Spain passes cit­i­zen­ship plan for an­ces­tors of ex­pelled Jews


Spain’s lower house of par­lia­ment ap­proved Thurs­day a law that eases the path to cit­i­zen­ship for descen­dants of Jews who were forced to flee the coun­try five cen­turies ago dur­ing the In­qui­si­tion.

The mea­sure aims to cor­rect what Spain’s con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment calls the “his­toric mis­take” of send­ing Jews into ex­ile in 1492, forc­ing them to con­vert to Catholi­cism or burning them at the stake.

“This law says much about who we were in the past and who we are to­day and what we want to be in the fu­ture, an open, di­verse and tol­er­ant Spain,” Jus­tice Min­is­ter Rafael Catala said be­fore it was ap­proved.

The law — which comes into force in Oc­to­ber — grants dual cit­i­zen­ship rights for Jews with Span­ish an­ces­try, who are known as Sephardic Jews.

Un­der the pre­vi­ous 1924 law the gov­ern­ment had dis­cre­tionary pow­ers to award Sephardic Jews na­tion­al­ity but can­di­dates had to give up their pre­vi­ous cit­i­zen­ship and they had to be res­i­dents of Spain.

The new law gives Sephardic Jews the same dual cit­i­zen­ship priv­i­lege Spain cur­rently grants only to peo­ple from its for­mer colonies and neigh­bor­ing Por­tu­gal and An­dorra.

The law had the back­ing Spain’s two main par­ties and of it com­fort­ably cleared its fi­nal read­ing.

The Span­ish gov­ern­ment es­ti­mates that about 90,000 peo­ple will ap­ply for cit­i­zen­ship, although of­fi­cials ad­mit there is no pre­cise way of know­ing how many descen­dants meet the cri­te­ria.

Is­rael’s Deputy For­eign Min­is­ter Tzipi Ho­tovely wel­comed the pas­sage of the law, say­ing it “re­spects the long his­tory of the Jews of Spain.”

“This is a his­toric day, an im­por­tant day, an emo­tional day,” said the pres­i­dent of the Span­ish Fed­er­a­tion of Jewish Com­mu­ni­ties, Isaac Querub, whose an­ces­tors took refuge in North Africa af­ter they were ex­pelled from Spain.

Kelly Be­noudis Basilio, 70, a re­tired French lit­er­a­ture pro­fes­sor who lives in Lis­bon, is al­ready pre­par­ing to ap­ply for Span­ish cit­i­zen­ship even though she has no plans to live in Spain.

“For emo­tional rea­sons it is very im­por­tant,” said Basilio, a de­scen­dant of Jews ex­pelled from Spain who was born in Ksar el-Ke­bir in north­west­ern Morocco and has Por­tuguese cit­i­zen­ship through mar­riage.

She said she learned to sing lul­la­bies in hake­tia, one of sev­eral Jewish lan­guages that is rooted in Span­ish, as a child in Morocco.

“Tra­di­tion and mem­ory are very im­por­tant in Jewish cul­ture,” said Basilio.

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