130,000 Descendants of Jews Expelled From Spain File Citizenship Applications

The application deadline was Tuesday; applicants are required to prove their descent from Spanish Jews who were forced out in the 1492 Spanish Inquisition

Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
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File photo: People stand near a gift shop in the old Jewish Quarters of Toledo, February 2014.
File photo: People stand near a gift shop in the old Jewish Quarters of Toledo, February 2014.Credit: AFP
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

A total of 130,000 applications for Spanish citizenship have been filed by descendants of Spanish Jews who were expelled from the country in 1492, the Spanish Justice Ministry reported on Tuesday – which was the last day to apply.

Most of the applications were submitted by citizens of Latin American countries, primarily Mexico, Colombia and Venezuela, and more than half of the requests for were submitted within the past month.

In 2015, Spain passed a law permitting the descendants of Spanish Jews who had been expelled from the country during the Spanish Inquisition to apply for citizenship without losing other citizenship that they might have.

The Jews who left Spain and their descendants ultimately settled in Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and elsewhere, and a considerable number of the descendants – Sephardi Jews – now live in Israel and elsewhere around the world.

The October 1 deadline followed a year-long extension for submitting applications. The application process was relatively difficult, requiring not only proof of descent from Jews expelled from Spain, which could include the applicant's last name, but other requirements, such as knowledge of the Spanish language and of Spain's history and constitution.

The Spanish Justice Ministry has not disclosed how many of the applications have been approved so far or how many Israelis have received citizenship. In recent years, a number of companies in Israel have offered assistance in applying. Although some of the firms have reported about thousands of Israelis receiving citizenship, no official figures have been released. Since Spain is a member of the European Union, holding a Spanish passport provides the right to work throughout the EU.

In recent years, a list of last names that provide the potential basis for citizenship has been posted on the internet, encouraging many to think that they too could successfully apply. The list includes common family names in Israel, such as Abarbanel, Abecassis, Abutbul, Abulafia, Amsalem, Deri, Zoaretz, Halfon, Maimon, Mizrahi and Biton.

With the deadline expiration, descendants of Jews expelled from the Iberian peninsula who did not apply or have not received citizenship have another potentially easier route to an EU passport by applying to be a citizen of Portugal. It requires proof of descent from Portuguese Sephardi Jews but does not require knowledge of Portuguese or knowledge of Portuguese history. Following the Spanish Inquisition, many Spanish Jews crossed the border into Portugal, from which they were later expelled.

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