When it comes to granting citizenship to applicants of Sephardi origin, Spain appears to have had a change of heart. It has rejected or failed to respond to 20,000 applications. One reason could be that the current government is an alliance of the PSOE socialist party and hard-left Podemos, neither known for being philosemitic or pro-Israel. Although the Spanish deadline expires in September 2021, Sephardim can still apply for Portuguese citizenship, which is open-ended. Times of Israel has picked up the story:
Spain has been widely rejecting applications for citizenship by the descendants of Sephardic Jews expelled from the country more than 500 years ago, according to The New York Times.
The Spanish government has extended citizenship to 34,000 people since advancing the 2015 law to redress the “historical mistake” Spain committed when it forced its Jewish population to convert or go into exile in 1492.
But according to The New York Times, which cited Spanish government data, while just a single applicant was denied citizenship before this year, 3,000 applications have been suddenly rejected in the past few months and 17,000 others have received no response.
The deadline has expired for Sephardi Jews applying for Spanish citizenship: 132,000 applications have been received, mainly from Jews living in Latin America, AFP reports via Israel National News. The Portuguese law granting citizenship to Sephardi Jews is open-ended. So far, 10,000 applications have been approved (roughly a third).
Under the legislation, those able to prove their Jewish heritage and their “special connection” to Spain, were able to apply for citizenship, with the justice ministry saying it received 132,226
More than half of them were filed in the past month when the ministry received some 72,000 applications.
The vast majority came from Latin American countries, with around 20,000 from Mexico, followed by another 15,000 from Venezuela and 14,000 from Colombia, the ministry said, without giving exact figures.
More than 4,000 applications came from Argentine Jews and around 3,000 from those living in Israel.
So far, only 6,000 people have been granted citizenship, given the long and complex process involved.
As the deadline approaches, Sephardi Jews applying for Spanish citizenship have been frustrated by bureaucratic hurdles and exams to demonstrate linguistic and historical knowledge. Fewer than 10,000 Jews are supposed to have been successful, Soeren Kern argues in The Gatestone Institute. The process to apply for Portuguese citizenship is much easier:
A piece of much-heralded legislation to grant Spanish citizenship to up to 3.5 million descendants of Jews expelled from the country in 1492 is about to end in failure: fewer than 10,000 Jews have been awarded Spanish passports ahead of an October 1, 2019 deadline.
Spanish leaders promised that the law — which entered into force on October 1, 2015 for a period of three years and was extended for one additional year — would “right a historic wrong” and demonstrate that more than 500 years after the Inquisition began, Jews are once again welcome in Spain.
The legislation, however, introduced so many cumbersome bureaucratic hurdles to obtain Spanish citizenship that most prospective hopefuls appear to have been deterred from even initiating the application process.
Also known as the “Right of Return” for Sephardic Jews (Sepharad means “Spain” in Hebrew), the law purported to grant Spanish citizenship to anyone able to meet two seemingly straightforward requirements: prove Sephardic heritage and demonstrate a “special connection” to Spain.
In practice, however, the process has been far more complicated.
The legislation’s main barriers to Spanish citizenship have been obligatory exams on Spanish language and socio-cultural history, the need to travel to Spain and exorbitant fees and costs.
Although prospective applicants do not need to be practicing Jews, they must prove their Sephardic background through a combination of factors, including ancestry, surnames and spoken language (either Ladino, a Jewish language that evolved from medieval Spanish, or Haketia, a mixture of Hebrew, Spanish and Judeo-Moroccan Arabic).
According to the law, even if applicants speak Ladino or Haketia — essentially dying languages that are spoken mostly by the elderly in some parts of Latin America, Morocco and Turkey — they are still required to pass a Spanish-language proficiency exam.
Congregants at the synagogue in Porto, Portugal
In an interview with the Spanish newspaper El País, the director of the Sephardic Center in Istanbul, Karen Gerson Şarhon, noted the paradox that even though Sephardic Jews have preserved Ladino or Haketia for hundreds of years, proficiency in those languages in and of itself does not qualify them for Spanish citizenship. “A Sephardic Jew who speaks Ladino perfectly understands spoken Spanish,” she said, “but fails the exam because the differences in the written and the oral are very great.”
Portugal has announced the procedure for Jews of Sephardi ancestry applying for Portuguese citizenship. The first 21 applicants to apply for Portuguese citizenship have had their applications approved: 5, 000 have made enquiries. Jews of Sephardi descent must obtain a certificate confirming their ‘right to return’.
The Oporto synagogue
(JTA) — The government of Portugal published its procedure for
handling applications for citizenship based on the country’s law of
return for descendants of Sephardic Jews.
The new procedure, effective as of Sunday, is based on legislation
passed in 2013 entitling the descendants of Sephardic Jews to the
Portuguese nationality deprived of them due to religious and racist
persecution as of 1492, the year that is widely accepted as the
beginning of the Inquisition.
It forced hundreds of thousands of Jews to emigrate under duress.
“The following document will allow the realization of the right of
return to Jewish Sephardic descendants of Portuguese origin who desire,
through acquiring Portuguese nationality by naturalization, to integrate
into the national community with all the inherent rights and obligation
this entails,” reads the new decree of law, which was published Monday.
Thousands of descendants
of Sephardic Jews have enquired about obtaining Portuguese citizenship
since new rules were brought in earlier this year, it’s reported. (…)
More than 5,000 people from around the world have contacted Oporto’s
Jewish community in the past two months to enquire about the process,
and the first 21 applications have already been approved, spokesman
Michael Rothwell tells the paper. Among those 21 are people from as far
afield as Panama, Australia and China. Applicants must obtain a
certificate confirming their ancestry from one of the country’s two
small Jewish communities in Lisbon and Oporto, as well as documents
proving they have no criminal record.
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