Israel's Sephardim abuzz at expanded Spanish citizenship offer

Mon Feb 10, 2014 7:15am EST
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By Dan Williams

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - The expansion of Spain's offer of citizenship to descendants of Jews it expelled en masse in 1492 has sparked interest in Israel, where the so-called Sephardim make up around a quarter of the population.

While no one predicts an Israeli exodus to economically bruised Spain, a passport granting access to the wider European Union appeals to many in the war-wary Jewish state - especially its disproportionately large Sephardic underclass.

Amending a decades-old law, Spain on Friday said it would allow foreign Sephardim - old Hebrew for Spaniards - who become nationals to keep their original citizenship.

Though the amendment awaits parliamentary ratification, the Spanish embassy in Israel said on Monday it had received "many" inquiries from potential applicants. Israeli media republished Madrid's list of typical Sephardic names, meant to help locate eligible kin, and celebrity candidates debated the opportunity.

"There is true pride in an Israeli passport, but if I also have a Spanish passport in my drawer, so what?" the best-selling Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper quoted model Natalie Dadon as saying.

Around 300,000 Jews lived in Spain before Inquisition-era monarchs Isabella and Ferdinand ordered them and the country's Muslims to convert to Catholicism or leave.

Most of the Jews expelled settled elsewhere in the Mediterranean and Middle East. Their descendants who moved to Israel after its 1948 founding were often sidelined by the dominant Ashkenazim, or Jews of northern European extraction.

Some Israeli Ashkenazim are dual nationals of European countries from which their families fled during the Holocaust.   Continued...