The Porto Jewish Community's Kadoorie Mekor Haim synagogue

Porto Jewish Community seeks €10 million in damages from Portugal

Community claims it has been victimised by authorities

Porto’s Jewish community has reportedly filed a lawsuit with Lisbon’s Civil Court last week seeking €10 million from the State due to “political aggression” by prosecutors and police which the community claims has severely damaged its reputation.

According to the Jewish News Syndicate, 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 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”, says the online, 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 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,’” community president Gabriel Senderowicz has told JNS, quoting from the decision of the Lisbon Court of Appeal, which threw out the case against Porto’s rabbi, in September 2022.

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

The community sent out calls for a correction and apology from State authorities months ago. Nothing however has come back.

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

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

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

Giving context, JNS explains that “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.

“Opponents claimed there were “tens of millions of candidates”, JNS goes on, “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.)”

Porto’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, 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” Porto’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 Jewish community by investigators, writes JNS.

The list included Patrick Drahi, the French-Israeli businessman behind telecoms giant Altice, who actually didn’t receive his certificate from Porto’s Jewish community, but rather from Lisbon’s.

Another prominent member of Porto’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”.

To be fair, these concerns began in earnest following a series of tweets by jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who appeared more keen on exposing what he saw as the corruption of Portuguese officials than orchestrating any kind of anti-Semitic campaign.

Following Mr Navalny’s tweets, a number of stories surfaced about the possible strings being pulled, in Russia, to help Mr Abramovich secure his Portuguese nationality.

Roman Abramovich remains a Portuguese citizen. Indeed, he is referred to in the Portuguese press as Portugal’s richest citizen, even though he does not appear to spend any time here.

Meantime, the Porto Jewish Community also filed a complaint with the European Public  Prosecutor’s Office in September last year, entitled The First Great Antisemitic Conspiracy of the 21st Century”.

[email protected]