(JTA) – Portugal’s government denied reports that its pullout from a law enforcement project led by Israel’s Bar-Ilan University owed to pressure by pro-Palestinian activists.
The departure of Portugal, a main entry point of illegal drugs into Europe, from the LAW-TRAIN project was reported earlier this week by the Lisbon-based Diario de Noticias daily.
Founded last year, the project has funding from the European Union and features innovative training techniques, including computer simulations, for security forces performing interrogations in the fight against international crime.
Diario de Noticias reported that the pullout followed lobbying efforts by Portugal’s Communist Party to have Portugal leave the project, which was co-founded by the European Commission and involves eight partner organizations, of which three are from Israel, including the police. Other partners include the University of Leuven in Belgium and that country’s federal prosecution service; the armed forces of Spain, and the Vienna-based USECON consultancy agency.
The decision to have the Justice Ministry of Portugal leave the program – Diario de Noticias reported that it has cost Lisbon $220,000 – owed to an internal re-prioritization and manpower shortages and “was not politically motivated,” a ministry spokesperson said.
But Fernando Negrao, Portugal’s previous justice minister, said he was surprised by the pullout, which he added he “regrets very much.” He said the project falls “within the budgetary and organizational responsibilities” of the ministry.
Efforts to isolate Israel commercially and politically have generally not succeeded in Portugal, which has a relatively small Muslim population of several tens of thousands of people who hail mostly from southern Asia and Africa. The ministry’s pullout, however, has been celebrated by local activists of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel, or BDS, as a rare victory.
In addition to Bar-Ilan University and the Israel Police, the LAW-TRAIN project’s third Israeli partner organization is Compedia, a leading developer of interactive educational systems, content and technology.
The LAW-TRAIN project uses, among other techniques, augmented-reality glasses that help investigators immerse themselves in interrogation situations.