A New Film Tells the Story of a Jewish Revival in Portugal

Jan. 21 2019

Unlike in Spain, where the secret practice of Judaism by converts to Catholicism and their descendants was thoroughly repressed by the Inquisition, some Portuguese crypto-Jews succeeded in preserving religious rituals for centuries. Artur Carlos de Barros Basto (1887-1961), a captain in the Portuguese army, did not grow up with any such rituals, but learned of his Jewish ancestry in a death-bed confession by his grandfather. Thereafter, Barros Basto formally converted to Judaism and worked to establish Jewish communal institutions. A new film, Sefarad, dramatizes his story. Rich Tenorio writes:

Sefarad tells the sweeping story of Jews in Portugal across 500 years—from the Middle Ages to the Inquisition to the modern era. The script was written by the Center for Historical Research of the Jewish community of Oporto (Porto), a large northern port city that witnessed pivotal moments in Portuguese Jewish history in the 20th century.  . . .

Portrayed by actor Rodrigo Santos, Barros Basto worked to establish a Jewish community in Porto—including the construction of the Kadoorie Mekor Haim Synagogue, the largest in the Iberian Peninsula, in 1938. Barros Basto also made outreach efforts to fellow crypto-Jews in northern Portugal, but they resisted his [attempt to convince them] to join an organized community. Adding insult to injury, he was expelled from the army after a tribunal convicted him of conduct unbecoming an officer. . . .

“When he created the community there were only seventeen Jews in the city, all of them Ashkenazi,” [explains] the Israel-based journalist, translator, and researcher Inacio Steinhardt. “They opened the first prayer quorum in a rented flat and were surprised when a few crypto-Jews from the villages, living in the city, came to this place and introduced themselves. Those crypto-Jews were no less surprised to learn that they were not the sole remnant of Jews in the world.”

During World War II, Barros Basto worked tirelessly to bring Jewish refugees to Portugal.

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More about: Film, History & Ideas, Inquisition, Marranos, Portugal, Sephardim

 

European Aid to the Middle East Is Shaped by a Political Agenda

Feb. 18 2019

The EU’s European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations Unit dispenses millions of dollars in economic and humanitarian assistance to dozens of countries every year. Although it claims to operate on principles of strict neutrality, independent of any political motivation and giving priority to the neediest cases, a look at its activities in the Middle East suggests an entirely different approach, as Hillel Frisch writes:

[T]he Middle East is the overwhelming beneficiary of EU humanitarian aid—nearly 1 billion of just over 1.4 billion euros. . . . The bulk of the funds goes toward meeting the costs of assistance to Syrian refugees, followed by smaller sums to Iraq, Yemen, “Palestine,” and North Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa, by contrast, receives less than one-third of that amount. The problem with such allocations is that the overwhelming majority of people living in dire poverty reside in sub-Saharan Africa, India, and Bangladesh. . . . The Palestinians, who are richer on average than those living in the poorest states of the world, . . . receive over six euros per capita, while the populations of the poorest states receive less than one-eighth of that amount. . . .

Even less defensible is the EU’s claim to political neutrality. Its favoritism toward the Palestinians on this score is visible as soon as one enters terms into the general search function on the European Commission’s website. Enter “Palestine” and you get 20,737 results. Enter “Ethiopia” and you get almost the same figure, despite massive differences in population size (Ethiopia’s 100 million versus fewer than 5 million Palestinians), geographic expanse (Ethiopia is 50 times the size of “Palestine”), and degree of sheer suffering. The Syrian crisis, which is said to have led to the loss of a half-million lives, merits not many more site results than “Palestine.”

One of the foci of the website’s reports [on the Palestinians] is the plight of 35,000 Bedouin whom the EU assists, often in clear violation of the law, in Area C—the part of the West Bank under exclusive Israeli control. The hundreds of thousands of Bedouin in Sinai, however, the plight of whom is readily acknowledged even by Egyptian officials, gets no mention, even though Egypt is a recipient of EU aid. . . .

Clearly, the EU’s approach to aid allocation has nothing to do with impartiality, true social-welfare needs, or humanitarian considerations. [Instead], it favors allocations to Syrian refugees above Yemeni refugees because of the higher probability that Syrian refugees will find their way to Europe. . . . The recipients of European largesse who are next in line [to Syrians], in relative terms, are the Palestinians. [This particular policy] can be attributed primarily to the EU’s hostility toward Israel, its rightful historical claims, and its security needs.

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More about: Europe and Israel, European Union, Israel & Zionism, Palestinians