Monday, February 17, 2014

Spanish citizenship creates huge interest

Hundreds of Israelis claiming Sephardic ancestry have contacted the Spanish Embassy and begun researching their family histories,  The Times of Israel reports. But it won't be that easy to prove a Spanish connection.

To some, the prospect of Spanish citizenship marks a significant dose of historic justice.

To others, it simply offers a European Union passport. That’s a big deal in a country that is still technically at war with many of its neighbors and where prosperity is a relatively recent phenomenon.

Israel’s per capita GDP of nearly $40,000 year is significantly higher than that of Spain — which has been wracked by economic crisis in recent years — and on a par with rich nations like France and Britain.

But the Sephardics in Israel, despite their large numbers, have yet to close the socio-economic gap with the European Jews who founded the country and control most levers of power. There has never been a Sephardic prime minister, and the Ashkenazi Jews still earn more on average and are overwhelmingly dominant in academia and other key areas.

“I want to live somewhere else, and if I can do it without too much of a fuss I will,” said Maoz Mizrachi, a 25-year-old salesman whose father’s family traces its roots to Spain. “It’s tough for young people to get ahead here and this gives me the opportunity to try somewhere else.”

The fact that Israel’s economy is actually in better shape than Spain’s didn’t seem to concern him: “If I get it (Spanish citizenship), I’ll be the happiest guy in the world,” he said.

Leon Amiras, who heads an association of immigrants to Israel from Latin countries, said his phone hasn’t stopped ringing since the news emerged. “People from every corner are interested, from professors to doctors, engineers to plumbers and bus drivers,” he said. “Everyone is talking about this.”

The reform will allow dual nationality, enabling the newly minted Spaniards to retain their previous citizenship. Such an arrangement would give Sephardic Jews the same dual nationality privilege Spain currently grants only to Latin Americans. Elsewhere in Europe, Germany offers citizenship to descendants of Jews forced to flee the Nazis. Israel itself, of course, offers automatic citizenship to Jews.

Previously, under a 1924 law, the government had discretionary powers to award Sephardic Jews nationality, but the new law is much more far-reaching: According to Ruiz-Gallardon, Spanish nationality to those who can prove ancestry will be a right the authorities must honor.
The nuts and bolts of the new law, the government says, will be relatively simple: Applicants need only have their ancestry certified by a rabbi in any country and the Spanish Federation of Jewish Communities. Genetic testing has not been mentioned as an option.

The greater the documentary evidence an applicant presents, the quicker the procedure will run, Ruiz-Gallardon said.

Applicants will have to provide details of their birth and family name or prove knowledge of Ladino, the Judeo-Spanish language considered to be the “Yiddish” of Sephardic Jews.

For centuries Sephardic Jews have maintained some of their gastronomic customs, an extensive oral tradition of popular Spanish novels, and in some cases spoken Ladino, which is close enough to Spanish that it enables communication with Spanish speakers anywhere. Further details on eligibility will be published after lawmakers approve the legislation.

Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, doubted that Spain will receive a flood of applications for citizenship. But he said key questions remain on how people will prove eligibility.

Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, poses before an interview in Madrid, Spain, February 14, 2014. (photo credit: AP/Photo Gabriel Pecot)

Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations,(photo  AP/Photo Gabriel Pecot)

“I’m sure it could be a bureaucratic nightmare to determine who is eligible and who is not,” he said during a visit this week to Madrid in which he met with Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and King Juan Carlos.

Sergio Della Pergola, a Jewish demographer at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, said it was very hard to give an exact number of descendants due to intermarriage and conversion over the years. But it was definitely in the millions, he said, estimating that in Israel alone about 2.5 million people were descendants of exiled Sephardim.

Shmuel Refael of Bar Ilan University thought the number of those who would qualify if the language provision was enforced is much lower, with only about 250,000-300,000 people in Israel having some potential knowledge of Ladino.
“It’s very hard to reconstruct a list of exiled Jews of Sefarad (Spain), even though we know historically where the Sephardic Jews went, to the Balkans and north Africa,” he said. “It will be complex and complicated to say an exact number of exiled Sephardim in the world.”

Because Israel has association agreements with the EU, Israelis can generally travel there with great ease already. But an EU passport enables residence and work in the entire 28-nation bloc, giving access to high-quality, subsidized education.


Anonymous said...

If people get a Spanish passport, they will find themselves dominated by Arabs who also claim a place in the sun!Today they are celebrating their 5Oth anniversary since leaving their country of origin

Anonymous said...

My grandmother, born in "Palestine", spoke fluent Ladino. It made things a bit easier when our family had to leave Egypt in the mid-50's and went to South America.

