Portugal’s government steps back from plan to restrict nationality law

The ruling party of Portugal has stepped back from an attempt to severely limit applications for citizenship from descendants of Sephardi Jews of Portuguese origin.

In mid-May, members of the Socialist Party submitted a draft amendment to change the 2015 law that grants citizenship to people who can prove they are descended from Jews whose families fled the Iberian Peninsula following the Inquisition, a 15th-century campaign of antisemitic persecution in Portugal and Spain.

Under the proposed change, beginning in 2022, only people who had lived in Portugal for two years would be eligible for citizenship. This change would have sharply restricted the number of people who could apply. Currently, there are no requirements for applicants to live in Portugal or learn the language.

Experts brought by the Socialist Party testified that within 100 years, a few thousand returning Jews could swell to 250,000 people and pose a demographic threat to Portugal’s identity. Dr. Jose Ruah, a board member of the Jewish Community of Lisbon, Portugal’s EJC affiliate, told a parliamentary hearing in June that statements about Sephardi Jews taking over Portugal or likening them to the coronavirus were “harmful and offensive.”

Catarina Rocha Ferreira, a deputy in the Social Democratic Party, which is also represented in the Portuguese government, pointed out in a hearing with the Lisbon Jewish community that no other ethnic group has the same ability to receive Portuguese citizenship, and that applicants often had no “genuine connection” with Portugal and were just looking for a European passport.

Earlier this week, the Socialist Party decided not to change the law but to adapt new regulations that would specify an “objective connection” with Portugal.

The Socialist Party initiated the original nationality law in 2015 as a way to “right historic wrongs.”

In a letter addressed to the President of the Portuguese Parliament, EJC President Dr. Moshe Kantor called on Portugal not to forestall the possibility of Sephardic Jews of Portuguese descent gaining access to Portuguese nationality, emphasising the importance of this law as an act of tolerance and reconciliation.

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