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Since 2015, Spain & Portugal Have Granted 10K Passports to New Sephardic Jewish Citizens

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Last week both the Spanish daily El Pais and the Lusa news agency in Portugal published the official figures of those who have applied for citizenship based on their Jewish ancestral connection to the two countries.

Officials representing the two countries have said that more than 10,000 of those who applied were granted naturalization status and passports.

Portugal and Spain in 2013 and 2014 respectively initiated legislation for naturalizing descendants of Jews who fled during the Inquisition, as was reported in 2015. Both governments had describes the initiatives as atonement for the religious persecution and expulsion of countless Jews approximately 500 years ago, as was reported by the JTA.

In February of 2015, JTA reported that a representative of Spanish-speaking Jews urged Spain to follow Portugal’s lead and adopt a law of return for descendants of Sephardic Jews.

“While Portugal passed its law, in Spain it is stuck and is being watered down as we speak,” Leon Amiras, president of the Israel-based OLEI group representing Israelis from Latin America and Spain told the news agency.

He added, ” “We call on to Spain follow Portugal’s example and avoid disappointing and ultimately deceiving the Jewish world with this project.”

In June of 2015, JTA reported that Spain’s lower house gave final approval to a law offering citizenship to descendants of Sephardi Jews.

Under the law approved applicants need not travel to Spain, as proposed in previous amendments that did not pass, but must hire a Spanish notary and pass tests on the Spanish language and history.

Applicants can study for the tests and take them at the facilities of the Cervantes Institute, a government entity that offers courses on Spanish culture and its language in over 20 countries, including Israel.

The law is the result of a government decision in 2012 that described offering citizenship to Sephardi Jews as compensation for their ancestors’ expulsion from Spain in the 15th and 16th centuries by the Spanish royal house and church during the Spanish Inquisition.

El Pais reported last week that since 2015 Spain has naturalized since approximately  8,365 applicants based on their Jewish ancestry. However, of those, only 3,843 were naturalized through the procedure devised for the 2015 law. The rest did so through two subsequent decrees issued in 2015 and 2016 that eliminated hurdles stipulated in the law, according to a TOI report.

One of them was the need to pass a Spanish-language exam. Critics said this was unfair to elderly applicants, and even to applicants who failed the test even though they possess mother-tongue knowledge of Ladino, a Sephardic language similar to Spanish.

In Portugal, a total of 1,713 applicants were naturalized in 2017 based on the Sephardic roots, Lusa reported last week. They constituted the largest group of non-residents who received a Portuguese passport that year and nearly 10 percent of the total number of people who became citizens last year. The Lusa report did not contain data from 2018.

In both Spain and Portugal, the Sephardic naturalization laws were described as aimed to atone for the state-led campaigns of persecution against the Jews in the 15th and 16th century known as the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisition.

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