After Offering Citizenship to Descendants of Expelled Jews, Spain Appears to Be Having a Change of Heart

July 30, 2021 | Nicholas Casey
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In 1492, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain decreed that all their Jewish subjects—who had experienced increasing persecution during the previous hundred years—must either convert to Catholicism or go into exile. Thus ended what was then Europe’s largest, and by many metrics most prominent, Jewish community. In 2015, Spain, intent on making amends, announced that descendants of Jews who had been expelled or converted could claim Spanish citizenship. Madrid, however, has abruptly begun rejecting citizenship requests based on Sephardi ancestry. Nicholas Casey writes:

Spain’s statistics, and interviews with frustrated applicants, reveal a wave of more than 3,000 rejections in recent months, raising questions about how serious the country is about its promise. . . . Before this year, only one person had been turned down, the government said. Some 34,000 have been accepted.

At least another 17,000 people have received no response at all, according to government statistics. Many of them have waited years and spent thousands of dollars on attorney fees and trips to Spain to file paperwork.

It remains unclear why the wave of rejections has come now. Spain’s government said it was simply trying to clear out a backlog of cases. But lawyers representing applicants say they feel officials have had a change of heart on the program, which formally stopped taking applications in 2019. For applicants, it has left a sense of bewilderment and betrayal.

“For Venezuelans, it was a lifeline,” said Marcos Tulio Cabrera, the founder of the Association of Spanish-Venezuelans of Sephardic Origin, whose family of nine has received four rejections this month, with the rest still awaiting a decision. Mr. Cabrera, who lives in Valencia, Venezuela—a city crippled by economic instability and deadly gangs—said he spent nearly $53,000 to file the applications, depleting much of the family’s savings.

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