Spain’s lower parliament passes Sephardic return bill

(JTA) – Legislation in Spain that would naturalize Sephardic Jews was approved by the country’s lower parliament.

The legislation approved Wednesday goes to the country’s Senate for a vote. It is expected to go into effect in May.

The draft bill was introduced in February 2014 by Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon, who told JTA at the time that it was meant to “repair a historical error” – a reference to the Spanish Inquisition that began in 1492. The Inquisition forced hundreds of thousands of Jews to flee the Iberian Peninsula or convert to Christianity in an attempt to escape religious persecution led by the Catholic Church and the Spanish royal house.

Under current Spanish legislation dating back to 1924, Jews may apply for citizenship if they reside in Spain for more than two years and can prove family ties to expelled Spaniards. Each request is evaluated individually and approved or rejected by a senior Interior Ministry official.

The new draft bill proposes to do away with the demand for residence and to make the application process automatic and not subject to the ministry’s discretion for candidates who meet all the criteria.

Spain’s Council of Ministers, the Spanish Cabinet, approved the draft law last June.

Under revisions introduced in December, applicants must be certified as Sephardic by Spain’s Federation of Jewish Communities, and then tested in Spain by a government-approved notary on their knowledge of Spanish and Sephardic culture. If they pass, applicants would need to return to Spain at a later date for another procedure.

The Spanish government estimates that about 90,000 people of Sephardic heritage will apply for citizenship, though they may not all qualify, according to the Financial Times.

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