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Spanish Minister: Citizenship for Sephardic Jews Will be a Right

February 14, 2014 By:
JTA
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A map marking the migrations and settlements of the Spanish Jews. Photo from Wikimedia.

MADRID — The conferring of Spanish citizenship to Sephardic Jews will be automatic and independent of the government’s discretion, the country’s justice minister told a delegation of American Jews.

Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon made the pledge during a speech on Feb. 13 before dozens of members of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

He was referring to a bill on the naturalization of descendants of Jews who fled from Spain because of religious persecution during the 15th and 16th centuries. Spain’s Council of Ministers okayed the bill last week. To become law, the bill will need to pass in parliament.

“In Spain, a clear majority realize we have committed a historical error and have an opportunity to repair it, so I am sure that law will pass with an immense majority in parliament,” Ruiz-Gallardon said.

When it does, citizenship “will not be a discretional matter, it will not be subject to the good will of the government, because it is a right that anyone who meets the criteria is entitled to,” he added.

There will be several ways to obtain citizenship, he said. “One of them is through certification with the Federation of Jewish Communities in Spain. Another is certification by a competent, recognized rabbinical authority,” the minister added.

Led by the Presidents Conference’s chairman, Robert Sugarman, and executive vice chairman, Malcolm Hoenlein, the delegation has met with dozens of high-level Spanish officials during its four-day visit, including Spanish King Juan Carlos. In 1992 the king had said in a speech that Spain is the homeland of all Sephardic Jews.

“The clarity of your words is inspiring, as is Spain’s willingness to confront its history in a real way to build a better future,” Hoenlein told the minister. “I hope other nations will learn from  your denunciation of the events of 500 years ago.”

In meetings, the visitors thanked their Spanish interlocutors for promoting legislation on Sephardic Jews; confronting efforts to boycott and delegitimize Israel; and maintaining pressure on Iran over its nuclear program and on terrorist organizations, including Hezbollah and Hamas.

Spain has announced that it will seek election to the United Nations Security Council this year.

The Presidents Conference delegation is scheduled to arrive in Israel over the weekend for its annual meeting.

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