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Israelis trace Inquisition roots to obtain Portuguese passports en masse

Danny Roup, a national icon and weatherman in Israel, doesn’t quite see clouds on the geopolitical horizon. However he thought that it would be worth looking back into his centuries-old family roots in order to attempt to get a second, Portuguese passport.

Mr. Roup is among tens of thousands of Israelis who have embraced a citizenship offer by the Portuguese Government, aimed at descendants of Sephardic Jews who were expelled from the Iberian Peninsula during the medieval Inquisition.

Some applicants have the desire to live in Portugal, others see it as a stepping stone into the European Union to procure better educational and job opportunities. And some even come with fear as motivation, seeking a reprieve from the turbulent Middle East.

“You can never know what will happen in this region in the next 20, 30, 40, 50, 100 years. So it’s always good to have another passport, especially if it’s a European passport,” said Mr. Roup, aged 54.

Approximately 300,000 Sephardic Jews lived in Spain when, in 1492, monarchs Isabella and Ferdinand ordered them and the country’s Muslims to convert to Catholicism or be forced to leave. Tens of thousands fled to Portugal, only to be persecuted there later, in 1496.

Portugal has seen a marked rise in applications since a similar citizenship offer to Sephardic Jews by Spain ended in October of this year. It is described as a policy of redress.

“Our history is a very important one but with certain shadows – and one of the most relevant shadows was forcing the Jews to abandon the country or to convert to Christianity,” Portuguese Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva revealed.

 “We lost a lot of our Jewish influence and we are trying to retrieve this influence,” he added.

The citizenship application route takes around two years, and some 20 percent are approved.

Experts at one of Portugal’s two “Jewish centres”, located in Lisbon or Porto, vet applicants’ genealogies and look for evidence of interest in Sephardi culture – for example, knowledge of the Judaeo-Spanish dialect Ladino.

Lisbon-based immigration lawyer Renato Martins said many of his Sephardic clients see the “investment potential” of a Portuguese passport, especially for real-estate.

The Foreign Minister expressed that most of the 44,000 applications received so far through the Portuguese offer, opened in 2015, have been from Israel.