Spain is a very unusual country when it comes to Jews. It is one of the most unabashedly anti-Semitic countries in the world even tho it had almost no Jews for centuries. "Perro judío" is still a very popular insult. I've even saw it being used on TV.

Anonymous said...

Anon, that's an interesting observation about Spain. No Jews for centuries. But the prejudices and hatreds last.
But Spain is not the only country like that. Ireland never had many Jews. Likewise the Scandinavian lands. But hating Jews and despising Jews are part of their old culture. Ireland got Catholic Judeoophobia, consider Father Coughlin especially although he operated in the USA. The Scandinavians got Lutheran Judeophobia which is worse than the Catholic in many ways.

While I was studying in the US I usually got on fairly well with Spaniards who knew that I was a Jew. And Prof Netanyahu, a prof at various univs in the USA, told me that he had good friends among Spanish colleagues in the American univs where he taught.

On the other hand, one of my teachers of Spanish --she was not Spanish but from a wealthy Puerto Rican background-- told me that Spain had to expel the Jews for the sake of unity of the Spanish people.

Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

the last comment is by Eliyahu although somehow I became Anonymous

AdilElMaghrebi said...

LOL that is ridiculous... Many of these Sephardim are of North African descent who went alongside Tarek Abu Ziad to conquest the Iberian peninsula and who just "immigrated to Spain" to be kicked out a few centuries after... Their ancestors then mixed with local Jews when they reached Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Greece, Lebanon, Egypt etc... Even the young Israeli named "Mizrahi", meaning "Egyptian" or "Eastern". Being Sephardi means being of a Jew following the Andalusian ritual... which became the main tradition for all the Jews accross the middle east and North Africa. It doesn't mean they are actual Spaniard people. The world is crazy

@Anonymous : what the relationship with Arabs?

Sylvia said...

No Jews for centuries but for those centuries they kept a vlose eye on their doings at least in the Western Maghreb.
Ebverytime a Moroccan Jewish trader came to Gibraltar, the Spanish slammed the British for letting them in, reminding them the provisions of the Treaty of Utrecht, whereby they were not to permit Jew or More in the Iberian peninsula.

Probably because the Spanish threat was ever present, Moroccan Jews were very hostile to the Spanish well into the twentieth century and they had a de facto ban to never step on Spanish soil. The early emigres to Spain were very discreet about their whereabouts.

On the other hand, those Jews who were in the East in Ottoman lands and far away from the Spanish, were nostalgic about Spain and almost looked at their old Spanish dialect as something sacred.

Sylvia said...

There were many Andalusians and Castilians Muslims who were expelled from Spain too, but later claimed to be of Arab descent, some of them claimed even to be sharifs! There are many of them for example in Sale, Fez, in Algeria Tunisia, etc. But surely you knew that.

And nobody denies that many of those Sephardic Jews, before they were Spanish, were of Berber origin and that there was a mix of populations.

Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

Spain may just impose fees on applying for and receiving citizenship. Depending on the amount of such fees, a lot of the folks now so eager to get a Spanish passport may decide that it isn't worth the money.

Anonymous said...

If Germans offered Jews a nationality. would you accept. I would be curious to know!Though it is very far off and the King of Spain himself has asked for pardon,I wouldn't (not in a million years) accept.
The Inquisition was as bad as the Nazis!!

Sylvia said...

There are tens of thousands Israelis whose families experienced the Shoah who have taken up German and Polish passports.

I wouldn't take up Spanish nationality either. People like you and I of the immigrant generation still carry from childhood that huge psychological barrier with regard to Spain.

I think however that the younger generations, raised in a different way and with different concerns, won't have the slightest problem with that, particularly when they see their Ashkenazi friends with a German or Polish passport.

Sylvia said...


I explained in another thread that initially, the idea of a Spanish passport (not necessarily Spanish residence) was meant initially to rescue the Jews of Colombia under Chavez when they were persecuted. That would have offered them an escape if things worsened perhaps only temporarily, just like that Spanish ambassador in Bordeaux Da Souza Mendes I think was his name, has distributed Spanish passports to Jews fleeing the Nazis - and was punished for that.

The idea has developed further to include all the descendants of megurashim but it has only the status of proposal and might never pass. So we don't really know about fees. But even if there were high fees, trust me there are those who will pay what it takes.

Along with loyalty to the land and perhaps more important is the instinct of preservation. How long do you think people will continue day in day out to take insults and humiliations, below-the-belt insinuations and lack of access?

Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

Sylvia, those who would take or have taken German citizenship tend to be Commies and other "lefties," as far as I know. Polish citizenship is something else. But from what I have read, I understand that it is an expensive process, involving lawyers and various fees.