Spain flooded with Jewish citizenship applications
More than 130,000 people claiming to be descendants of Sephardic Jews expelled from Spain after 1492 have requested Spanish citizenship since 2015, Madrid’s Justice Ministry said after the window for applications closed.
About half of the 132,226 applications were submitted in the past month. Mexicans top the list, with about 20,000 requests, followed by Venezuela and Colombia.
Spain has allowed foreign Sephardim (Hebrew for the Iberian peninsula) to apply to become Spanish nationals without giving up their current citizenship.
Descendants of Jews from Spain and Portugal still call themselves Sephardi Jews.
In 2015, Spain passed a law to atone for the 15th-century expulsion of Sephardi Jews from the country.
Applicants had to present proof of Sephardic background through surnames, language or evidence of ancestry.
Applicants have to pass tests on Spain’s culture and its constitution and have reasonable Spanish or the Judeo-Spanish variant, Ladino.
A similar programme in Portugal is still open.
The Spanish ministry said it would consider all applications, including those without the legal certificates attached, which can be submitted at a later date.
In addition, applicants had to get their Sephardi origins certified by a Spanish solicitor.
Jews who receive Spanish nationality are not required to move to Spain and the ceremony can be performed at a Spanish consulate overseas.
An estimated 300,000 Jews lived in Spain before the reigns of Isabella and Ferdinand who founded the Spanish Empire. Having defeated the Muslim Moors, the regime ordered Jews and Muslims to convert to the Catholicism or leave.
Spain says it owes the communities a debt of gratitude for spreading Spanish language and culture globally.
Most of the Jews expelled settled around the Mediterranean and in West Asia. Sephardim constitute about 25 per cent of Israel’s population.
In the Moorish state of Al-Andalus, Jewish scholars made a significant impact, spreading eastern knowledge to medieval Europe.
The former Jewish quarters in Cordoba and Toledo are major tourist attractions.
There are estimated to be at least 2 million Sephardi diaspora Jews around the globe.
Rocío Sánchez, a Colombian genealogist, said: “The majority of the people that I have dealt with who want to benefit from a Spanish passport are young people, between 25 and 35 years old, almost all professionals”.
Colombian Catholic engineer Andrés Villegas said he was hoping for “a pleasant old age” in Spain.
He researched church records in Colombia to trace his ancestry and found records of the Spanish inquisition in Cartagena in Colombia.
He found that an ancestor, a militia leader called Cristóbal Gómez de Castro who was born in 1595 had been prosecuted by the inquisition for “Judaising”. Colombia was a Spanish colony at the time.
The defeated Moors in Granada in 1492. Picture credit: Wikimedia