Thousands of Jews Eyeing Spanish Citizenship - but Spain Has Yet to Approve the Move

Bill granting citizenship to descendents of Jews expelled during the Inquisition still awaiting parliament approval.

Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
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Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

News that the Spanish government has approved a bill offering citizenship to the descendants of Jews who were expelled from Spain over 500 years ago has excited many Israelis who may thus be able to obtain a European passport.

But before you start looking for your grandparents’ birth certificates, register for a quick course in Spanish or even search for your name on the list of surnames the Spanish government recently released, be aware that as of now, nothing has really changed. For one thing, the bill still needs to be passed by the Spanish parliament.

“We’ve received a lot of calls from people who found their names, or similar family names, on the list that Spain released but practically speaking, nothing much has changed yet,” attorney Maya Weiss-Tamir, who specializes in European citizenship and emigration issues, told Haaretz Sunday.

“[The recent reports] are indeed encouraging and optimistic with regard to the future, but we are still waiting for the Spanish government to publish its criteria,” said Weiss-Tamir. “Right now, they are making general statements about ‘a link to Spain, its language, customs, tradition and family name,’ but beyond that they’ve said nothing. We’re talking about links that go back more than 500 years. Proving such a historical link is not simple for historical and objective reasons. I have no idea what Spain’s requirements will be. Maybe they’ll demand knowledge of Ladino (Judeo-Spanish). Not all those who might apply today speak Ladino − that’s a disappearing generation. This is not going to be so simple.”

The Spanish government has said that the body authorized to issue a certificate attesting to someone’s eligibility for citizenship would be the Federation of Jewish Communities in Spain, but according to Weiss-Tamir, “the federation has yet to publish its requirements and conditions for issuing such a certificate because it, too, is waiting for the Spanish government’s criteria. Until then, it doesn’t want to undertake responsibility for this massive logistical operation.”

Nevertheless, Weiss-Tamir is optimistic. “The new legislation will grant the citizenship automatically, without having to give up one’s other citizenship. That will be attractive to a lot of people.”

Spanish law does not usually allow foreign nationals who become Spaniards to retain their original citizenship unless they are natives of neighboring Andorra and Portugal, or former colonies such as the Philippines or Latin American countries.

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