With this article we aim to reflect upon the possibilities of Jewish personalities of Iberian origin to act as intermediaries with the West while residents in the Ottoman Empire and subjects of the Sultan. Unlike spying, a field where D. Yosef Nasi (c. 1520-1579), one of such personalities, excelled before, at the service of Portuguese Authorities, the visibility and centrality of their activity as middlemen near the Sublime Porte and some Sephardi groups, made difficult for them to act in cover activities. Conversely, were they not acting in a precarious equilibrium as intermediaries as they remained always dependent of the sultans’ favour, being seen frequently in Europe as biased towards their masters and employers?
The great alibi of these exponents of the Sephardi universe in Ottoman lands, men like D. Yosef Nasi and D. Salomon ibn Yaʿīš (1520-1603), resides precisely in the crystallisation of their western past in the Ottoman Empire—visible in a certain social and residential segregation from their communities of origin, despite having close ties with these—which enabled them to ease the fluidity of contacts between the West, from where they had come, and the Porte, their actual place of residence. Was not this western-ness kept strategically by them and supported by the sultans a “poisoned” mediation, that is, a pseudo-mediation whose ultimate end was their self-consecration as a different kind of zimmi near the Porte, and one hyper-active in its favour?