LISBON, Portugal — Even on a casual walk in the Portuguese capital during a visit on Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu couldn’t get away from the charges he is facing in three criminal cases back home. Nor could his wife avoid causing controversy over them.
Visiting a memorial to Jews killed during a 1506 massacre in Lisbon, near the site of the city’s inquisition, this reporter jokingly asked Sara Netanyahu which inquisition is worse, the medieval one or the one her family is being subjected to via her husband’s legal woes.
Rather than brush the question aside, Netanyahu smiled.
“Ah, there’s something there,” she said. “I don’t discount the question. I’m happy you understand that this is an inquisition for us.”
When her husband tried to change the subject, she pushed on: “We’ll find time to talk about this, eh?”
Netanyahu has been charged with fraud and breach of trust in three separate graft cases, as well as bribery in one of them. He denies wrongdoing and has accused the State Prosecution of leading a “coup” against him.
Some 1,900 people, most of them Jews who had fled the Spanish Inquisition years earlier, were killed in the 1506 pogrom. Portugal’s inquisition, in which tens of thousands more were killed or forced to flee, began 30 years later.
Ashley Perry, the president of Reconectar, an organization that seeks to reconnect the descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jewish communities with Israel and the Jewish world, slammed Sara Netanyahu’s comments, saying they were “deplorable and demonstrate a contempt for Jewish suffering.
“I would hope that Mrs. Netanyahu, upon reflection, would apologize for this inappropriate and insensitive analogy,” Perry, a Sephardic descendant of Jews who suffered at the hands of the Portuguese Inquisition, told The Times of Israel.
“These comments are sadly reflective of a minimization of historic Sephardi persecution,” he added.
After the walk around, Benjamin Netanyahu made his way to a meeting with his Portuguese counterpart, Antonio Costa, at the latter’s official Lisbon residence.
The meeting was only Netanyahu’s second public event since he arrived in Lisbon on Wednesday afternoon, when he met US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The prime minister is also slated to meet with Portuguese Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva later Thursday.
The trip marks the first visit to Portugal of an Israeli prime minister since 2000, when Ehud Barak went to Lisbon to meet with then-US president Bill Clinton.
Netanyahu himself last traveled to Lisbon in December 1996, during his first term as prime minister, when he attended a European Council for Security and Cooperation summit there.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.