In 2015, the Spanish government decided to offer citizenship to individuals who could show some genealogical connection to the Spanish Jews of the 13th and 14th centuries who were tortured, expelled or forced to convert. Sure sounded like a feel-good story about a European country actually owning up to their anti-Semitic past.
The Spaniards did indeed dangle the prospect of citizenship to hundreds of thousands of people worldwide who are descendants of the Marranos, but when one looks at the hoops applicants must jump through, it’s evident that the motivation of the Spaniards was anything but remorse and repentance.
If you were one of those people with roots in the Torquemada era, this was not a simple matter of completing some straightforward paperwork and paying a modest fee. No, you had to provide piles of documents to backup your claim (such as birth certificates or marriage records of your ancestors which were extremely difficult to obtain), you had to have all your written evidence translated into Spanish by a Spanish government-approved translator, you then had to travel to Spain to have a local notary sign off on the documents, and finally, you had to pony up a fee of approximately $6,000. Add to that another $4,000 or so to cover travel, legal, notarial and accommodation expenses and that means each successful applicant contributes about $10,000 to the Spanish economy.
The miracle is that even with all these nearly insurmountable obstacles, almost 6,000 applications have been approved which means that the perpetually impoverished Spaniards received a cash infusion of more than $60 million. In fact, if all 130,000 people who have registered an interest in participating in this program were to be successful, Spain would rake in more than a billion dollars, and if a significant proportion of those applicants were to actually move to Spain, that might also help to address the existential problem of a falling birth rate in that country.
It would be refreshing, and very nearly unprecedented, if the Spanish government (or any government for that matter) acted out of altruism or genuine remorse for past sins. Unfortunately, there are always monetary and electoral considerations underlying the decisions of politicians and this case was no different. Some smart Spaniard figured out that this initiative could kill three birds with one stone; enhance Spain’s international image, bring in some desperately-needed cash and perhaps lead to boatloads of Jewish newcomers whose track record suggested they would make significant contributions to the Spanish economy and society.
So rather than choosing to right an historical wrong, Spain has instead opted to victimize those who suffered under previous regimes a second time. After waiting nearly 700 years to formally accept responsibility for their ancestors’ transgressions against their Jewish neighbors, and ostensibly offering to make restitution, Spain is instead attempting to profit from one of the most sordid chapters in the history of anti-Semitism. I trust those Jews eligible for this generosity see through Spain’s transparent greed and self-serving duplicity and reject this offer.