New restrictions proposed for citizenship for Jews of Portuguese descent

A proposed amendment to a law that grants citizenship to Jews of Portuguese origin would put limitations on their eligibility.

Originally passed in 2015, the law allows Sephardic Jews whose ancestors lived in Portugal until the Inquisition and expulsion of Jews to obtain Portuguese citizenship if they have documents testifying to their Portuguese ancestry.

But in an interview published by Publico newspaper, Portuguese member of parliament Constança Urbano de Sousa said a draft law proposed by her ruling PS Party stipulates that foreign Jewish applicants must reside in the country for two years before they can receive citizenship.

As of July 2019, Portugal had approved some 10,000 citizenship applications by Sephardic Jews out of about 33,000 applications since the law went into effect.

Following news of the proposed amendment, B’nai B’rith International president Charles Kaufman wrote to Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa to intervene and stymie the changes.

“This proposal threatens not only the spirit of the law but sadly reverts to a time that we’d just as soon forget,” he said.

“Change does not happen overnight… People do not return 500 years later as quickly as they left or virtually disappeared,” Kaufman said, referring to the expulsion and persecution of Portuguese Jews at the end of the 15th century.

The expulsion of Jews from Portugal in 1497, subsequent massacres of the Jews there and the Portuguese inquisition that began in 1536 brought Jewish life in the country to a catastrophic end, with tens of thousands of Jews fleeing the country.

“They dispersed to all corners of the earth,” Kaufman wrote. “If the authors of the original law in 2015 were earnest and well-intended, they will hold to the spirit of the law.

“On behalf of B’nai B’rith International, founded in 1843, we implore you to halt attempts to modify Decree-Law No. 30-A/2015 in any way that would lessen or weaken the law promoting the right of Portuguese nationality.”

In response to the proposed amendment, Ashley Perry (Perez), president of the Reconectar organization, said the original citizenship law, a similar version of which was also passed in Spain, were “vital signals of intent to rectify historic wrongs and send a message of fraternity between Spain, Portugal and the Jewish People.”

Perry said he would “urge the Portuguese authorities to hold off on this amendment to ensure that the growth of understanding and ties between our peoples continue to grow and flourish for some time to come.”

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