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Spain: Sephardi Jews to receive instant citizenship

Spain has decided to offer automatic citizenship to anyone who can successfully prove their Sephardi origins.

Spain has decided to offer automatic citizenship to anyone who can successfully prove their Sephardi origins, Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz Gallardón announced during a ceremony last week at Madrid's Casa Sefarad-Israel.

Presiding over the ceremony was Casa Sefarad-Israel director Florentino Portero, and attendees included Gallardón, Foreign and Cooperation Minister José Manuel García-Margallo, and Isaac Querub, president of the Federation of Jewish Communities and Casa Sefarad's director, the Spanish daily El Pais reported.

In his speech, Querub referred to the "nostalgia" and "longing" of the Sephardim for Spain, and the 500 years that had passed from the 1492 Expulsion Decree until King Juan Carlos's 1992 visit to Madrid's Beit Jacob synagogue, where the king emphasized that "the Hispanic Jews are at home."

Querub said the king's words had come true in the updated version of the Carta de Naturaleza ("conditions for citizenship").

In that charter's previous incarnation, the naturalization stipulations - for those who could prove they were Jews originating from Sefarad (Spain) - included a two-year residence period in the country. The upgrade has abolished that condition and allows for granting immediate citizenship to those able to come up with a mixture of family anecdotes, genealogical trees, ancestors buried in Jewish graves, language and customs, whether they live in Spain or abroad, said Gallardón.

He called the move a mechanism for putting the Sephardim back into Spain - "a procedure aimed at reuniting those who have been unjustly deprived of their nationality and have recreated in their hearts a Spain that they never resigned themselves to losing and that from now on is as much theirs as it is ours, under the law."

Gallardón remembered his great-grandfather José Rojas Moreno - the Spanish ambassador to Romania from 1941-43, who saved several Jews from the Nazis - and recalled his own long connection with the Sephardi community, dating back to his days as deputy for the North African Spanish city of Melilla.

According to data he presented, some 250,000 people speak Judeoespañol, also known as Ladino.

García-Margallo, who is also president of Casa Sefarad-Israel, said this measure was meant to speed up the naturalization process.

"Our relations [with the Sephardim] have never been interrupted, they have never been forgotten, and they have become stronger as Spain has become increasingly democratic and tolerant," he said.

Another reason for this move, he continued, was to "recover Spain's silenced memory," bringing the descendants of those original Sephardim back to their land and to freedom.

Upon recognition of their Sephardi status from the Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain, Jews will be able to register as Spanish citizens after promising loyalty to the constitution and to the king of Spain. This will also entitle them to protection by Spanish consular offices.

There are Sephardim in Morocco, Turkey, Greece, Holland, Bosnia, Serbia, Bulgaria and Italy, among others.

A spokesman for Casa Sefarad told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that the initiative for easing the citizenship requirements for Sephardim had come from the the Spanish government.

"While we wait to learn more about the process, Casa Sefarad looks forward to seeing the longings of many Sephardim fulfilled. We are also very pleased with the sensitivity shown toward the Sephardi world by Spanish politicians, as the loyalty of the Sephardim to Spain is exemplary," he said.

Founded in 2006, Casa Sefarad is a diplomatic project of the Exterior and Cooperation Ministry, the Greater Madrid Community and the Madrid Municipality, developed under former foreign minister Miguel Angel Moratinos. Its aim is to study the Sephardi cultural legacy as an integral and living part of Spanish culture, to foster a greater knowledge of Jewish culture, and to encourage the development of friendship and cooperation ties between Spanish and Israeli society.

[Source: By Marion Fischel, The Jerusalem Post, 27Nov12]

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