Portugal approves citizenship plan for Sephardic Jews persecuted by the Inquisition
LISBON, Portugal (AP) — Five centuries after burning thousands of Jews at the stake, forcing them to convert to Catholicism or expelling them, Portugal is granting citizenship rights to their descendants as part of an attempt to make amends.
The Portuguese Cabinet on Thursday approved a law offering dual citizenship to the descendants of those Sephardic Jews — the term commonly used for those who once lived in the Iberian peninsula.
Like Spain, Portugal says its sole reason for granting citizenship is to redress a historic wrong.
"There is no possibility to amend what was done," Portuguese Justice Minister Paula Teixeira da Cruz said. "I would say it is the attribution of a right."
The measure is the latest step in Portugal's modern efforts to atone for its past harsh treatment of Jews, whose ranks once numbered in the tens of thousands, but have been reduced to only about 1,000 today.
In 1988, then-president Mario Soares met with members of Portugal's Jewish community and formally apologized for the Inquisition. In 2000, the leader of Portugal's Roman Catholics publicly apologized for the suffering imposed on Jews by the Catholic Church, and in 2008 a monument to the dead was erected outside the Sao Domingos church where the massacre of thousands of Jews began at Easter in 1506.
Jose Ribeiro e Castro, a lawmaker who was involved in drafting the legislation, sees the persecution of Sephardic Jews as a "stain" on Portuguese history.
"We wish it had never happened," Ribeiro e Castro said. "Given that it did happen, and that it can be put right, we thought we ought to do so."
"We regard it as an act of justice," Michael Rothwell, a delegate of the Committee of the Jewish Community of Oporto, said of the new law. He described it as "another important step toward reconciliation with the past."
The Portuguese Inquisition, established in 1536, could be more cruel than its Spanish counterpart. It persecuted, tortured and burned at the stake tens of thousands of Jews.