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Spain Offers Citizenship to Jews Exiled by Inquisition, What About Palestinians Exiled by Nakba?

spanish inquisition

Original royal decree forcing expulsion of Spain’s Jews

In November, the Spanish government made what at the time seemed a remarkable offer to restore citizenship to any Jew tracing his or her heritage back to those who were expelled during the Spanish Inquisition in 1492.  It was a brave, courageous act of expiation by Spain for a national crime.  It was, of course, long overdue.  But better late than never.

It turns out that there is some fine print that restricts those who may benefit from the offer.  Some news reports said Spain offered “automatic” citizenship.  That’s far from true.  Spain will only accept Jews into this program.  They will not accept those who were forcibly converted to Christianity (conversos or Marranos) unless they undergo formal conversion to Judaism.  On the one hand, one might understand how a government bureaucrat might feel the need to create rules and accountability in running this program; on the other, it’s ridiculous for a nation which offered a choice of expulsion or conversion to all its Jews to penalize those who stayed behind and converted.

But that wasn’t the main theme of this post.  This act of national reconciliation proffered by Spain to its former Jewish citizens immediately called to mind the Right of Return.  One hopes that it will not take over 500 years for Israel to make amends for its own act of national shame, the expulsion of nearly 1-million Palestinian residents.  Right now, most Israelis remain deaf and dumb to the issue (no doubt similar to the way Spaniards reacted over the past 500 years).  The primary fear is that the return of millions of refugees would flood Israel with Palestinians and destroy its Jewish identity.

Most surveys estimate that if offered a choice of financial compensation or return, several hundred thousand would return.  Though many pro-Israel readers have bellyached here about this meaning the demise of Israel, nothing could be farther from the truth.  Israel has absorbed millions of refugees over the years, some of whom were not Jewish.  The nation will have to decide whether maintaining Jewish ethnic superiority outweighs rectifying a deep moral wound that has poisoned the State since its founding.

One can hope…

{ 15 comments… add one }
  • Deïr Yassin December 11, 2012, 3:04 AM

    In a way, we could compare the Spanish offer with the Israeli Law of Return: only Jews are concerned.
    What about the Muslims expelled from Spain after the Reconquista? Many of them were indigenous Iberians converted to Islam. All across North Africa, lots of people trace their roots back to al-Andalus.

    Funny, as late as yesterday, I read that Yossi Benayoun, the Israeli footballplayer, of Moroccan Sephardic origin, obtained Spanish citizenship while playing in Spain. Before this new offer, as also mentionned in the NYT-article, the Spanish Civil Code allowed any Jew who could proove that their roots go back to the expulsion to obtain Spanish nationality after two years in the country.
    How is Israel going to react to this ? For example, thousands of Jews left Argentina for Israel during the economical crack in 2001-2002, ‘encouraged’ by the Jewish Agency, I wonder how many would have gone to Spain with the actual offer.

  • Joel December 11, 2012, 3:44 AM

    Small difference. The Jews of Spain did not go to war against the Spanish people. The Arabs did go to war against the Jews.

    BTW. Is Spain to offering citizenship to the Moslems that Spain expelled at the same time that they were expelling Jews?

    • Richard Silverstein December 11, 2012, 2:16 PM

      No. Israel went to war against the Arabs or did you forget that Israel by declaring independence in 1948 started the process leading to hostilities & initiated wars against Arabs in 1956, 1967, 1982 and so on?

      Spain did not initiate an Inquisition against its Muslims as it did against Jews. It has much more sinning to expiate regarding Jews.

      • Deïr Yassin December 11, 2012, 3:12 PM

        The Spanish Inquisition made no difference between the Moriscos (the Muslim converts) and the Jewish conversos, they were both equally persecuted. After the Reconquista (1492), the Treaty of Grenada was abolished and Muslims were forced to convert or were expelled.
        I’ll quote wikipedia on this to make a long story short:
        “In 1609 King Phillip III of Spain decreed the expulsion of the Moriscos (the Muslim converts to Christianity). From 1609 to 1614, the Spanish government systematically forced Moriscos to leave the Kingdom for North Africa.
        They were only allowed to keep what money and possessions they could carry, the rest including their property was impounded.”
        The wikipedia-page on “Spanish Inquisition” is useful too.

      • djf December 14, 2012, 11:25 AM

        Israel declaring independence “started the process” of war? Care to clarify?

      • shaul December 19, 2012, 2:19 PM

        A. hay, we (Israel) don’t have Inquisition … yet. we don’t burn people because what they believe in and we r not hang up gays . we r not stoning women because … what ever
        B. Israel is a Jewish state there fore we cannot Absorb the ….. back. cause we wont able to be a Jewish state any more.
        c. if all the safardim (Jews) will go to Spain ….. nothing is gonna change

  • Bob Mann December 11, 2012, 5:22 AM

    I’m not sure I understand why Spain would make this offer. We are talking about something that happened over 500 years ago.

