The Return of the Jews to Portugal

Jews have lived in Portugal since at least the 5th century CE. In the late 15th century, the Jewish population peaked as thousands of Spanish Jews entered the country fleeing persecution and then the expulsion of 1492. Only five years later, the Portuguese king decreed that all his Jewish subjects had to be baptized, after which Judaism became illegal—leading to the relatively high number of crypto-Jews in the country. Laurence Julius describes the revival of the Jewish community in the city of Porto:

Over 300 years [after the forced conversion], Jews returned to Porto from the communities of North Africa. Records show there was a small Sephardi community in Porto in 1867. More familiar names appear, like Azulay, Amzalag, Benhanon, Cohen, and Ohayon. At the turn of the 20th century, there was an influx of Ashkenazi Jews from across Eastern Europe.

The community was reinvigorated by Arthur Carlos de Barros Basto, a former soldier who converted to Judaism in Tangier in 1920. His grandfather, on his death bed, had told him of his Jewish roots. Under Basto’s leadership, the community started the Jewish Community of Porto (CIP) in 1923. It focused on five issues: hospitals, Jewish instruction, Jewish observance, workers’ rights, and cemeteries.

In 1926, Basto joined with the Spanish and Portuguese Jewish community in London in a campaign to convert thousands of Marranos across Portugal to Judaism. In 1929, they began construction of the magnificent Kadoorie Mekor Haim Synagogue. It was completed in 1938, the last major synagogue built before World War II. During the war, Basto helped hundreds of Jews escape the Holocaust.

Read more at JNS

More about: Jewish history, Marranos, Portugal, Spanish Expulsion

Leaked Emails Point to an Iranian Influence Operation That Reaches into the U.S. Government

Sept. 27 2023

As the negotiations leading up to the 2015 nuclear deal began in earnest, Tehran launched a major effort to cultivate support abroad for its positions, according to a report by Jay Solomon:

In the spring of 2014, senior Iranian Foreign Ministry officials initiated a quiet effort to bolster Tehran’s image and positions on global security issues—particularly its nuclear program—by building ties with a network of influential overseas academics and researchers. They called it the Iran Experts Initiative. The scope and scale of the IEI project has emerged in a large cache of Iranian government correspondence and emails.

The officials, working under the moderate President Hassan Rouhani, congratulated themselves on the impact of the initiative: at least three of the people on the Foreign Ministry’s list were, or became, top aides to Robert Malley, the Biden administration’s special envoy on Iran, who was placed on leave this June following the suspension of his security clearance.

In March of that year, writes Solomon, one of these officials reported that “he had gained support for the IEI from two young academics—Ariane Tabatabai and Dina Esfandiary—following a meeting with them in Prague.” And here the story becomes particularly worrisome:

Tabatabai currently serves in the Pentagon as the chief of staff for the assistant secretary of defense for special operations, a position that requires a U.S. government security clearance. She previously served as a diplomat on Malley’s Iran nuclear negotiating team after the Biden administration took office in 2021. Esfandiary is a senior advisor on the Middle East and North Africa at the International Crisis Group, a think tank that Malley headed from 2018 to 2021.

Tabatabai . . . on at least two occasions checked in with Iran’s Foreign Ministry before attending policy events, according to the emails. She wrote to Mostafa Zahrani, [an Iranian scholar in close contact with the Foreign Ministry and involved in the IEI], in Farsi on June 27, 2014, to say she’d met Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal—a former ambassador to the U.S.—who expressed interest in working together and invited her to Saudi Arabia. She also said she’d been invited to attend a workshop on Iran’s nuclear program at Ben-Gurion University in Israel. . . .

Elissa Jobson, Crisis Group’s chief of advocacy, said the IEI was an “informal platform” that gave researchers from different organizations an opportunity to meet with IPIS and Iranian officials, and that it was supported financially by European institutions and one European government. She declined to name them.

Read more at Semafor

More about: Iran nuclear deal, U.S. Foreign policy