Amb. Domingos Fezas Vital Discusses the Portuguese Presidency of the European Union Council
(Washington, D.C., April 22, 2021)--B’nai B’rith met virtually with the Ambassador of Portugal to the United States Domingos Fezas Vital as part of its Diplomatic Encounter Series. Fezas Vital spoke with CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin about the Portuguese priorities for its presidency of the European Union Council and its bilateral relations with Israel and the United States.
Topics discussed included Portuguese-Jewish relations, possible adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism by Portugal and the EU, collection of anti-Semitic hate crime data and more.
On the agenda of the Portuguese presidency of the EU, Fezas Vital said the two most immediate challenges are the pandemic and vaccine rollout, and the economic recovery in Europe. Other priorities include the digital transition, the green transition and the social impact of both transitions.
When discussing ways to further promote mutual understanding between Portugal and the Jewish community, Fezas Vital discussed the opening of a second Holocaust museum in Portugal, this one in Lisbon, called the “Museum of Memory,” set to open in 2022. Portugal’s first Holocaust museum opened in Oporto in January this year.
Fezas Vital also discussed an ongoing national program in Portugal called “Never Forget,” dedicated to the memory of, and lessons from, the Holocaust.
“It’s based on four pillars: knowledge, education, institutional memory and promotion, and it’s a program that involves our education system—schools, universities, you name it. So, when you talk about teaching people about lessons of the past, I would say that this is a very important tool that we have in Portugal to do just that,” Fezas Vital said.
On the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, Fezas Vital said that there is “an ongoing reflection in Portugal about the issue.” Though Portugal has not adopted the IHRA definition, he noted its importance in the country. Fezas Vital said among all the pressure that Portugal is facing from the pandemic and economic issues, “our parliament still discussed this topic and it shows the importance that we attach to the issue. This is very relevant.”
He also emphasized that in Portugal, there are already all possible legal guarantees to make sure anyone who commits an anti-Semitic hate crime will be prosecuted. “It’s not only a legal issue, but also [reflected in] the attitude of the Portuguese people,” Fezas Vital said.
Fezas Vital also expressed an interest in working with Portuguese Jewish communities to improve the collection of data and reporting on anti-Semitic incidents in both Portugal and the EU.
During the conversation, Mariaschin raised the issue of designating Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, urging Portugal to join an increasing number of European countries doing the same. The EU policy makes a distinction between the “military” and “political” wings of Hezbollah—a distinction that is purely nominal—having designated the “military” wing of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization in 2013.
Fezas Vital has served in the Portuguese Ministry of Foreign Affairs since 1983. Prior to serving as Portugal’s Ambassador to the U.S., he held the position of Permanent Representative of Portugal to the European Union and other diplomatic posts around the world, including the Portuguese Mission to NATO.
B’nai B’rith closely follows Portugal’s role on the global stage and its Jewish community. In 2019, the International Council of B’nai B’rith met in Lisbon with an itinerary that included insights into Portuguese and Jewish history. Last year, B’nai B’rith established a branch in Oporto, Portugal.
B’nai B’rith’s Diplomatic Encounter Series engages ambassadors and other officials to address pressing diplomatic issues of the day.
Watch the full program on B'nai B'rith's YouTube channel here.
B’nai B’rith International has advocated for global Jewry and championed the cause of human rights since 1843. B’nai B’rith is recognized as a vital voice in promoting Jewish unity and continuity, a staunch defender of the State of Israel, a tireless advocate on behalf of senior citizens and a leader in disaster relief. With a presence around the world, we are the Global Voice of the Jewish Community. Visit bnaibrith.org.