In Portugal, an Invitation for the Descendants of Expelled Jews to Return Became the Basis of an Anti-Semitic Campaign

February 13, 2023 | David Isaac
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In 1496, King Manuel I of Portugal decreed that his Jewish subjects—who numbered in the tens of thousands—must either convert or leave. In 2015, the country passed a law extending citizenship to Jews who could demonstrate descent from expellees. The law, however, prompted a wave of accusations against those who took advantage of it, tinged with no small amount of anti-Semitism. David Isaac explains:

The “campaign of defamation,” [as it was dubbed by Portuguese Jewish leaders], accused those wanting Portuguese citizenship of paying lawyers and genealogists to sign off that they met the criteria, scared the public with the claim that “tens of millions of candidates” were waiting for passports, and gave the false impression that Portugal would be inundated by an influx of Jews. The community was accused of running a racket by rubber-stamping citizenship certificates.

Portugal’s state police opened a criminal investigation [based on these canards] named “Open Door” in February 2022. The allegations led to the persecution of the community, whose good name was dragged through the mud as accusations were hurled at it in the press and Portuguese police searched the homes of community leaders, the Jewish museum, and [the city of Porto’s] Kadoorie Mekor Haim Synagogue, Gabriel Senderowicz, [the president of the Jewish community of Porto], said.

On March 10, 2022, in a very public arrest, Porto’s chief rabbi, Daniel Litvak, was taken into custody. Litvak was mistreated, placed in a cell with a murderer, and denied kosher food, forcing him to go more than 24 hours without eating, according to a complaint filed by the community with the European Public Prosecutor’s Office, an independent body of the European Union, on August 26, 2022. The rabbi was then required to report three times a week to the judicial police and barred from leaving Portugal.

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