Most Israelis want a passport to prosperity abroad

As new laws in Spain and Portugal draw applicants, poll shows carrots and sticks both serve as spurs

Raoul Wootliff is the Times of Israel's former political correspondent and producer of the Daily Briefing podcast.

Illustrative picture of an Australian and Israeli passport. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Illustrative picture of an Australian and Israeli passport. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A majority of Israeli citizens would like to own a foreign passport and more and more are actively seeking additional citizenships, a survey published Wednesday found.

According to a Shiluv/Ipanel poll of 500 Israelis conducted for Channel 2 news, 17 percent of Israelis already hold a foreign passport and 56% would like one.

The findings show both carrots and sticks as motivations for seeking dual citizenship.

Forty-two percent of respondents said they wanted a foreign passport because of the freedom of movement granted to citizens of other countries. Thirty-four percent cited greater work opportunities, and 15% said academic options were behind their desire.

While not citing specific threats, 27% of those asked said they wanted dual citizenship because they were worried about the long-term future of the State of Israel.

People standing in line to go through passport control at Ben Gurion International Airport in Israel. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
People standing in line to go through passport control at Ben Gurion International Airport in Israel. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

The findings come in light of new laws introduced in some European countries enabling descendants of “exiled Jews” to claim citizenship if they meet certain criteria and complete a sometimes arduous and expensive process.

Seeking to make amends for past wrongdoing, both Portugal and Spain adopted laws in the past year allowing citizenship for descendants of Sephardic Jews — the term commonly used for those who once lived in the Iberian peninsula — persecuted during the Inquisition.

The new Spanish law gives Sephardic Jews and their descendants three years to seek a Spanish passport, with the right to work and live in the 28-nation European Union.

To qualify for citizenship, applicants must demonstrate that they belong to a Sephardic Jewish community or have Sephardic ancestry. They must also provide certificates proving they have no criminal record and a birth certificate authenticated by the Spanish embassy, among other documents.

Like others seeking Spanish citizenship, applicants must know basic Spanish and pass a current events and culture test about Spain.

They also must establish a modern-day link to Spain, which can be as simple as donating to a Spanish charity or as expensive as buying property.

Portugal adopted a similar citizenship path for Sephardic Jews to make amends for its 1496 decision giving Jews 10 months to convert or leave.

The Portuguese citizenship application process does not require applicants to take language or culture tests or prove a modern-day link to the country.

In October Spain granted citizenship to 4,302 applicants, a day after the new law came into effect.

Days later the Portuguese Justice Ministry approved the first three of more than 200 applications it had received. The other applications are still being processed following a law that came into effect in March 2015.

Adam Yedid, an Israeli lawyer specializing in international citizenship law, estimates that up to three million Israelis are eligible for Spanish citizenship.

Spanish and Portuguese politicians say the bill is meant to correct a historic wrong. Yet as Spain and Portugal struggle to claw their way out of an economic crisis that has left them with official unemployment rates of 23 and 14 percent, respectively, the Iberian states may also see a financial incentive for attracting newcomers.

Citizenship does not come cheap for the Israelis seeking foreign passports

And citizenship does not come cheap for the Israelis seeking foreign passports.

Channel 2 news estimated the costs involved in getting Spanish citizenship total at least NIS 20,000 ($5,100). The expenses include NIS 6,000 for a Spanish language course, NIS 5,000 for a required round trip to Spain, NIS 4,000 in notary fees and up to NIS 10,000 in legal costs.

With no language or visiting requirements, Channel 2 estimated a Portuguese passport will set Israelis back NIS 12,000.

Some Eastern European countries have also become a target for Israelis seeking foreign passports.

Yedid told Channel 2 that around half a million Israelis may be eligible for citizenship from Latvia, Poland and Germany, requiring various levels of proof that parents and grandparents lived in the countries before World War II.

The number of passports issued by Poland to Israelis has risen dramatically in the past five years from 1,822 in 2011 to 3,277 in 2015, according to the Polish embassy in Israel.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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