The cover of a passport from Spain.
(photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)
A bill granting automatic citizenship to the descendants of exiled Sephardi Jews is expected to pass the Spanish Congress on Thursday, a senior community leader told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.
David Hatchwell, the president of the Jewish community of Madrid and vice president of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Spain, called the bill, which has been under discussion for three years, a “very positive step in the Jewish- Spanish relationship.”
“For the Spanish kingdom it was basically a gesture of reparations and trying to close a circle,” he said.
According to the bill, similar to one passed by the Portuguese parliament earlier this year, Sephardi Jews descended from those exiled from Spain in 1492 would be eligible to obtain automatic citizenship.
Hatchwell described the past several years as a “process of giving birth” that was “not very easy,” describing negotiations between the government and local Jewish community regarding the various provisions of the law.
At first the government insisted that a Jew would have to make two visits to Spain to be considered, while Hatchwell and his co-religionists wanted to waive such a visitation requirement altogether, for instance. The two sides finally agreed on one visit as a compromise solution.
Prospective citizens would also have to prove their ancestry and show that they have a basic knowledge of Spain and its culture.
“Obviously, nobody is forgetting the tragedy of the Inquisition. But having said that, we thought… this is a great way forward and a good gesture” of reconciliation, Hatchwell said.
The community leader added that he believes that the law would be a boon for Sephardi Jews facing rising anti-Semitism in Turkey and Venezuela.
Turkish Jews have expressed concerns over anti-Semitic sentiments expressed both in their country’s media and by national politicians, while Venezuela’s government has come under criticism by Jewish groups for not only failing to combat anti-Semitism but actually promoting it in some cases.
Spanish, and therefore European, citizenship could provide a measure of safety for Jews in both communities, Hatchwell said.
“We believe that this would be an important [defensive] element for our brethren in Venezuela and Turkey in places where [the] tide is turning heavily for us. This is something important – that they could be passport holders of other countries besides their own, especially a passport of the European Union.”
Last month The New York Times reported that “thousands of Sephardi Jews in Turkey who trace their ancestry to Spain... are now applying for Spanish citizenship.”
The Spanish Embassy in Ankara replied with a statement that “no applications have yet been processed,” the Daily Sabah, a Turkish newspaper, reported.
While the law is expected to pass on Thursday, it could take another several months before it is officially enacted, the Spanish Jewish community cautioned prospective citizens on its website.
“For the time being, the Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain has neither the power nor the legitimation to issue any certifying document,” but after the law goes into effect “we shall update our site with all relevant information and an online guiding system to validate and receive all applications for our Certificate,” the Federation stated.