MADRID (Reuters) - The Spanish government approved a law on Friday allowing descendents of Sephardic Jews expelled from the country in 1492 to seek Spanish nationality without giving up their current citizenship.
Spain's Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon said Spain owed the Sephardic community a debt for spreading the Spanish language and culture around the world. The word Sephardic comes from Sefarad, or Spain in Hebrew.
"The law we've passed today has a deep historic meaning: not only because it concerns events in our past of which we should not be proud, like the decree to expel the Jews in 1492, but because it reflects the reality of Spain as an open and plural society," said Gallardon.
Around 300,000 Jews lived in Spain before the 'Reyes Catolicos', Catholic monarchs Isabella and Ferdinand, ordered Jews and Muslims to convert to the Catholic faith or leave the country.
The old Jewish quarters in medieval Spanish cities such as Cordoba and Toledo, where Jews lived among Christians and Muslims before the Catholic victory, making rich contributions to science, music and literature, now attract thousands of tourists every year.
The law potentially allows an estimated 3.5 million residents of countries where many Sephardic Jews eventually settled, such as Israel, France, the United States, Turkey, Mexico, Argentina and Chile, to apply for Spanish nationality.
"We're very pleased to hear the Spanish government has facilitated the process of allowing Sephardic Jews to seek Spanish nationality without giving up their citizenship," Lynne Winters, director of the American Sephardi Federation in New York told Reuters by telephone.
Spanish law does not normally allow dual citizenship except for people from neighboring Andorra or Portugal or former colonies such as the Philippines, Equatorial Guinea or Latin American countries.
Prospective applicants must prove their Sephardic background through their surnames, language or ancestry and get a certificate from the federation of Jewish communities in Spain.
Applicants do not have to be practicing Jews, Gallardon said.
"Many .. kept the keys of the house from which they were expelled, now they have the door open," he said.
(Reporting By Rodrigo de Miguel,; Writing by Sonya Dowsett; Editing by Tracy Rucinski and Anthony Barker)