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

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.

Read more at Times of Israel

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

The ICJ’s Vice-President Explains What’s Wrong with Its Recent Ruling against Israel

It should be obvious to anyone with even rudimentary knowledge of the Gaza war that Israel is not committing genocide there, or anything even remotely akin to it. In response to such spurious accusations, it’s often best to focus on the mockery they make of international law itself, or on how Israel can most effectively combat them. Still, it is also worth stopping to consider the legal case on its own terms. No one has done this quite so effectively, to my knowledge, as the Ugandan jurist Julia Sebutinde, who is the vice-president of the ICJ and the only one of its judges to rule unequivocally in Israel’s favor both in this case and in the previous one where it found accusations of genocide “plausible.”

Sebutinde begins by questioning the appropriateness of the court ruling on this issue at all:

Once again, South Africa has invited the Court to micromanage the conduct of hostilities between Israel and Hamas. Such hostilities are exclusively governed by the laws of war (international humanitarian law) and international human-rights law, areas where the Court lacks jurisdiction in this case.

The Court should also avoid trying to enforce its own orders. . . . Is the Court going to reaffirm its earlier provisional measures every time a party runs to it with allegations of a breach of its provisional measures? I should think not.

Sebutinde also emphasizes the absurdity of hearing this case after Israel has taken “multiple concrete actions” to alleviate the suffering of Gazan civilians since the ICJ’s last ruling. In fact, she points out, “the evidence actually shows a gradual improvement in the humanitarian situation in Gaza since the Court’s order.” She brings much evidence in support of these points.

She concludes her dissent by highlighting the procedural irregularities of the case, including a complete failure to respect the basic rights of the accused:

I find it necessary to note my serious concerns regarding the manner in which South Africa’s request and incidental oral hearings were managed by the Court, resulting in Israel not having sufficient time to file its written observations on the request. In my view, the Court should have consented to Israel’s request to postpone the oral hearings to the following week to allow for Israel to have sufficient time to fully respond to South Africa’s request and engage counsel. Regrettably, as a result of the exceptionally abbreviated timeframe for the hearings, Israel could not be represented by its chosen counsel, who were unavailable on the dates scheduled by the Court.

It is also regrettable that Israel was required to respond to a question posed by a member of the Court over the Jewish Sabbath. The Court’s decisions in this respect bear upon the procedural equality between the parties and the good administration of justice by the Court.

Read more at International Court of Justice

More about: Gaza War 2023, ICC, International Law