Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain must be rolling in their graves: The government in Madrid on Friday approved legislation that would allow descendents of Jews who were exiled from Spain to be naturalized in the country without having to give up their former citizenship, which had been the law until now.
Spanish Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon said that Spain "is indebted to Spanish Jews for spreading the Spanish language and culture throughout the world."
"The law that was passed has a deep historical significance not just because it touches on events that happened in our past, which we shouldn't be proud of, such as the banishment of Spanish Jews in 1492, but because it conveys the message that Spain is open and pluralistic," said Ruiz-Gallardon.
"Now, the doors have opened," he said, remarking that several exiled families had held onto the keys to their homes in Spain since the Inquisition some five centuries ago.
Applicants will have to prove their Spanish heritage through using their name or language, or by genealogy, in addition to an approval by the Spanish Federation of Jewish Communities. Applicants need not be religious Jews, the Spanish justice minister said.
The law potentially allows an estimated 3.5 million residents of countries where many Sephardi Jews eventually settled, such as Israel, France, the United States, Turkey, Mexico, Argentina and Chile, to apply for Spanish nationality.
"We're very pleased to hear the Spanish government has facilitated the process of allowing Sephardi Jews to seek Spanish nationality without giving up their citizenship," Lynne Winters, the director of the American Sephardi Federation, told Reuters by telephone.
An Israeli official involved in the new procedures responded coolly to the Spanish announcement.
"It's an interesting development, but it is far from simple. The federation will also ask for the parents' ketubah [religious marriage document], which must be signed by a Sephardi rabbi, not a Mizrahi or Ashkenazi rabbi," he said.
Spanish law does not normally allow dual citizenship except for people from neighboring Andorra or Portugal or former colonies such as the Philippines, Equatorial Guinea or Latin American countries.
Around 300,000 Jews lived in Spain before the "Reyes Catolicos," Catholic monarchs Isabella and Ferdinand, ordered Jews and Muslims to convert to the Catholic faith or leave the country.