Sephardic Jews are offered Spanish citizenship

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The bill, if passed, will allow descendants of Sephardic Jews, who were expelled from Spain in the 15th Century under the Catholic rule of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, to hold joint citizenship.

The bill, if passed, will allow descendants of Sephardic Jews, who were expelled from Spain in the 15th Century under the Catholic rule of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, to hold joint citizenship.

By Ayse Humeyra Atilgan

ISTANBUL - The Spanish Parliament has approved a draft bill that would grant citizenship to Sephardic Jews, whose ancestors were forced to leave during the Spanish Inquisition in 1492. However, the question is now posed as to whether Sephardic Jews want to hold Spanish citizenship.

The bill, if passed, will allow descendants of Sephardic Jews, who were expelled from Spain in the 15th Century under the Catholic rule of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, to hold joint citizenship. The Spanish bill is still awaiting examination by a legal body that will make any necessary amendments; if passed it would also remove some existing requirements that include the need for applicants to renounce their current citizenship.

"I do not foresee any problems with the approval of the draft law," Spanish Consul General Pablo Benavides Orgaz, tells Anadolu Agency (AA). "Most probably, it will reach a consensus in the parliament; I do not believe that any political power will be against it as it implies a reform of the civil code."

Nuh Arslantas, Associate Professor at Marmara University Faculty of Theology, tells AA that some religious functionaries, including Rabbi Shlomo Chaim Hacohen Aviner, and Haim Meir Drukman, believe the matter is a ‘political game’.

"They do not believe that the offer is sincere; rather they regard the offer as efforts to attract Jewish investors into Spain, which is dealing with economic depression," Arslantas says, "Some are even more opposed to Spanish citizenship and think it would be a 'big sin'."

Indeed, many Jews believe that taking a Spanish passport will be 'forgiving the deportation in the 15th century'. The development has also prompted concerns among some of the Jewish community that that the bill will be passed with an agenda of drawing in foreign capital, during a period when the Spanish economy is suffering.

Spanish Consul General Orgaz disagrees however, saying that Spain has no material interest in the matter, and that it is a question of justice and recognizing that Jewish culture was essential in the formation of Spain’s.

Sephardic Jews are the descendants of Jews who traced their origins to the Israelite tribes of the Middle East, and settled in Sepharad, the Hebrew name for the Iberian Peninsula -- later applied to Spain.

In 1492, Jews were forced to convert to either Catholicism, or leave the country, the Quincentennial Foundation President, Naim Avigdor Guleryuz says in his book, The Turkish Jews.

"The great majority left their land, their property, their belongings all that was theirs and familiar to them, rather than abandon their beliefs, traditions, and heritage. While most countries in Europe were reluctant to accept these refugees, in the faraway Ottoman Empire, one ruler extended an immediate welcome to the persecuted Jews of Spain, the Sultan Bayazid II."

Dr. Avram Mizrahi, a Turkish Sephardic Jew living in Modiin Israel, says: "Spain grew poorer after expelling Sephardic Jews, they contributed a lot to the multicultural structure of Ottoman society, which included different types of people, beliefs, and opinions."

"Both cultures had good influence on each other," he tells AA. "Jews living under the Ottoman rule contributed to some crafts, including typography, textile, trade and banking. Similarly, they learnt a lot from Turkish culture and music."

Hay Eytan Cohen Yanarocak, a researcher at Tel Aviv University Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, says that he grew up listening to stories of Jews living in peace and prosperity under the Ottoman rule, contrary to those living in Christian inquisition in Europe.

Demand for Spanish citizenship?

Today, there are around 23,000 Jews across Turkey, most of who are of Sephardic origin. Turkish academic, Arslantas believes that not all of the Sephardic Jews in Turkey, and around the world, would be interested in gaining Spanish citizenship, although some will be interested in tracing their ancestry.

However, Yanarocak believes that there could be a high demand for dual citizenship as a way to gain opportunities for education in Europe. He adds that those in Israel may also want Spanish citizenship in order to work in Europe, as well to visit European countries for longer.

Ilhan Eli Levi, a Turkish Rabbi and former candidate of the Chief Rabbi of Jewish people in Turkey says: "The offer will not make us leave Turkey, which greeted us with open arms 500 years ago. A new generation of Sephardic Jews will not be quite familiar with Ladino (Judeo -Spanish). Thus, the offer will not mean a return to Spain."

He says that the bill can be accepted, to some extent, as 'compensation for the cruelty in the past'.

Similarly, Mizrahi added that the recent offer of Spanish citizenship is too late, but believes it is a positive step towards achieving fairness to their ancestors.

"I do not expect much change with the new bill," Selim Amado, a Turkish Jew of Sepharad origin living in Tel Aviv said. "Sephardic Jews in Israel are settled in their own country with very few problems; and those in Turkey are already used to living together with their Muslim neighbors."

Meanwhile, the descendants of the “Moriscos”, Muslims expelled in 1609, have not received an offer.

“The same respect should be accorded to Muslims who were expelled from Spain together with Jews," says Turkish academic Arslantas.

Spain has had an Islamic heritage of eight centuries with religious tolerance, science, culture, and a deep-rooted civilization, Arslantas says. “Spain needs to pay attention to Muslims demanding the restitution of Islamic heritage, including mosques and many other properties."

Sephardic Jews, if they agree to hold Spanish citizenship, will have to present a certificate issued by the Chief Rabbi as a proof of their Sephardic origins.

"Together with that, they can also present other documents related to their origin in Spain; additionally, even their family names can act as important evidence," adds Orgaz.

To find out more, visit The Turkish Jews

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