October 12, 2012 – Lisbon – An AJC leadership delegation has just concluded a three-day visit to Lisbon. The AJC group's Iberian trip began earlier this week in Madrid.
Despite the urgency of Portuguese budgetary talks, the AJC group was received at the highest levels of the Portuguese government, including by Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho. The 75-minute discussion focused on Portugal's economic challenge, the transatlantic partnership, and the Middle East, including the bilateral link between Portugal and Israel. It was held in a warm and friendly atmosphere.
Foreign Minister Paulo Portas stepped out of a 20-hour-long Cabinet discussion to spend 45 minutes with AJC. The principal topics of discussion were North Africa and the Middle East. As the minister noted, Morocco's capital is geographically closer to Lisbon than any European capital, underscoring for Portugal the particular importance of developments in the Maghreb.
Separate meetings took place with U.S. Ambassador Allan Katz, Israeli Ambassador Ehud Gol, members of the Portugal-Israel friendship group in Parliament, and leaders of the local Jewish community, with which AJC maintains an international partnership agreement.
AJC Executive Director David Harris, who chaired the delegation, was invited to speak on the Middle East at Lisbon's prestigious National Defense Institute. He was also interviewed by two of the country's foremost television news programs, as well as the Portuguese news agency, on developments in the Middle East and the 2012 U.S. presidential election.
Portugal is not only one of the 27 EU member states, but also currently holds a rotating seat on the all-important UN Security Council. In that capacity, Portugal has played a key role as chair of the Libya sanctions committee and by its unwillingness to support last year's Palestinian attempt to gain full UN membership, which was blocked.
"While Portugal's Jewish community today numbers only a few hundred, they are determined to preserve the legacy of Portuguese Jewish history, so brutally disrupted by the Inquisition, and to play an active part in their country's public affairs -- from Holocaust memory to intergroup dialogue, from pro-Israel advocacy to cultural and religious education," said Harris. "As always, we have been deeply touched and inspired by the community's dedication and commitment. We leave determined to deepen still further our link to Portugal and the Portuguese Jewish community."
AJC has long maintained a dialogue with Portuguese officials, principally through its Washington-based Latino and Latin American Institute and Brussels-based Transatlantic Institute.