Porto Jewish community compares police investigation into granting of visas to Holocaust

The community's rabbi was arrested in connection with the granting of Portuguese citizenship to Roman Abramovich


TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY OLIVIER DEVOS A picture taken on September 2, 2016 shows the Kadoorie Mekor Haim Synagogue in Porto. - Every Friday at the start of the Jewish Sabbath Porto's imposing synagogue positively buzzes with the sound of chatter -- not just in Portuguese but also in English, French and Spanish. (Photo by MIGUEL RIOPA / AFP) (Photo by MIGUEL RIOPA/AFP via Getty Images)

The head of a Portuguese Jewish community has accused authorities in the country of an antisemitic campaign of harassment after police said they were investigating the granting of citizenship to Roman Abramovich.

In a letter to Portuguese politicians, President Gabriel Senderowicz said:“This is the greatest attack against a Jewish community in the 21st century and it is being carried out against the strongest Jewish community in Europe today."

Addressed to the Portuguese parliament’s Committee on Constitutional Issues, Rights, Liberties and Guarantees, the letter accused the Portuguese state of "a Holocaust against Jewish families."

Senderowicz also hit out at officials of shaming Porto Chief Rabbi Daniel Litvak, who was arrested earlier this year and released after 24 hours, saying that the harassment of the rabbi “included a humiliating arrest in which he was forced to give the police forensic evidence in violation of the law, denied access to food [the rabbi eats only kosher food], was stripped of his traditional attire including tzitzit [four-cornered fringed garment], tallit [prayer shawl], tefillin [phylacteries], and even his prayer book was taken from him."

Esther Mucznik, of the Jewish community in Lisbon, told the JTA that Porto's allegations were “absurd, without any basis in reality.... authorities are looking into alleged criminal actions and we will know what they come up when their investigation is over.”

The arrest of Litvak followed an investigation by the Portuguese authorities into the granting of Roman Abramovich's Sephardi status which allowed him to claim Portuguese citizenship.

Questions were raised about the granting of Sephardi status to Abramovich, a Russian-born Jew with a typically Ashkenazi name and Ashkenazi ancestors.

Chelsea football club previously defended Abramovich when the investigation was first announced, saying that they "welcome any review as it will only demonstrate the citizenship was obtained in accordance with the rules."

The Portuguese law granting citizenship to Sephardi Jews was passed in 2015, and thousands of Sephardi Jews are believed to have made their applications for citizenship after a similar scheme in Spain ended in 2019.

Both the Spanish and Portuguese laws were aimed at repaying descendants of Jews expelled from the area during the Spanish Inquisition which started in the 1400s.

Over 130,000 people are believed to have been granted citizenship under these laws, with the Jewish community in Porto granting over 90% of the Sephardi certifications.

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