The World

500 Years Later, Spain Wants Its Jews Back

Shlomo Moshe Amar, the Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel, arrives for a visit to Granada’s Alhambra on May 31, 2011. 

Photo by Jorge Guerrero/AFP/Getty Images

The Financial Times reports that Spain is considering a new change to its citizenship laws that would allow the descendants of Jews expelled from the country during the Spanish Inquisition to obtain citizenship:

Until now the descendants of Jews expelled from Spain during the 15th century – known as Sephardic Jews – could claim Spanish citizenship only after living in the country for two years, and then only if they renounced their previous nationality.

The new bill, which is still to be approved by the Spanish parliament, will allow the estimated 3.5m Sephardic Jews who are alive today to claim Spanish nationality without having to give up their current passport.[…]


While the biggest community of Sephardic Jews lives in Israel, other communities also exist in Latin America, Turkey, the US and other parts of Europe. The proposed offer of Spanish citizenship would also apply to them.


The law would be pretty unusual. A number of countries have laws to encourage members of their diasporas to return to the motherland. Ireland, for instance, will grant citizenship to people with Irish grandparents, though not—as Bill Clinton seems to believe—to anyone of “Irish descent.”

Israel’s law of return will give citizenship to Jews from any country. Armenia passed laws in 2007 to grant dual citizenship to ethnic Armenians born in other countries.

But the Spanish law would apply to people who were expelled from the country, and not recently but five centuries ago. There are already questions about how the Federation of Jewish Communities in Spain, which will vet the prospective returnees, will determine eligibility.

Part of this may be Spain looking to address one of the darkest periods of its history, but it’s also worth noting that people are leaving the country in record numbers these days. As many as 700,000 people—roughly 1.5 percent of the population—may have departed for other countries since 2008.

Allowing Sephardic Jews to return may be one way of attracting new citizens without risking an anti-immigrant backlash. Something tells me that given the current political climate, the descendants of Muslims expelled during the Inquisition might have a longer wait.