Spain Opens Citizenship Path for Sephardic Jews, but Doubts Remain

By Minder, Raphael | International New York Times, June 12, 2015 | Go to article overview

Spain Opens Citizenship Path for Sephardic Jews, but Doubts Remain


Minder, Raphael, International New York Times


A law seeks to address the injustice of the 1492 expulsion of Jews, by giving descendants a chance to apply for citizenship; how many may qualify, however, is still unclear.

Seeking to redress one of the darkest chapters of Spain's history, the Spanish Parliament on Thursday approved a long-awaited law created to open the way for citizenship for thousands of Sephardic Jews whose ancestors were expelled in 1492.

"This law says a lot about what we were in the past, what we are today and what we continue to be in the future -- an open, diverse and tolerant Spain," Rafael Catala, the Spanish justice minister, told lawmakers on Thursday.

The law was first proposed by the Spanish government in 2012. Even before Thursday's final ratification by Congress, the lower chamber of Parliament, the measure generated intense interest in countries like Argentina, Israel and Turkey, which have significant Sephardic populations.

The change in the law should be seen as "an act of historic reparation for a tragic and serious error," Mario Eduardo Cohen, the president of the Center for Research and Diffusion of Sephardic Culture, based in Buenos Aires, said recently in Madrid, on the sidelines of a meeting of representatives of Sephardic populations from around the world.

The law is set to come into force in October, and may help turn what has until now been a trickle of successful applications into a flood. But just how many Sephardic Jews will be able to get a Spanish passport is unclear.

"There will no doubt be a large number of requests, but it's too early to say how many and what portion will actually meet the citizenship criteria," said Rosa Maria Verger Sans, a lawyer in Barcelona who specializes in citizenship requests.

The government itself has not made any forecast. From 2010 to 2013, about 121 Sephardic Jews were granted Spanish nationality, after meeting Spain's existing residency or naturalization rules, which is a small proportion of those who applied. The Justice Ministry said on Thursday that it was already handling 4,454 applications from Sephardic Jews, filed under the current citizenship rules.

Citizenship applicants are likely to be driven by both sentimental and economic reasons, according to Sephardic representatives. In some cases, they may also seek to escape rising anti-Semitism in their own countries.

Ms. Verger Sans, the lawyer, noted that many Sephardic Jews already owned property or had investments in Spain. A Spanish passport, she said, "will make it easier for them not only within Spain, but also to travel across Europe and get their children into whatever school they want."

Jorge Fuentes, director of the Israelite Circle of Santiago, estimated during a recent visit to Madrid that the new law would persuade 2,500 Sephardic Jews in Chile to seek a Spanish passport. …

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