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.