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Sephardic Jews Urge Spain To Follow Portugal Lead on ‘Law of Return’

A representative of Spanish-speaking Jews urged Spain to follow Portugal’s lead and adopt a law of return for descendants of Sephardim.

“While Portugal passed its law, in Spain it is stuck and is being watered down as we speak,” Leon Amiras, president of the Israel-based OLEI group representing Israelis from Latin America and Iberia, on Friday told JTA.

Portugal and Spain in 2013 and 2014 respectively initiated legislation for naturalizing descendants of Jews who fled during the Inquisition. Both governments describe the initiatives as atonement for the religious persecution and expulsion approximately 500 years ago of countless Jews.

But while Lisbon has followed through and last month adopted a law of return for Jews that its parliament passed in 2013, Spain’s congress has yet to vote on its own legislation project. The bill’s scope is being renegotiated amid calls to extend similar treatment to Muslims.

“In all senses, the Portuguese law is much more effective and generous than what the Spanish government is contemplating at the moment,” Amiras said. “We call on to Spain follow Portugal’s example and avoid disappointing and ultimately deceiving the Jewish world with this project.”

In December, Amiras said Spain’s legislative project on the Sephardim was in risk of becoming “merely symbolic” because of late revisions to its draft that make it necessary for applicants to travel to Spain several times to initiate the process.

New amendments would raise the fees charged by the Spanish government for processing applications, Amiras said Friday. “They are making it impossible to claim the citizenship they offered. It’s a cheap trick.”

Portugal’s law, which is to become effective next month, allows applicants to initiate the naturalization process in their countries of residence. Both texts speak of involving local Jewish communities in the vetting process of applicants.

“The difference between Portugal and Spain is like between a girlfriend who loves you and one that hasn’t quite decided yet,” Amiras said.

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