. But, for the Porto Jewish Community, its reverberations, “injustices and illegalities” run deep; its members want a clean slate; a public apology in the name of the Portuguese State. They feel it is the very least they deserve.
As we wrote this text, the community did receive a reply from President Marcelo. But it was not what they were hoping for: the country’s head of State has passed the letter on to the government, saying it is up to the prime minister/ minister for foreign affairs to decide what to do.
“This is curious”, Gabriel Senderowicz tells us. “Our community is Portuguese. It existed before the foundation of Portugal and opted for the form of association exactly 100 years ago”.
With so much not really making sense, the community has decided to request an international investigation, says the president of the Porto Jewish community, “because those involved in this sinister plot are the first to want to dispel suspicions that they may have been involved in thefts, slanderous anonymous denunciations and even the attempted murder of a young French Jew who was the first signatory of a petition to parliament requesting that the Portuguese State never attack the Jewish community again”.