According to Malcolm Hoenlein, CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the visit will offer an opportunity to welcome the new legislation affording Jews of Sephardic descent the opportunity to apply for Spanish citizenship.
“This is an historic recognition of what occurred more than 500 years ago when the Jews of Spain were formally expelled or faced death if they did not convert to Catholicism. Sephardic Jews remained connected to their heritage, customs, and traditions wherever they went in the world,” he said.
The legislation enables an exception to Spanish Law which does not allow for dual citizenship. Jews applying for Spanish citizenship may continue their current citizenship.
“The horrible and unacceptable events of the past cannot be undone, but the important recognition referenced in the legislation will help assure that the history of the violence and exile will never be forgotten. The importance of looking back is to learn the lessons of the past in order to protect future generations. The Spanish government by their actions is highlighting the contributions of Sephardic Jewry around the world and the importance of confronting the past honestly. We applaud their action. We look forward to discussing this and other important issues with Spain’s leadership and with the Spanish Jewish community.”
The Jerusalem Post reported that Spanish Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon said, “The law we’ve passed today has a deep historic meaning: not only because it concerns events in our past of which we should not be proud, like the decree to expel the Jews in 1492, but because it reflects the reality of Spain as an open and plural society.”
The minister also asserted that his nation owned the Sephardic community a debt for spreading the Spanish language and culture around the world, according to the Jerusalem Post report.
The word Sephardic comes from Sefarad, Hebrew for Spain.
Representatives of the Spanish Jewish community told the Jerusalem Post on Sunday however that the legislation granting citizenship was premature. The passage of a new law had not been enacted but rather the approval of a draft bill that the government hopes to see passed by the legislature.
The Jerusalem Post was told by a spokeswoman for the Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain that she believed it was “very important that the media get the story right in order to avoid a run on consuls around the world by people seeking Spanish nationality.” She added that the draft has to be presented to Congress and then to the Senate and then back to Congress. The text may also be modified during this process, which is expected to take several months, she said.
An applicant will be required to present a certificate either from the Federation or from a recognized rabbinical body overseas to be eligible for prospective citizenship, she added.
The Jerusalem Post quoted the spokeswoman as saying, “People who speak Ladino [Judeo-Spanish] will also be considered, and those who have Sephardi last names [will be accepted; however] how the list will be compiled and which names will appear on it is at present a complicated challenge, and any lists that have been published so far, claiming to be official, are not.”
“It hasn’t been passed and they are still working on the text,” Fernando Vara de Rey, the director of Institutional Relations at the Centro Sefarad-Israel in Madrid, a government body, told the Jerusalem Post.
The paper acquired a draft copy of the legislation and reported that those who can prove that they are either Sephardic or have a “special connection” to Spain regardless of religion, ideology or belief, will be eligible.
Vara de Rey said the Centro Sefarad-Israel welcomed the draft bill because it was another bridge between Spain and the Jews. The granting of citizenship would be civil in nature and not based on definitions contained in Jewish law. The paperwork necessary under the new rules will range from a ketuba, a Jewish marriage contract, to family documents showing a connection to Sephardic Jewry, according to the Jerusalem Post.
It is estimated that approximately 300,000 Jews lived in Spain before the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella ordered Jews and Muslims to convert to Catholicism or leave the country during what is known as the period of the Spanish Inquisition. The law potentially allows an estimated 3.5 million residents of countries where many Sephardic Jews eventually settled, such as Israel, France, the US, Turkey, Bulgaria, Mexico, Argentina and Chile, to apply for Spanish nationality, according to the Jerusalem Post.
The measure reaped praise from the Sephardic community with Dr. Abraham Haim, the president of the Council of Sephardi and Oriental Communities of Jerusalem, calling it “a very advanced step.”
This will provide “more flexibility to prove if the person is Sephardic,” he told the Post.
“If he has even a typical Sephardic family name it is enough.”