It’s been five centuries coming, but Spain’s King Felipe VI has finally righted a historic wrong.
On Monday, King Felipe addressed Spanish Jewish guests from the U.S. and other nations whose ancestors had been expelled from Spain during the Inquisition 522 years ago.
“How we’ve missed you … I want to tell you today that you’ve come back home – your own home forever,” the king said during the official ceremony at Madrid’s Royal Palace, as reported by the Spanish newspaper El Mundo.
There are an estimated 3.5 million Jews with Spanish ancestry – known as Sephardic Jews – around the world.
Now, thanks to new legislation, their progeny are eligible to reclaim their Spanish nationality.
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The legislation aims to correct what the Spanish government calls the “historic mistake” of the country’s monarchs Isabella and Ferdinand. In 1492, in an attempt to unite their country under the banner of Catholicism, the duo ordered some 200,000 Sephardic Jews to convert or leave within weeks, under pain of death.
Many found refuge in North Africa, Latin America, the Ottoman Empire and the Balkans. Some integrated within the Spanish community, practicing their religion in secret. Those who publicly refused to convert were burned at the stake.
“Dear Sephardim, thank you for your loyalty,” the king said. “Thank you for having kept like a precious treasure your language and your customs. They are ours too. Thank you too for making love prevail over rancor and for teaching your children to love this country.”
The new law, which came into effect in November, grants the Sephardim dual citizenship. Applicants don’t have to be practicing Jews, but must have their ancestry vetted by Spanish Jewish authorities and prove a “special connection” to, and knowledge of, Spain.
Under a 1924 law, the government had discretionary powers to award Sephardic Jews nationality, but candidates had to be Spanish residents and renounce any previous citizenship.
Spain’s Justice Minister Rafael Catala said on Monday his administration had already received close to 600 demands for Spanish nationality.
In October, the government had already sped up applications for 4,300 Sephardic Jews who had applied for nationality before the new legislation, according to the Spanish newspaper ABC.
“We have been and always will be ambassadors of a country which we will always love,” said Isaac Cherub, a spokesman for the Federation of Sephardic Communities.