Portugal’s parliament prepares official end to system giving Sephardic Jews nationality

Amendments expected before system is abandoned

Portugal’s parliament has approved the government’s bill that puts an end to the system for descendants of Portuguese Sephardic Jews to apply for nationality – with reservations from all parties that are expected to propose amendments when the bill goes to the committee negotiation stage.

With effect from January 1, 2024, the law provides for the repeal of the rule that allowed the government to grant nationality by naturalisation “to descendants of Portuguese Sephardic Jews, by demonstrating a tradition of belonging to a Sephardic community of Portuguese origin, based on proven objective requirements of connection to Portugal, namely surnames, family language, direct or collateral descent”.

With the support of the ruling Socialist Party (PS) and the Left Bloc, and the abstention of the right-wing Chega Party, Liberal Party and Livre Party, the initiative was approved at the first reading stage and is now up for discussion in the Constitutional Affairs, Rights, Freedoms and Guarantees Committee.

Even before the vote, during the debate period, the minister for justice explained that the regime in question has been in force for 10 years and, although it represents “fair recognition”, it has already fulfilled its function.

“The duty of historical reparation cannot, should not and is not intended to erase the events that gave rise to it. Always symbolic, it is intended to mark a recognition that has been fulfilled through a generous window of time,” said Catarina Sarmento e Castro.

According to the minister, around 262,000 people had applied for naturalisation under the rule by the end of last year, and around 75,000 have been granted it. However, in September last year, more restrictive rules came into force following a number of controversies. These more restrictive rules were bitterly contested by the Jewish community in Porto.

From the parliamentary benches, everyone shared reservations about the proposal, writes Lusa, “including parties that ended up supporting the bill.

“For the PS, Pedro Delgado Alves recognised the need to review the rule in order to “guarantee the reliability of the law” and said that the Socialists will propose that, once the descent of Portuguese Sephardic Jews has been proven, three years of residence in Portugal will suffice, rather than the five provided for other situations.

“In the committee stage, let’s make this effort to find a balanced solution that solves problems and keeps Portugal at the forefront of good practices in terms of reception and historical reparation,” he said.

Pedro Filipe Soares, from the Left Bloc, said that the application of the rule under discussion, despite being “tainted by various prevarications and misrepresentations of its objectives“, fulfilled a fair objective and is already “out of step with reality”. Even so, he called for a “correct transition period“, justifying his party’s vote in favour with the “expectation that the committee stage work will be able to take care of some details”.

Patrícia Gilvaz, of Liberal Initiative, also argued that “to do away with this regime from 1 January 2024 is to put an end to the expectations of thousands of descendants of Sephardic Jews” and proposed postponing the repeal until 2025.

For Livre, Rui Tavares remembered the Portuguese Sephardic Jews who were victims of the Second World War and defended a regime that prioritises the connection to Portugal and the Portuguese language “so that we can make this historical reparation without abuse”.

More critical were the Social Democratic Party (PSD) and the Communist Party (PCP), but for different reasons. Communist Alma Rivera argued that the current regime has become a business and a “resource for abusively obtaining Portuguese nationality”, and that there is “no point in its existence“; Paula Cardoso, from the PSD, said that “putting an end to these abuses doesn’t mean repealing the regime”.

Source material: LUSA