Monday, 27 Mar 2023 - 5 of Nisan, 5783

Oporto Jewish community files complaint with EU over ‘anti-Semitic abuse’

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According to the complaint, the immediate aim of an ongoing investigation of the Portuguese Jewish community is to take control of Portuguese telecom giant MEO, owned by Jewish businessman Patrick Drahi.

By David Isaac, JNS

The Jewish community of Oporto, Portugal, which claims it has endured an anti-Semitic smear campaign of national proportions, filed a complaint with the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) on Aug. 26. The complaint details what the community claims are false accusations against it aimed at undermining a 2015 law granting citizenship to descendants of Portuguese Jews.

The campaign will “destroy the credibility of a law, and harms community leaders and people whose Sephardic origin had been certified in compliance with the law,” Gabriel Senderowicz, president of the Oporto Jewish community, told JNS.

A new stipulation to the 2015 Nationality Law for Portuguese Sephardic Jews, aka the “Sephardic Law,” has made it impossible for candidates to meet the law’s requirements, he said. Descendants must now show certificates proving inherited real estate in Portugal, something which is “logically impossible,” the complaint notes, as Sephardic Jews had their assets confiscated centuries ago. The new requirement goes into effect on Sept. 1.

According to the complaint, the campaign against the Sephardic Law began in April 2020 with a parliamentary debate initiated by three politicians: Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva, Justice Minister Francisca Van Dunem and Vice-President of the Socialist Party Parliamentary group Constança Urbano de Sousa.

The complaint attributes anti-Semitic motives to Sousa, noting she “compared the exponential reproduction of the Sephardim to the coronavirus.” It also suggests Santos Silva may be motivated by his anti-Israel attitudes. “Santos Silva is a politician closely linked to extreme leftist theories about Israel and Palestine,” said Sederowicz, noting that Portugal’s President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa has said of the affair that “It is a ‘Palestinian issue’ of the Minister of Foreign Affairs.”

Sousa, in coordination with Santos Silva and Van Dunem, attempted to derail the Sephardic Law by imposing a two-year mandatory residence period in Portugal before a candidate could apply for nationality, according to Senderowicz. The Jewish community objected and offered ways to improve the law. Sousa then began a smear campaign with help from media and influencers, the complaint states.

“Week after week, entire families were subject to libelous exposure in the newspapers, and slander on television, all based on anonymous denunciations and anonymous sources,” it continues.

The campaign accused citizenship candidates of only wanting “passports of convenience,” of paying lawyers and genealogists to sign off that they met the criteria and of claiming that “tens of millions of candidates” were waiting for passports, giving the false impression that Portugal would be inundated by a Jewish influx.

The story sharpened into a slander specifically of the Oporto Jewish community, which was accused of running a racket by rubber-stamping citizenship certificates, said Senderowicz. “It was presented to the world as the sale of passports by a rabbinate who acted for money,” he said.

The community asserts that it charges a nominal fee of €250 per certificate, and only 57,000 applicants have received Portuguese citizenship out of an estimated pool of 1 million. The community applies “rigorous criteria,” he said.

The campaign had two main goals, said Senderowicz. First, to end the practice of providing Jews of Sephardic origin a path to Portuguese citizenship. Second, to blacken the name of French business mogul Patrick Drahi by falsely charging him with corruption in relation to his acquisition of Portuguese nationality in 2016.

Senderowicz told JNS that the reason Drahi figures so prominently is that the conspirators wanted to strip him of his Portuguese properties. Drahi’s telecom company Altice Europe purchased Portugal Telecom in 2015 (now Altice Portugal). Altice Portugal operates the Portuguese telecom service and brand MEO. Altice is also the biggest private partner in SIRESP, Portugal’s state communications network that handles emergency and security operations. The government decided to turn SIRESP into an entirely public company last year.

Senderowicz claimed that accusations against Drahi of corruption in his legal efforts to acquire Portuguese nationality will “deprive him of the moral force necessary to contest the allegedly flawed public contest of SIRESP” and to deliver telecom brand MEO to other, non-Jewish owners.

The complaint quotes a political scientist, João Lemos Esteves, who wrote that “the immediate aim of the persecution of the Portuguese Jewish community is to break the Jewish businessman Patrick Drahi in order to hand over a Portuguese telecommunications corporation (MEO) to a fund of ‘eminent Portuguese.’ ”

They want “to prevent other rich Jews of Portuguese nationality from investing in strategic sectors in Portugal, i.e., to avoid more ‘Patrick Drahis’ in Portugal, that is, to make false charges of corruption against the richest men in Portugal—all Jews,” said Senderowicz.

It was the Drahi connection which led the community to file its complaint with the EPPO. While the body can’t look into claims of anti-Semitism, it can investigate fraud and corruption when E.U. money is involved. The community hopes the EPPO will probe for possible financial impropriety.

The complaint calls into question a criminal investigation, “Operation Open Door,” opened by police in Feb. 2021. As part of the investigation, Oporto’s Kadoorie Mekor Haim Synagogue, the second largest in Europe, was searched and the community’s chief rabbi, Daniel Litvak, was arrested on suspicion of fraud. The complaint said Litvak was mistreated in prison, placed in the cell with a murderer and denied kosher food, forcing him to go over 24 hours without eating.

“Operation Open Door” has a list of about 20 suspects, said Senderowicz, of which the Oporto community was privy to 15. He noted that it included all the richest men in Portugal and number one on the list was Drahi.

He noted that Drahi’s name was buried by the press in favor of another wealthy Jew on the list, Roman Abramovich.

“The strategy of the conspirators included not mentioning the name of Patrick Drahi in the media. The idea was to raise a great cloud with a convenient actor [Roman Abramovich] and a convenient country [the Russian Federation]to sully and destroy Drahi,” he said.

Even though the aim of creating an impossibly high bar for the Sephardic Law has already been enacted, Senderowicz said he expects “Operation Open Door” to continue for another 10 years, “like every big case in Portugal. It’s ridiculous.”


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