Portugal nixes citizenship amendments after pressure from Jewish groups

Over a hundred thousand Jews, mainly from Turkey and Israel applied for citizenship through this policy, out of which, about 20 thousand have so far received a Portuguese Passport, according to Ynet.

Portugal's Prime Minister Antonio Costa speaks during a biweekly debate at the parliament, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Lisbon, Portugal, May 7, 2020 (photo credit: REUTERS/RAFAEL MARCHANTE)
Portugal's Prime Minister Antonio Costa speaks during a biweekly debate at the parliament, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Lisbon, Portugal, May 7, 2020
(photo credit: REUTERS/RAFAEL MARCHANTE)
Following heavy pressure from the Jewish community in Portugal, alongside Jewish organizations around the world, the Portuguese parliament on Wednesday withdrew two proposed amendments to the law that has, since 2015, allowed over a hundred-thousand descendants of Inquisition-era deportees from Spain and Portugal to obtain a Portuguese passport.
In 2015 Portugal amended its citizenship law to allow Sephardi Jews, descendants of those persecuted and expelled from the country, to obtain Portuguese citizenship. Over a hundred thousand Jews, mainly from Turkey and Israel applied for citizenship through this policy, out of which, about 20 thousand have so far received a Portuguese Passport, according to Ynet.
An amendment, which was proposed in April by MP Constanza de Souza of the ruling Socialist party, suggested requiring that one of the new pre-conditions for obtaining citizenship would be a two-year period of residence in the country beforehand. After widespread backlash, the amendment was softened to propose requiring applicants to prove a "contemporary relationship" with Portugal.
"The current system allowed for the creation of specialized companies that sell, through aggressive advertising, the Portuguese citizenship as a way of acquiring the advantages of an EU passport, exemption from visa requirements in many countries, such as the USA and the right to live in the member states of the EU," the amendment states.
"Portugal should grant Portuguese citizenship to those who possess contemporary relationship with to country, not to those who see it as a matter of convenience," the amendment concluded.
A similar amendment, also proposed on Wednesday, would have required Jewish descendants of Potrugal and Spain to either: reside in the country for two years, have working relations with Portugal, or hold real estate in Portugal for at least three years before applying for citizenship.
The proposed amendments sparked widespread backlash from Jewish communities both in Portugal and internationally, which claimed that the it was counterproductive to the bill's original intent to reconnect expelled Jews with their historic roots and rejoin the Portuguese nation.
The Jewish community in Lisbon demanded that the amendments be waived - and that a basic knowledge of the Portuguese language should be sufficient for descendants to apply. 
In a parliamentary debate on Wednesday, members of the ruling Socialist Party and PSD Party members failed to reach agreements, and eventually decided to withdraw both of the proposed amendments.
 
Attorney Itay Mor, President of the Zionist movement "Over the Rainbow - Portugal," said after the ruling that "the shelving of the amendments means that Portugal continues to recognize the legal right of deportees from Spain and Portugal, but recommends that the government regulate the issue to prevent its commercialization." 

"This is a complex procedure for a government that is busy during the coronavirus crisis, and it is not certain that it will be on its agenda. "At the moment, there is no other debate in parliament on whether to change the law, and that is a tremendous achievement."
Attorney Adam Yedid, who has been following the amendment since before the legislation, said after Wednesday's discussion that "for now, the bill has been dropped, and in the meantime the Jewish people have learned what good-willed, true friends we have in Portugal." 
However, he also warned of the effects of aggressive marketing tactics sometimes used by citizenship services,"unfortunately, as long as the form of advertising of citizenship service providers in Israel continues, it is only a matter of time before the Portuguese will have to go back and reduce the ability of the deportees' descendants to become citizens more easily. It is worthwhile to act with dignity and statehood, and to avoid the need for such laws."