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July 19, 2013

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JULY 19, 2013 PAGE 11A In Portugal, Jewish law of return moves from Facebook to law book By Cnaan Liphshiz (JTA)--Until 2009, right- wing Portuguese politician Jose Ribeiro e Castro didn't have much interest in the expulsion of his country's Jewish community in the 16th century. That changed once Ribeiro e Castro opened a Facebook account. Online, the 60-year-old lawmaker and journalist con- nected to several Sephardic Jews, descendants of a once robust Jewish community numbering in the hundreds of thousands, many of whom were forced into exile in 1536 during the Portuguese Inquisition. Eventually the encounters morphed into a commitment to rectify a historic injustice. For Ribeiro e Castro, cor- recting the injustice meant spearheading a bill to natural- ize the Jewish descendants of expelled Jews, a measure that unanimously passed the Portuguese parliament in April and went on the books two weeks ago. By Ron Kampeas WASHINGTON (JTA)-- Mikey Weinstein couldn't be happier to have an amendment in his honor approved by the U.S. House of Representatives. Yes, the amendment, passed June 13 and designed to keep Weinstein and his Military Re- ligious Freedom Foundation as far away from the Pentagon as possible, is more in his "dishonor." But Weinstein is the kind of guy who revels in the dislike of his adversaries. "How terrified are these little pu***es in Congress that they have to pass an amend- ment about me?" he shouted in a phone interview from the foundation's headquarters in Albuquerque, N.M., using a putdown associated with a woman's genitalia. Weinstein and his oppo- nents claim a common cause: freedom of religion. But while Weinstein wants troops free from coercive evangelizing by their superiors, a number of conservative lawmakers and activists see Weinstein as the threat to religious freedom. Inspired by a report that Weinstein had met with Pen- tagon brass, U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) intro- duced the amendment to the National Defense Authoriza- tion Act in a statement that called Weinstein a "notorious anti-Christian zealot." In his House speech the same day, Huelskamp com- plained, "It seems that secre- tive meetings continue with individuals actually opposed to religious liberties." Weinstein welcomed the amendment, which requires the Pentagon to notify Con- gress of any meeting it holds with civilians to discuss military policy with respect to religious liberty. The language of the amendment, he notes, also would cover meetings between the Pentagon and Christian conservatives. Still, the amendment re- "The law is a commendable initiative," said Nuno Wahnon Martins, the Lisbon-born di- rector of European affairs for B'nai B'rith International. "It has economic considerations as well, which do not subtract from parliament's worthy decision." Portugal's initiative comes as countries across Europe continue to invest millions to develop Jewish heritage sites--an effort they say is rooted in their belated rec- ognition of the continent's vibrant Jewish history, but often is also an acknowledged attempt to attract tourist dollars at a time of economic stagnation. Last year Spain announced a similar repatriation plan to Portugal's, though the effort has yet to advance. And the country boasts a network of nearly two dozen cities and towns, known as Red de Juderias, aimed at preserv- ing Spain's Jewish cultural history in an effort to attract tourists. Today Portugal was to open a $1.5 million learning center in Trancoso, a town once home to many Jews. The prime minister is slated to attend the July 19 opening of the center, which will be aimed at the area's anusim, descendants of Jews forcibly converted during the Inqui- sition. "The tourism drive and the repatriation effort in Portugal and Spain are con- nected on several levels," said Michael Freund, founder and chairman of Shavei Israel, a Jerusalem-based nonprofit that runs outreach programs for anusim and will operate the Trancoso center. "The Sephardic Diaspora can be viewed as a large pool with the potential to benefit Spain and Portugal's economies, pro- vided that pool can be drawn to visit, settle and invest." Ribeiro e Castro, a soft- spoken man who tends to gesticulate vibrantly when discussing politics, insists he has no ulterior motives for promoting the legislation. "For me, this is purely a his- torical and emotional goal," he said. "These efforts got stuck in Spain had remained stuck also in Portugal for a long time, until we move them along." According to Ribeiro e Castro, his involvement in the project began as an experi- ment. In 2010, he encouraged several of his Jewish Facebook friends to apply for Portuguese citizenship, "just to see what happens." At first, Portugal's power- ful Socialist Party was none too thrilled about inviting descendants of Portuguese Jews to return. But the Social- ists eventually came around, submitting their own bill to naturalize Sephardic Jews that ultimately was incorpo- rated into Ribeiro e Castro's amendment to the Law on Nationality. The new legislation says "the government will give nationality ... to Sephardic Jews of Portuguese ancestry who belong to a tradition of a Portuguese-descended Sep- hardic community, based on objective prerequisites prov- ing a connection to Portugal through names, language and ancestry." The law names Ladino, the Spanish-based Jewish dialect spoken by some 100,000 people worldwide, as a viable "linguistic connection." Whatever his motivation, focusing international atten- tion on the Catholic Church's dark history is a bold choice for Ribeiro e Castro, a Catholic himself and former director of the Church-affiliated TVI network. He attributes his decision to an old high school buddy who taught him about Sephardic traditions in Por- tugal, and to his father, who served as Portugal's colonial governor in Angola in the 1970s. "My father was an admirer of what he called 'small his- tory,' minor developments with a huge impact," Ribeiro e Castro said. "Naturalizing the Sephardim could be that." For the law to have any impact, bureaucrats in Lis- bon first need to address a host of complications. The Portuguese Bar Association already has warned that the law could compromise the constitutional principle of equality before the law. And then there are practi- cal issues. "Differentiating between Jews whose families were exiled [from] Spain