On Thursday, over five hundred years after Spain’s Jews were told to convert to Catholicism or leave the country, Spain offered the descendants of Jews who left the country the right to Spanish citizenship, according to the Jerusalem Post.
That decision may prove useful to the Sephardic Jews of Turkey and Venezuela, stated David Hatchwell Altaras, the president of the Jewish community of Madrid and vice president of the Federation of Jewish Communities (FCJE) in Spain. He told the Post that Turkish Jews are frightened of the anti-Semitism in the media and by members of the government, while Venezuelan Jews are aware that the government tolerates and sometimes promotes anti-Semitism. In May, The New York Times reported “thousands of Sephardi Jews in Turkey who trace their ancestry to Spain… are now applying for Spanish citizenship.”
Spanish Foreign Minister Manuel Garcia Margallo and Justice Minister Rafael Catala attended the meeting of the legislature when the new bill was passed; Telam, an Argentinian news agency, quoted Catala asserting, “This says a lot about what we were in the past and what we are today and [that] the Spaniards want to be in the future an open, diverse and tolerant Spain.” The FCJE stated that the bill inaugurates a “new stage in the history of the relationship between Spain and the Jewish world; a new period of encounter, dialogue and harmony. Contrary to what one might think, the descendants of those expelled have not harbored feelings of hatred or resentment but rather the contrary, they cultivated a deep love for the land they were from and intense loyalty to the tradition and language received from their elders.”
Jews who wish to gain Spanish citizenship must prove their ancestry, show they know something about Spain and its culture, visit Spain once at a minimum and pay 100 euros.
Israeli Knesset member Robert Ilatov, commented to the Post, “The Spanish law should provide the impetus for Israel and the Jewish world to do our part in repairing the historic injustice of the Spanish Inquisition and expulsion and reconnect with the descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jewish communities which were forcibly and cruelly ripped from us.”
Spanish hostility to Jews dates back at least as far as the sixth century, when Recarred banned them from public office; Sisebut followed in 613 with a decree that the Jews convert or be exiled. In 1391, James II of Aragon passed a law that was catalyzed by the Roman Catholic Church; it stated that Jews living in the kingdoms of Castile, Granada and Aragon could convert to Catholicism, emigrate, or die. Pogroms followed that killed tens of thousands of Jews. Jewish communities in Seville, Toledo, Barcelona and Gerona were ravaged and largely destroyed.