Spain grants citizenship to 4,302 Sephardic Jews
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Spain grants citizenship to 4,302 Sephardic Jews

Madrid expedites implementation of law offering nationality to descendants of Jews forced to flee in 1492

Spain's King Juan Carlos, right, speaks with Abraham Haim, chairperson of the governing Sephardic Community of Jerusalem,  before their meeting in the Zarzuela Palace in Madrid, Spain, Thursday, March 13, 2014. (AP Photo/Abraham Caro Marin)
Spain's King Juan Carlos, right, speaks with Abraham Haim, chairperson of the governing Sephardic Community of Jerusalem, before their meeting in the Zarzuela Palace in Madrid, Spain, Thursday, March 13, 2014. (AP Photo/Abraham Caro Marin)

MADRID — Spain on Friday granted citizenship to 4,302 people whose Jewish ancestors fled after being told in 1492 to convert to Catholicism or go into exile ahead of the Spanish Inquisition that saw many Jews burned at the stake.

The naturalizations were approved a day after Spain adopted its new citizenship law for descendants of Sephardic Jews, said Justice Minister Rafael Catala.

It allows applicants to maintain their original citizenship so they can have dual nationality.

Those granted citizenship Friday applied under an older law requiring them to relinquish home country nationality but can now have dual nationality.

The new decree “has allowed us at one stroke to grant nationality to 4,302 people of Sephardic origin” whose applications under previous legislation were already pending, Catala told a news conference after a cabinet meeting.

“This is one more step in developing the law for granting nationality to the Sephardim,” he said. “It seemed fair, rather than making them go through the process of filing their applications again, to speed up the process.”

Spain’s Federation of Jewish Communities praised the mass naturalizations, adding that most applicants were from Morocco, Turkey and Venezuela.

The new 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.

Like others seeking Spanish citizenship, applicants must be tested in 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.

The Spanish Jewish federation has received more than 5,000 requests for information about the Spanish law. No one knows how many people might be eligible, though some estimates run into the millions.

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.

The 204 applications received since the law went into effect in March are still under evaluation, Portugal’s Justice Ministry said.

Spain also allows dual nationality for people born in countries that used to be Spanish colonies.

The measure aims to correct what the Spanish government has called the “historic mistake” of the country’s Catholic monarchs sending Jews into exile in 1492.

Historians believe at least 200,000 Jews lived in Spain before the monarchs Isabella and Ferdinand ordered them to convert to the Catholic faith or leave the country on pain of death.

Up to 3.5 million people around the world are thought to have Sephardic Jewish ancestry.

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