and those whofledPortugalisverydifli- cult," said Jose Oulman Carp, president of Lisbon's Jewish community. "Clearlythe Jew- ish communities [of Portugal] will need to be consulted on the screening process and we can provide some input, but the distinction is nearly impossible in many cases; Butwhatever the end result, merely the effort to lure back Portuguese Jews constitutes, in Freund's mind, an ironic twist of history. "Five centuries ago, the expulsion happened partly because the Iberian rulers wanted the Jews' assets," Freund said. "Now we see ef- forts to welcome back the Jews partly for the same reason." Foul-mouthed Weinstein provokes Congress Military Religious Freedom Founda- tion Mikey Weinstein drew national attention to the problem of religious coer- cion on the military. Now Congress and other critics are pushing back against his abrasive style. in name of religious freedom gently evangelized by your military superior, 'Get the f*** out of my face, sir' is not an option." Weinstein has been lobbing bombs at the religious estab- lishment since the mid-2000s, when two of his sons told him of coercwe efforts by their su- periors at his alma mater, the Air ForceAcademy in Colorado Springs. He established his foundation in late 2005. Weinstein says he does not target any particular faith. One of his recent victories involvedgettingacommander to remove atheist bumper stickers from his car. Most of his organization's clients have been Protestant. But his rhetoric gleefully takes on what he says are the extremes of Protestant ob- servance, and he barely notes the distinction he makes in practice between observance and coercion Weinstein has attacked what he calls "Dominionist" Christians seeking to advance the United States toward the- ocracy. And he has referred to fundamentalist Christians as "monsters who terrorize their fellow Americans by forcing their weaponized and twisted version of Christianity upon their helpless subordinates in our nation's armed forces." It is that tone that has alienated some of Weinstein's one-time allies. The Anti-Defamation League, the Reform move- ment's Religious Action Cen- ter and Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), all of whom publicly supported Weinstein in the past, will say little about him now. The RAC and Israel both declined multiple requests for comment, while the ADL's civil rights director, Deborah Lauter, would only say, "We don't like the lack of civility on either side. ADL's approach has always been if we see a problem, find a constructive way to fix it." Former Jewish community associates of Weinstein would not speak on the record but delivered tortured accounts of their relationships with him, which essentially boil down to this: Weinstein is wacky and impolitic--and right. " "It's not that he's not cor- rect, it's that he's not political" is how one put it. Weinstein says he has no interest in such allies and has choice epithets for those that especially annoy him; he calls the ADL the "Apologist Defense League." He says his mission-- keeping the most powerful military on the planet out of the control of theocrats--is too important for niceties. He likens himself to bygone activists who have chosen more moderate paths than their ideological allies. "Martin Luther King said, 'We shall overcome'; Malcolm X said, 'We're coming over,' " Weinstein said. "And we're coming over." Lost in the mutual expres- sions of outrage are efforts by the military to address the abuses Weinstein helped ex- pose at the Air Force Academy in the mid-2000s. The academy now requires cadets to undergo two hours of training in their first and fourth years, and one each in their second and third, to help sensitize them to religious differences. The ADL helped develop the curriculum. It is the mission of the military to ensure that troops "observe the tenets of their respective religions and re- spects the rights of others to their own religious beliefs, including the right to hold no beliefs," said Col. Robert Bruno, the academy's senior chaplain. Weinstein is dismissive of such assurances, saying that any actions taken through the hierarchy are bound to invite career-ending retribu- tion. The only way to protect cadets is to keep complaints anonymous. "I'll call a commander and say, 'You have an hour to make this go away,' "Weinstein said. flects growing concern in certain quarters that the gruff and foul-mouthed persona Weinstein likes to represent is an anti-Christian crusader in disguise. Rep. Michele Bachmann fundraised off what she said was a Pentagon meeting with "left-wing, anti-Christian activists." Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) in May asked the Pen- tagon for further information about a meeting between its officials and "anti-Christian extremist Mikey Weinstein." The core of Weinstein's threat, as depicted by his con- servative opponents, is that he is at the vanguard of a bid to squelch religious expression in the military. In fact, Weinstein does not target Christian expression as long as there is no evidence of coercion. His problem is with commanders who intimidate subordinates by permitting proselytizing--or engaging in it themselves. "The military is indescrib- ably tribal, adversarial, com- munal, ritualistic," Weinstein said. "If you are being even Rabbi Joshua Narrowe, until earlier this month the Jewish chaplain at the Air Force Academy, said he never saw any evidence of coercion. And while he would not count out the claims of Weinstein's clients, he takes issuewith his approach. "As long as they are anony- mous, we can't fix anything." Narrowe said. Weinstein, hearing this ac- count, returned to combative form, noting the account on his website of a recent com- missioning ceremony inwhich a speaker allegedly urged the graduates to "help return this country to the Christian val- ues it was founded on," According to the founda- tion, Weinstein quickly re- ceived a pledge from a senior Academy official to review pre-ceremony briefings for speakers. As to Narrowe's claim of not witnessing coercion, Weinstein sputtered. "Rabbi Narrowe, huh; he laughed. "Rabbi Narrowe- minded." Your in O re?St+ lanRdsOc R:ReR E set a:tsat? n c e Over $200 Million+ Lifetime Sales GALE MILGRIM, P2L, Realtor ! 407-443-9832 Visit www.OrlandoJewishReahor.eom To read my Glorying Client Testimonials and my BIO!.t.t.t! Member Congregation Ohev Shalom - Parent of 2 Jewish Academy Alumni Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando Supporter