    • Richard Silverstein December 11, 2012, 5:53 PM

      Because unlike Israel, Spain realizes it committed a grave moral error in expelling its Jews & stealing their property. There is no statute of limitations on Original Sin when it forms the basis of a nation state, whether it’s Nakba, slavery, genocide or Inquisition.

      • Bob Mann December 13, 2012, 3:17 AM

        Are you sure that’s the reason? As you can see from the other comments above, Spain committed “a grave moral error” in expelling Muslims as well. Why are they not included in this?

  • pabelmont December 11, 2012, 6:01 AM

    Wouldn’t it be marvelous if a significant number of Israeli Jews decided that it was time to return “home” to Spain? Abandon Israel not because it was/is a sinking ship (it may not be!) but because living there is unpleasant or dangerous and Spain seems a kinder, gentler, safer home. even, who knows?, economically better even in the current troubled times. These might be Jews whose families had left Spain about 1492 and gone to various Middle Eastern places, not necessarily Palestine/Jerusalem. Anyone know how Spain and Israel are expected to do (or are now doing) as the climate changes? Both are usually dry, so should get dryer, right?

    • Rain December 11, 2012, 6:53 AM

      Nothing really new here. Spain has enabled Jews of Sephardic origin to get citizenship since 1968. The only thing that changed in 2012 is that there is no longer a need for a year of legal residency before citizenship is given. Trying to align this situation to the Palestinians right of return is slightly far fetched in terms of anything but this blog, given the complexity and animosity involved.

      Spain is in a huge mess economically. Unemployment runs close to 25%. I doubt any Israeli would take up the offer to live in Spain on economic grounds, or on the grounds that living in Israel is unpleasant. However, since anyone with Spanish nationality is also a national of the European Union, and is able to live and work in any one of 27 countries, I’m guessing that the retraction of the need to be actually resident in Spain to take up this offer might be tempting to Israelis seeking the advantages they believe having a second passport will provide.

    • Richard Silverstein December 11, 2012, 5:51 PM

      Dry in summer but quite wet in winter. Don’t know how global warming will affect the Coastal Plain.

  • Anyn. December 12, 2012, 3:55 AM

    It is quite glaring that Spain welcomes back Jews but not Muslims.
    However, it does make sense to offer citizenship to those who were expelled, seeing as those who were converted stayed in Spain, and unless their family migrated to other places, they still have Spanish citizenship. No different than any other person from Spanish origins.

  • C. Bendavid January 24, 2013, 9:28 PM

    Sorry, but international law allows sovereign nations to privilege the immigration of their diasporas.
    Even the Venice convention of the European Union declared clearly that privileging a certain type of immigration for cultural kinship is legal and legitimate since it does not infringe the principle of civic equality for all citizens. Dear Mr. Silverstein, democratic countries are required to treat all their citizens equally, but nothing says that they are required to be neutral on a cultural level or in their immigration policy.
    Thus, Israel has totally the right to preserve its Jewish character and to privilege Jewish immigration, the same way as Spain has the right to privilege the Castillan culture and a Castillan immigration.
    As you probably know, Sephardic Jews have kept strong ties with the Spanish culture (Ladino and Haketia are both Spanish dialects). Therefore, the likelihood that a Sephardic immigration may disrupt Spain’s Castillan character is very low. A massive Arab immigration however, is likely to turn Spain into an Arab country. This is why Spain privileges Jewish immigration. There is nothing racist in this policy. It does not diminish whatsoever the rights of the Arab citizens of Spain.

    • Richard Silverstein January 26, 2013, 2:05 AM

      Spain does not “privilege” Jewish immigration. It allows for the return of the few Jews who might wish to after they pass through several enormous hoops. While the idea of Spain welcoming back expelled Jews is wonderful. The implementation leaves much to be desired and very few if any Jews will actually return under this provision.

      Israel has TWO Diasporas. Jewish and Palestinian. The Palestinian diaspora has a much closer and deeper connection to Israel than the Jewish diaspora because the vast majority of Jews have no actual physical or family connection to Israel, while Palestinians almost all have such a connection going back at most a few decades).

      As for treating citizens equally, since Israel does not do this I presume you concede it is not a democratic country. BTW, since you enjoy expounding in comments hundreds of words in length, that is not an invitation to prepare a lengthy learned disquisition on the subject of Israeli democracy.

      Regarding Spain, it is in danger of splitting into various regional and ethinic factions precisely because it has, like Israel, denied the rights and patrimony of various ethnic minorities. Using Spain’s supposed Castilian heritage is a losing proposition because it may be precisely this sort of false homogeniety that ends up destroying a unitary Spain, just as the domestic Palestinian issue is causing degradation of Israeli democracy. You may therefore wish to find a more apt model.

      You seem to have a sort of romantic, mystical conception of Sefardim. Sephardic Jews are not just connected to Spain. In fact, the connection of many Sefardim directly to Spain is quite tenuous. Though other Sefardim and Mizrahim have closer and temporally closer ties to countries like Tunisia, Morocco, Yemen, etc.

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